leadership & management

HBR Jazz: Attention and Hosting

Did you see John Hagel III and John Seely Brown’s HBR article Five Ways to Hold the Right Kind of Attention? The main question was “what are effective ways to attract and retain the kind of attention that helps us to address the challenges we face”. My thoughts turned to the approach of leader as host in the Art of Hosting:

The Art of Hosting pattern and practice is based on our assumptions that it is common sense to bring stakeholders together in conversation when you seek new solutions for the common good. We believe that when human beings are invited to work together on what truly matters to them, they will take ownership and responsibility for moving their issues and ideas into wiser actions that lasts.

I offer some complimentary and contrasting thoughts to build on their five ways of cultivating attention to the challenges we face:

  1. “Embrace mystery – …Help people to understand why these are such significant problems and why so many people have stumbled in trying to solve these problems.” Or, think of invitation as a process: name the need, the purpose, the people (social network map) and talk to them. Ask them “what will it take to get you into the room?” .
  2. “Focus inquiry – Don’t try to suggest answers. Frame interesting questions instead.” I totally agree with this one. The powerful question is central to the invitation process and to inviting the group’s wisdom. One of my favourite resources on questions is The Art of Powerful Questions.
  3. “Excite the imagination – Provide some “what if?” scenarios to illustrate the possibilities…” Here, I would invite the group to share their own stories of possibility. This can be done in many ways: Appreciative Inquiry interviews, Conversation Starters, inspiring videos etc.  
  4. “Limit availability – … If you try to connect with everyone, the conversations can spread you way too thin. Be more selective in your availability…”. You can invite the whole system into the room (5,000 people even!) and move to wise action without any thinness. The trick is in making the whole system available, not you.
  5. “Be authentic – … if you are not genuinely engaged in addressing these problems yourself, you will not be able to sustain the attention and effort of others to come up with creative solutions.” As host of the conversation, the importance is in doing my own work to host well, which is different from engagement in addressing the problems myself. Instead, ensure the people who care about the issues have been invited and nurture the space for their contribution. Be authentic in that and sustainment has a chance to emerge.

Thank you to the article’s authors – I enjoyed the attention riff they laid down and seeing what music I could add from the Art of Hosting jazz.

What are your ways of cultivating attention to the challenges we face? And where can you provide your attention in service of a challenge this week?

PS I am honoured and excited to participate in a workshop with John Hagel this September!