I once went shark diving by accident. The “accident" was that the sharks – lots of sharks – showed up on a dive that was neither planned nor equipped (read: surrounding me with a giant steel cage) to be a shark dive. I managed to get back in the boat with all my limbs intact. However, the mental picture of looking up at the belly of a very large shark swimming between where I was underwater and the boat deck I was trying to get onto is seared into my brain. I recall it all: their size, the surprise of their being there, the way they moved. I was frightened, but I was also amazed, excited and interested. And because of the intensity of those emotions, the sharks had my attention in a way that few things have since.
Attention, and its relationship to emotion, is a tricky thing, but it’s also far less of a mystery these days. Consider this:
And yet much of what has been discovered about the human brain confirms how much we have not changed as a species over the past several thousand years. Our brains are still wired for hunting and surviving, and for forging connections with other people in a social setting. The recent explosion of information in neuroscience has shown us just how hard-coded – and how beautifully intricate and amazing – this wiring is.
In other words, what we’ve learned about ourselves is that our need for social connection and conversation, the dominance of our emotions and their relationship to memory, and our drive for movement and motion and interaction – these things aren’t easy to suppress or alter, and they aren’t going away anytime soon.
We see this reality play out in trends over multiple industries and professions: marketing, sales, product development. In the past month, how many times have you seen a headline (you don’t have to confess to clicking through) on:
All of these things are recommending ways to capture or maximize your audience's attention – so, what is behind this advice? Well, those last 10 years of neuroscience research tell us a few useful things:
At the end of the day, more than clicks, more than open rates, more than pipe velocity, more than usage rates, what we want is the attention of our audience, our buyers, our clients and our customers. Those metrics are just byproducts of the real goal. When we keep in mind what drives the behavior behind the numbers, and create experiences that speak to that hard-wired nature, that’s what sticks around for a long, long time. Just try not to need a shark-proof cage in the process.
Amanda Jensen is the Practice Director of Learning at SiriusDecisions. Amanda is focused on expanding Sirius' innovative e-learning courses and certificates. Throughout her career, Amanda has focused on innovation in digital learning, fusing her international experience with her work in technology and neuroeducation to create opportunities for people to learn, train and excel no matter where they are in the world, in their careers or in their lives. Follow Amanda on Twitter @ACMJtweets.