Cal Newport gives a very useful example of the important of one of the key ideas behind attention capital theory, in a story about the TV series Seinfeld. He observes that Jerry Seinfeld attributed much of the success of the series, which went on to generate more than $3.1 billion dollars in revenue, to the fact that he and Larry David (another genius writer, in my view) would spend nearly all of their time writing. This in an environment where, according to Seinfeld, typically writers would spend 50% of their time “dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something” rather than writing. They would close their office door, refuse to take ‘phone calls and concentrate entirely on the deep work of writing. As Newport points out:
For Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David to close their door and ignore the non-creative aspects of creating a television show was almost certainly massively inconvenient for most of the people involved in the series. Some of those calls they ignored were urgent and some of the “personality, political, and hierarchical issues” they refused to engage were important. Opportunities were missed. Bad things happened. Executives were frustrated. Everyone would have been much happier if Seinfeld and David would just pick up the phone and take the meeting. But they didn’t.
Linking this to attention capital theory, Newport highlights a key idea, that:
…knowledge work organizations implicitly prioritize convenience over value production. It makes everyones’ life easier in the moment if you’re quick to reply to email, willing to hop on a call, attend one more planning meeting and join that internal committee. But as Seinfeld’s example hints, it’s possible that many of these organizations might end up producing massively more value in the long run if they set things up so their cognitive talent could shut the metaphorical door, disengage from the logistical tangle, and decide, “we’re going to make this thing funny.”