Sunday, March 7, 2010

May I Have Your Attention Please?

I read a tongue-in-cheek article in The Mint, by Harish Bhat COO, Titan Industries. He writes that organisations are worried about the employees losing battle to Continuous Partial Attention ( more about this later). Things like constantly checking mails, texting on mobiles are not the main threat. According to him, the most potent factor disrupting corporate discussions is the cookie platter. Especially if it constitutes delicious blackberries, cashew nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and flavoured creams. Attention he writes, shifts from the discussion to the plate. Each eyeing the coveted cookie. And he has this amusing cookie classification of managers. I could not resist posting it here.

1. The Grabber- who identifies his favourite cookie and grabs it – no concern about the others. This man has absolute clarity on what he wants in life and will waste no time getting there

2. The Vacillator who cannot choose between the cashew and the chocolate cookie. Will forever be dissatisfied with his choices in life;

3. Health Fanatic who may push the plate away – a man for whom life is a constant struggle with a fat-obsessed society. Or if he succumbs, may do away with dinner.

4. The Picky Eater, who will pick out the chocolate chip or the cashew from the cookie. This one is likely to pick and choose his way through life

5. A Civilized Sacrificer, who will wait for the last cookie, a nice guy to have around, particularly if you want to borrow money;

6. A Carrybag, who pockets the cookies left on the platter. After all the company would have paid for it all and it makes no sense to leave them behind. He has a maximizing approach to life and will claim every penny which he perceives is due to him.

I found it amusing. For me the biggest dilemma is being faced with an assorted ‘mitai' box. The sweet tooth of mine wants all, but cannot decide. I could be the Vacillator, the Picky Eater or the Health Fanatic! But never the grabber ( honest)

I am glad that I do not have Mr Bhat to analyse my actions.

And now to the CPA. There is never a dearth of jargon these days . I guess it grew with the christening of the Personnel Department to Human Resources. The CPA or the Continuous Partial Attention is supposedly different from multi-tasking.

We all do an enormous amount of multi-tasking. We did not have the term for it in our yesteryears. We just got up each morning as if endowed with a new pair of hands. Cooking, serving breakfast, packing lunch boxes, school bags …..and having to get ready for work. We did not even have an interesting term like multi-tasking. The work was plain, dull, boring and mundane. If work had to be done, we had no choice but to do it. No two ways about it. How else would we have sent the kids to school, leave for work on time, and keep the elders happy?

Linda Stone, who coined the word CPA, says when one multi-tasks, there is a motivation by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. But here each activity has the same priority . Like eating lunch and filing papers. Where one or more activities is somewhat automatic. That activity can be paired with another activity that’s also automatic or with an activity that requires more cognition, like writing an email or talking on the phone. We multi-task to create more opportunity for ourselves – more time to do more and time to relax more.

That makes sense. And CPA? In the case of continuous partial attention, one is motivated by a desire not to miss anything. A person is engaged in two activities that both demand cognition. Like talking on the phone and driving. Mailing and participating in a conference call. Carrying on a conversation while texting at the same time. Both need attention. And however much the youngsters think they are smart doing two or more such tasks, there are bound to be slip-ups.

If you pause to think, there is some truth in all this. And if you do more than pause and ponder, there is more likelihood that one will come up with newer jargon, only serving to complicate life further.

The only concurrence is that whether it is CPA or multi-tasking, while doing more than just one job, attention shifts focus all the time. One can never be engaged in deep thought. And attention is our most powerful tool.

Well right now, my thoughts are with that small helping of frozen dessert in my freezer. We have been informed that we are in for power cuts. And I would hate to think of it melting and refreezing. Not good for frozen food. And the Health Fanatic that I am, I would rather have it right now. When it is in good condition . And no other activity to accompany it either. This requires total attention!


  1. Wonderful post. And how was the dessert ?

    Maybe they need to define something called CPA-2 (Continuously Pulverized Attention).

    I actually know the lady who bakes and supplies cookies to Google in India. And she has done this while simultaneously attending to terminal illnesses of inlaws, childrens matrimonial crises, and a bad knee herself.

    Mr Bhat , do contact her for a guest lecture at your office. Cookies will NOT be free.

  2. The portion relating to cookie platter is humourous but not always true especially for those who attend several meetings day in and day out.There are many who do not even look at the platter.

    CPA has come to stay with more tiny gadgets available all within hands reach like Blackberry,laptop,iPod,steering wheel.Even during chats I find many multitasking chatting with several,posting blogs,reading mails and talking on phone.Yes justice is not done fully to any with span of attention reduced

  3. Grin....well put my friend! BTW I heard that a study was conducted that determined that those who multi-tasked constantly were less likely to get Alzheimers....and that that would mean women were less likely than men to come down with it. THERE you go!

    signing out...your local CPA

  4. Well, there is one more.

    The seasonal Grinder !

    Come season...the grinding of the hazelnut and such else starts in right earnest !

    Corporate cookies are always something. Meeting attendances are known to vary depending on probability of getting fabulous cookies ! Yes. Really !


  5. Wonderful post. The classification of cookies is interesting.

  6. very enjoyable post..loved the classification in the beginning, though it may not be true...Women are most of the time multitasking and sometimes it may contribute to CPA but most of the time it saves, time and energy and money all...I used to manage a full time shop and run my home with two young children also and all this benefitted me and my children both.

  7. This was witty! :)
    You sure have a way with words. Great post.

  8. Has anybody done any work on CPA leading to schizophrenia? Hmmm.

  9. UK - Thank you and yes, the dessert was great. And hats off to the lady you mentioned.
    KP- The cookie classification was written in jest. Not to be taken very seriously.
    Trish - Women are truly great at multi-tasking. Guess it comes naturally.
    Kavi - :-) Do you work with Mr Bhat?
    Rajesh , Indrani - Thank you.
    Samvedna - Great work
    Shailaja - Would be an interesting study.

  10. Very funny cooking eater classification. I like it.

    Sometimes, I can chew gum and walk at the same time. Am I multi tasking or CPAing. Ha ha ha.

  11. Did you give full attention to the frozen dessert? :)

    Harish Bhatt's classification is simple and brilliant at the same time.

    As for CPA, I have the same syndrome. :(

  12. Aaahhh.... it's all getting clearer to me now as I am a CPA...

  13. Hardcore bloggers who also works for a living is sure to suffer from CPA. Nice blending of a variety of thoughts about a single core attribute!!

  14. Interesting...I am having a plate of mixture by my side while writing the comment, multi-tasking...! Nice one.

  15. Oh is it possible for me to fit all those categories as I nodded my head with everyone. I guess I fall under the plain GUTS category then. Great post.

  16. thanks for the words and meaning

  17. Bhatt's classification: funny

    My condition: Multi tasker

    Your post: Priceless!

  18. Nice one!
    Pls check my comics blog:


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