In reading The Philosophical Baby by Alison Gopnik, I learned the distinction between exogenous and endogenous attention. Here’s how the two concepts are defined in Wikipedia:
Attention can be directed either voluntarily, also referred to as endogenous control, or automatically, which is also called exogenous or reflexive attention. While endogenous control involves one choosing of their own volition to direct their attention, exogenous control occurs when an external object or event, for example, a bee flying by, grabs attention away from the book one is reading, and attracts it involuntarily.
In child development, babies are born with only exogenous attention, that is, their attention is dictated by happenings in the world around them. As they grow older, they slowly develop endogenous attention.
I’m struck by a parallel in my answer to the question Product Management: How do you divide your typical day as a product manager to juggle between different responsibilities? I wrote:
I believe that the primary thing for a product manager to prioritize above all else is keeping yourself in a situation where you dictate what you and what your team does… The primary difference I’ve seen between product managers who thrive versus those who struggle is whether they dictate what they do. Those who do not, end up on a treadmill of executing other people’s projects that lack sufficient unity and direction to make meaningful impact.
In other words, for a product manager to be effective, it is essential that they maintain endogenous attention, the ability to control what they focus on as opposed to reacting to the whims of others.
While reading The Philosophical Baby, I’ve been constantly struck by how adults must develop in the work place in similar ways to how babies naturally develop in the world. Those that don’t will remain babies, so to speak, for their entire career.
This post appeared originally on Quora.