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Today's Attention Span. Going, going gone...

Let’s talk attention spans. As in, you guessed it: They’re getting shorter. Not just by the minute but by the second. The percentage of audience willing to watch an online video? If it’s ten seconds or less: 89.61%. Five minutes or less: 9.42%. Which means a third of your audience is lost by 30 seconds – and more than half disappear a single minute into it. Five years ago my team decided to hire filmmakers to tell stories about how technology would disrupt our business. French Press Films, based in San Francisco, staffed with terrific, talented Millennial-aged filmmakers, would beg us to keep our videos less than three minutes. Both young and smart they understand the definition of brevity; unfortunately, we, like most egotists, thought people wanted to hear us talk (um, they don’t). Fast forward just a few years and FP would tell you now even 60 seconds is too long, something executives would rather not hear when paying money for creative.

As the mother of three Gen Z-aged boys, this is something I deal with daily. We are fortunate to live on a large lot where they have a pool, a trampoline, trail access, and a game room. They also have high definition TVs with cable and streaming content, desktop and laptop computers, iPads, and an Xbox gaming console, and our 12yo has an iPhone. The whole world is at their fingertips, and yet all we ever hear is they’re bored. In short, Gen Z has a disturbingly short attention span. Specifically, it’s eight seconds, compared to Millennials’ 12 seconds, a full 33% shorter.

As I said last week, when will Fortnite BR get old? Soon, of course. I’d point you to the fidget spinner craze. By the time our boys discovered them they were already a hot commodity and when they’d decided they’d die without them and we couldn't find them in any store -- not even on Amazon -- I called my dad, desperate. Fortunately, he’s one of the many Boomers who is technologically savvy and made some with his 3-D printer. Sadly, the kids soon tired of those and moved onto something else we can’t even recall now (the fad lasted roughly nine months in total). In fact, right this minute, it’s 10PM on the last day of school and our 9yo just walked into the office begging to watch YouTube on his iPad because he has “nothing to do!” I told him to go to bed, a suggestion that was clearly unwelcome.

How a beleaguered parent copes I clearly have no idea (did I mention wine?). But what it all adds up to is the pace of change is quickening and blue chip companies must figure out how to keep up. The days of waterfall development are over. The days of waiting to see what fad takes hold next are too – you must experiment to decide for yourself or your sector because time is short. (This week Fidelity Investments announced a VR app named Cora -- a bold move for a company serving the high net worth space, which used to skew conservative but is also undergoing tectonic change.) No doubt Gen Z will grow up, sober, like generations before them but their fundamental haptic memory is set. They will have expectations that require innovation over procrastination and force change over the status quo to the point of being uncomfortable. Figuring out how to meet those demands is Gen X and Gen Y’s problem to solve if we want to stay relevant, so best to ask how many seconds have passed since you asked the question and start right away.