To Ponder: What Has Your Attention?
Ever heard of the Great Book Scare?
It’s a timely example of the impact of misguided attention. And it (almost) killed off public libraries in the early 20th century.
In 1895, Jessie Allan, a popular and well respected librarian in Nebraska died of tuberculosis. Any other time, and other other place, no one would have taken a second moment to consider it.
But this was different.
Late in the 19th century there emerged an idea that was slowly gaining traction: the idea that ‘books could carry disease’. Allan’s death was the nail in the coffin; the grim poster child of ‘disease carrying books’.
The news quickly spread via the media, as did the fear.
And so began the Great Book Scare.
Medical experts from all across the world were consulted. Their advice of “well, it is possible she could have caught it from the book” further reinforced the panic. After all – who knows what sickness the person who borrowed the book before you had?! Concern was so high that the UK amended its Public Health Act in 1907 to include fines for lending or returning library books when you had an infectious disease. Libraries worldwide were expected to disinfect their books using a number of complex chemical solutions.
Needless to say, library patronage took a nosedive.
Eventually reason took hold around 1914 when it became clear that the stats just weren’t supporting the theory. However, the idea lingered for a further 30 years, with medical professionals in the 1940s continuing to debate the merits of books carrying disease.
And that’s the thing. Attention is powerful. Attention creates action.
Everyday we are all following the latest COVID19 numbers across the country. For good reason. Our lives are affected by the ongoing lockdowns, vaccination rates, and variants of this nasty family of viruses.
It has our attention.
Certainly COVID19 deserves our attention (although – perhaps not 24 hours a day. No one needs to live with that kind of constant anxiety).
Yet, how often are we consciously deciding where our attention lies? And even more powerfully – where the attention of your organisation should be.
So, change leader,
How are you leveraging the power of attention?