Songs have been written about how our lives are filled with green light days. These are the days when we breeze through things without a single hiccup. It feels like we’ve got the Midas touch. Songs have also been written about the red-light days. Red-light days are those that feel like everything you touch will break, and there will always be another barrier to get in your way. Red-light days are full of blockages, brokenness, and burnout. However, the yellow light, a word of caution, seems to avoid interest, as it’s simply the transition between green and red. It’s shorter and therefore somehow seems to be unworthy of attention. However, eliminating yellow lights could just be the most important thing that you do for your change initiative.
The Scarce Resource of Attention
The Industrial Age ushered in the prominence of materials and energy. The Information Age ushered in the prominence of information, but as we continue through this age, we’re beginning to realize that it’s not information that’s the limiting resource. We can generate billions of data points for artificial intelligence to comb through. We develop new algorithms and approaches that convert the data we already have into useful insights – if we can pay attention.
Seeking planets outside the Solar System had been a goal for a long time. Some were skeptical that we’d ever find them. The distances are so vast and the barriers to visibly seeing a planet made it a long shot, yet astronomers still stared into the sky hoping for the elusive look at a planet. Then something odd happened. It was an idea. What if a super-massive planet was close to a star? Wouldn’t the star wobble as a part of the orbit of the planet – and because of the doppler effect, shouldn’t the star’s frequency of light oscillate just a bit?
That’s what astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail found in 1992 when looking at a pulsar. Their discovery of an exoplanet (a planet outside of our Solar System) triggered a wave of attention to the data that we already had and the discovery of many super-massive planets orbiting far-away stars. The problem wasn’t the data or information we had. The problem is we needed the right kind of attention to the problem to get to a solution.
In our more mundane world here on Earth, we’re bombarded with information. Estimates place the amount of information we see in a year on par with what our grandparents saw in their lifetime – and many believe this is an understatement. We simply don’t have the mental capacity to process everything that is going on right outside our skin.
Consider your current situation. Your eyes are skimming the text while your ears are taking in sounds that you’re mostly ignoring. Your body feels the pressure of gravity, but until I mentioned it, you were likely unaware of it. Filtering is a fundamental function of the mind. We need to see only the salient.
Caution Is a Call for Attention
The problem with yellow lights is they’re a signal for caution, and caution is a call for the precious attention that we don’t have enough of. When we’re working with our change initiatives, we need to minimize yellow lights, because those yellow lights are sucking up the most precious resource we have: our attention.
Yellow lights in our change initiatives come when people are unwilling to come out in support of or in opposition to our initiative. The argument that some make is that it’s better to have someone on the fence than someone opposed to your initiative, so why push them? This misses the fundamental point that, whether you are aware of the opposition or not, it still exists. Not knowing doesn’t change the reality of the situation – only your awareness.
When working with individuals and groups, a “maybe” or non-committal answer is actually worse than a negative answer. With a negative answer, at least you know where you stand.
If you want to be successful in your change, get rid of the yellow lights. Even if you find some red lights, get clear on who is on board – and who is not.