Category Archives: Investing

Return On Attention

There’s something 10 times more important than ROI. It’s ROA.

Actually, it’s a subset of ROI; the problem is how we think of the “I.”

When hearing the phrase “return on investment,” most of us automatically think in terms of dollars. We spent X dollars; we got Y dollars in return. If Y is greater than X, it’s a good investment. If Y = 3X, it’s a great investment. If Y = 0.25X, we made a mistake.

What we all have to invest, however, is more than money. The most important currency in business today is attention. Especially for small businesses. Because it is a pretty set number. Unlike money, which can grow pretty easily in the right conditions, and doesn’t have too many limits, we are all limited in the amount of attention we can give something. That why Return on Attention should become what we focus on the most.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  1. You manage a product line of 20 different products. You want all of them to succeed(obviously), but there are top-sellers and bottom-sellers. There always will be. Most of us are tempted to get the bottom-sellers to become more successful, thus rounding out the whole portfolio of products. To do that requires a certain amount of attention, by either us personally, or others in the company. Assuming you’re not hiring someone to provide this attention, you must shift your attention away from one (or more) of the other 19 products to make this one product more successful.The question, then, is what is the rate of return on your attention to this product? In other words, what are the results when you spend more of your attention on this product? Is it more or less than the rate of return on attention of other products? If it’s less, in most cases, give your attention to those products that promise the highest return.
  2. You are a minister, and you’re launching an evangelism campaign to bring in more people from the area to your church. Most of the neighborhood is low-to-middle income, 30-40 somethings, mixed races. Your congregation pretty much breaks into three broad categories: the 60+ crowd who’s been there for years and got the church where it is today, the 40+ crowd who represents most of the monthly tithing and grew up in a church, and the 18 – 35 crowd, some single – some married, of whom many have come from broken homes and don’t have a long church history. Everyone should obviously have the opportunity to be involved in the campaign, but which group will you get the better return on attention? That’s the group with whom to spend most of your time.

It seems simple to answer the question in the examples above, but we all struggle with what to focus our attention on. As the web provides more and more things for free, our attention will grow in value exponentially. And as budgets become tighter, it’s our attention that we must excel in spending the right way. But possibly most importantly (and most strategically), we have to know what not to spend our attention on so we don’t sacrifice those things that give our attention its best return.

Here’s a challenge (to myself, too): Come up with a grading scale of the things you do, and figure out the rate of return on attention. Then, make sure the majority of your time is spent on those things that are the most promising. It could make a huge difference.