Attention Spans, Goldfish & Fake News

I just came back from a safety conference where one of the presenters stated that humans have an attention span of 8 seconds – less than that of a goldfish. While this is a vivid and easy to remember statistic that many presenters and media sources like to repeat, it is not proven and there seems to be little to no evidence backing it up.

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If you think about it, imagine what we would be like if we really only could pay attention for 8 seconds. Our training classes would be chaotic! While I agree 100% that it is important to include as many opportunities as possible for trainees to be involved during training to help keep them involved and focused, I don’t think we have to worry about people zoning out every 8 seconds. The original source of the goldfish story has not been backed up. More recent studies show much more interesting data pointing out that 1) we don’t have shorter attention spans than goldfish* (usually attributed to the increased use of technology),  2) we are becoming better at multi-tasking (thanks to technology) and 3) our attention spans are actually evolving and learning to be more selective. I am sure you can relate to this as well as I can. We are flooded with information so if you are like me, you will see something and quickly decide if it’s worth your attention before moving to the next thing. In these cases, I am sure my attention span is less than 3 seconds! There is so much coming at us from every direction, we need to be able to limit our focus to a few seconds so that we can focus longer on what’s important.

One important thing I’d like to point out is the overuse of the whole goldfish and attention span story. Even though the original goldfish story was published by Microsoft in 2015 and is still quoted as fact every day in 2019, it has not been backed up by science. In fact, there are dozens of more recent reports that have debunked the goldfish attention span myth. Telling and re-telling the goldfish story is in effect, fake news. As trainers, we need to check and re-check the stories and statistics such as this before we teach them to others as “the way it is.”  The goldfish attention span story is relatively harmless but it’s an example of how something can so easily perpetuate.  Going past the first page of Google search results can often show facts, research and opinions that differ  from the more popular ones being quoted by everyone else.  A few resources to check your information, plus a few links about the goldfish attention span story are below.  I hope you can come to your own conclusions and keep an open mind in the future.

PS – If you got this far, your attention span is definitely longer than 8 seconds!

Note: The lowly goldfish actually has a much longer attention span than 8 seconds and goldfish researchers take offense at this poor little guy being used as the poster child for poor attention spans. If you are really interested in goldfish attention spans, the research studies are available online.

 

  1. http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/ 
  2. http://brandongaille.com/average-attention-span-statistics-and-trends/  
  3. http://www.iflscience.com/brain/do-you-have-lower-attention-span-goldfish/ 
  4. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38896790 
  5. https://guides.stlcc.edu/fakenews/factchecking
  6. https://martechseries.com/sales-marketing/customer-experience-management/survey-finds-attention-spans-arent-shrinking-theyre-evolving/

 

 

 

 

Flash Roles

I just finished “Flip the Script” by Oren Klaff, a very rich guy who runs around the world making huge million dollar deals. Why would a safety professional read this? The subtitle pulled me in. flip the script.png“Getting People to think Your Idea is Their Idea” is something that many safety people need to do every day in order to be successful in their jobs. I love to combine ideas from other fields and apply them to safety and this book has some good advice for pitching ideas to the people we work with either occasionally or every day.

One of the ideas I am most intrigued by is the concept of a “flash role.” In the book, the author talks about the scene from My Cousin Vinny where a star witness spouts off a paragraph of deep knowledge about cars, very quickly and matter of factly, in order to gain acceptance as an automotive expert.  Click here to see the video.

Would this work for safety pros out in the field? I tend to think it would (as long as you really do know what you are talking about). Especially female or younger safety pros may have to show they know their stuff before being taken seriously.  If you want others to go along with your ideas (even for something as simple as a “request” to wear fall protection), getting them to accept you as an expert is very important.  If you are a safety pro who came into OHS from the field, this is probably something you already love to do.  Workers may mistakenly underestimate you not realizing you have been in their shoes and know the lingo, the short-cuts, and the work-arounds. A quick flash role will likely elevate your status.

