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That Attention Thing

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Blog Post
Campari poster, circa 1960

Attention changes the way we see the world around us.

A few weeks ago, an odd series of experiences reminded me of the power of attention to change the way we see the world around us.

I was meeting with a client to prepare materials for a special event—a vendor exposition. We were designing a poster to display the names of the vendors, and working from two different source lists, we discovered a discrepancy: a moving company called Max Movers was on one list but not the other. We placed the name on the poster, but asked the event coordinator to follow up about whether Max Movers belonged on the list.

Three days later, as I left another client’s office, I drove past a truck bearing the now-familiar Max Movers logo. I had no memory of ever seeing a Max Movers truck before in my life. I thought about this strange phenomenon, the by-product of focused attention. I suspected that I’d encountered their trucks dozens of times, but that I’d never seen one.

Over lunch that afternoon, I told my cousin about that experience and “the attention thing.” In the course of the same meal, we moved on to the topic of some projects that my company had worked on several years ago—programs for National American Miss pageants. The work was chaotic, disorganized, and difficult. With a bit of gallows humor, my staff referred to the summer of National American Miss programs as “our time in NAM.”

After lunch, my cousin and I went to an art museum. We’d only been wandering the galleries for a short while when we walked into a room where a huge canvas depicted two life-size people carrying a banner bearing the word NAM. My cousin pointed at the painting. “NAM! If we hadn’t talked about ‘NAM’ at lunch, I wouldn’t have even noticed this. It’s that attention thing again.”

The next day, my cousin and I stopped at a liquor store to pick up a few things for a party. I picked up a bottle of Campari, a bitter Italian apéritif. “I’ve always wanted to try this,” I said. “Have you ever had it?” She hadn’t. We bought the bottle.

On our way home, we stopped at an icehouse to meet some friends for drinks. After a while, my cousin paid a visit to the ladies’ room. When she came back, she had a grin on her face. I asked her what was funny.

She said, “There was a poster on the wall of the restroom…advertising Campari!”

That attention thing again.

Gika says: You get what you focus on. Ed’s guest post covers the idea nicely. The only thing I’d add is to notice what you notice. Where is your attention, and what is it getting you? What might happen if you shifted your focus?


Edward F. Gumnick is a writer, graphic design, and communications consultant based in Houston, Texas. You can find links to his work at EFGumnick.com.

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3 comments to That Attention Thing

  • […] for my friend Gika about how the focus of our attention changes the way we see the world. Check out That Attention Thing. March 31, 2010 | Category: […]

  • Jo

    Recently someone asked me (in the middle of the grocery store) whether the Texas flag had the white field on top or the red one. I hesitated. I thought I knew, but realized I wasn’t SURE. In fifty-plus years as a native Texan, just how many thousands of times had I looked at that flag and not seen? Now I always truly see it. Amazing what happens when you pay attention.

  • Anne

    I think my Texan kids learned this back in 4th grade (Texas history, which I never took since I was a transplant). I remember this way: white is up because it resembles the sky.

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