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The best way to gain attention in the information age


In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway sat around a table of fellow writers and bet them that he could write a story in just six words. With great disbelief, the writers took his bet. Hemmingway quickly wrote six words on a napkin and passed it around the table. The words were: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

Hemingway’s story was complete. It had a beginning, middle and an end. Needless to say, he won the bet.

Hemingway has so beautifully proven that you do not need pages of writing to tell a story. This is something that even William of Occam would have been proud of.

But why does such simplicity matter?

It matters because people’s attention spans are becoming shorter as they have to juggle, sort and process this overabundance of information. It matters because if your message is too long and too hard to read, you will lose people.

In 1971, Herbert Simon, a professor from Carnegie Mellon University was one of the first to articulate the concept of attention economics when he wrote:

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”

Next time you write a message, whether it is for web content, marketing collateral or an email, remember that in order to gain someone’s interest, you first need to gain their attention. If they like what you have to say, they will trade their attention for your information.

Matt Leeburn is co-founder and Managing Director of Interaction Dynamics and Click Logic. He has extensive experience in new business development, marketing and digital strategy. Follow him on Twitter @intdynamics.