Have you tried something similar to a flash role? If so, what was the topic where you needed to show your expertise quickly and matter-of-factly? How did you do it? (I’ll try to collect some examples and post them here) but feel free to share your “flash roles” in the comments.

Chunk-It

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One way athletes are often taught to learn a new skill is by breaking it down into small chunks and then perfecting each of these steps.  In The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle writes “Chunks are to skill what letters of the alphabet are to language. Alone, each is nearly useless, but when combined into bigger chunks (words), and … combined into still bigger things (sentences, paragraphs), they can build something complex and beautiful.”

Chunking is one way to help trainees to remember more. (See my earlier post on “Reducing” for more). If you are training a class how to do something, think about how you could break down (chunk) each part of the act and focus on each step separately. Let’s take an easy example – how to use a fire extinguisher (from OSHA’s website)

The first step shown is to select the appropriate screenshot_513.png

To chunk down this instruction, you could concentrate on the 4 steps listed as separate training “chunks.”

Pull the Pin – Can you set up a situation where trainees get to actually break the tamper seal and pull the pin? Is there anything else you assume they should know – or anything that you believe to be “common sense” but might need special reinforcement?

Aim – Can you do a demonstration that shows what happens when you aim at the base and when you aim elsewhere?  Can the trainees practice? How far away should you stand? What is a realistic situation for a workplace fire in your facility? It most certainly won’t look like the bonfire shown in the OSHA image. Will it be in a trashcan? If so, how do you aim at the base if you can’t see the base? When should a trainee attempt to put the fire out with the extinguisher and  when should they leave the area? (that question gives me an idea for a new training activity  – let me know if you want to see what I come up with). Think how you can break this step down to make the training as specific, realistic and applicable to the trainees’ work environment as possible.

Squeeze  – How hard does the handle need to be squeezed? How long? What if someone doesn’t have great hand strength? Do you need to squeeze fast or slow? Do you fingers go on top or bottom of the handle? What happens with it begins discharging? Is it easier or more difficult to squeeze the handle? What if they are wearing gloves? Is it more difficult? Can you have the trainees practice?

Sweep – How long and how fast do you sweep from side to side? How long will the extinguisher last? How will you know how long it will last before you use it? What should you do if the extinguisher runs out before the fire is out?  If the fire appears out, how long do you need to watch it? Should you throw water on it or do anything else after the fire is gone?

Do you get the idea? Each step in a relatively simple set of instructions can be broken down into a mini-topic. If you can’t see trainees face-to-face on consecutive days or weeks to cover each mini-topic (while referencing what was previous learned) maybe you could send out for emails or text messages with each focusing on one of the steps.

Four simple steps might seem just like four simple steps but as you can see by the random questions each step generated above, there could be a lot of questions zooming around your trainees head. If you don’t talk about actual fire possibilities in your workplace and specific conditions and challenges that might come with those fires, the training information will not stick so with every chunk you are able to create, make sure to integrate the real-world information your trainees need to know.

 

Language Learning

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I’m always jealous when I hear someone speaking something other than English and living where I live, that seems to be just about everyone. I would LOVE to speak more than one language fluently and I am so impressed when I meet people who do. I have studied Spanish for about 7 years and I would still classify myself as a beginner. I lived in Amsterdam for 3 years and studied Dutch almost every day and although I can understand most things, speaking is a different story. I also lived in Munich and found German to be really, really hard and according to this chart created by the Foreign Service German is harder than the other two languages I pretend to speak.  If you had to learn a new language, what method would you use? Would you approach this self-training the same way as you would train other people?

Note: I should add that I was asked in June of 2016 if I would deliver a presentation in Spanish the following year so I said yes thinking that would give me the motivation to finally improve. I was able to get through the presentation after a lot of stress and tons of prep but I also would not have been able to do it without a native speaker as co-presenter. If you are interested in that presentation, let me know.