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Literature of Leadership - Stolen focus

STOLEN FOCUS: Why You Can't Pay Attention -and How to Think Deeply Again. Johann Hari. (2022, Kindle Edition)

One of the most illuminating books of the year from my perspective! Stolen Focus is a fascinating, but extremely unsettling, journey of discovery on one of society’s most pressing problems—our inability to pay attention and focus. On a personal level, as the Academy’s book reviewer for the past several years, I read at least one book a month---which initially was doable in 1-2 sittings. Yet, increasingly, I have found that I am easily distracted and no longer able to do so. The reasons why are not immediately apparent. In the case of this month’s selected book, the topic is highly relevant to higher education, the book is written by a New York Times best-selling author, and the content is well-researched and presented in an engaging storytelling style. So, what is the cause of my diminishing focus? Herein lies the genesis of the issue that led Johann Hari to write this book, which chronicles his personal journey in seeking answers to this troubling issue.

A few sobering facts from Hari’s research:

  • On average, an American college student switches tasks every 65 seconds, and focuses on one thing for an average of only 19 seconds.

  • In the workplace, the average American worker is distracted roughly once every three minutes.

  • The proportion of Americans who read books for pleasure is now at its lowest level ever recorded (a particularly distressing discovery).

While the advent of the internet and cellphones might be thought to be the primary factors contributing to the problem (along with a lack of self-discipline), Hari concluded from his research that the genesis of the problem is arguably more complex and multi-dimensional in nature; and potential solutions require both individual and systemic change.

In this book, Hari takes the reader on an amazing journey of discovery that draws connections between our atrophying attention and factors such as: information overload, too much stress, lack of sleep, too little reading of novels, deteriorating diets and soaring pollution, to the rise and causes of ADHD in children (including our response to it), and the role of technology and social media as accelerants of the problem.

Overall, Hari identified twelve deep forces that fracture our attention. Each of these is the subject of its own chapter, along with a discussion of related scientific evidence. In the final chapter, Hari acknowledges that while there is no simple solution to reclaim our attention, there are options on both a personal and societal basis that can (and arguably must) be taken.

A sobering read and call to action that should be included as a “must read” for every parent, teacher, workplace leader and team member.

Image source: Amazon


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