Energy Goes Where Attention Flows

By Charles E. Smith | Bio

Of great influence in my thinking has been The Urban Shaman
by Serge Kahlili King. One of his assertions was that “energy flows
where the attention goes.” My work was always shaped by where the CEO
or the leader was putting his or her attention. My life is shaped by
where I’m putting my attention. And with everybody I knew, their lives
were affected by where they placed their attention. What I hadn’t seen
before was that energy accompanied attention and that certain kinds of
attention enhanced energy. In organizations, outward results can be
directly linked to the energy created from where the attention flows.

then started to work with a musician and a poet, a Taos Pueblo Indian
named Robert Mirabal. He and I became fast friends and we started doing
training programs and other community work together. We developed a
conversation based on the contrast between the linear and the
metaphorical. Robert would say that his Tiwa language was metaphorical,
the way his people thought was metaphorical, and what they were
interested in was metaphorical, including their religion. And
metaphorical thinking isn’t very good for business. “English,” he said,
“was a language made up to do business in,” and was far more linear,
goal-oriented, and time-bound.

Out of our engagement with
one another, and experiencing the difference between him and his people
and me (a mainstream guy), I came to see that there were really
profound, existential differences between how they related to time,
music and dance versus results, productivity and money. It was
radically different. My immersion with Robert in metaphorical
conversation and metaphorical experience—whether through drumming,
walks in the woods, or asking a stone what to do with one’s
life—demonstrated that there were effects that were surprising,
remarkable, insightful and that gave energy, vitality and new life to
old situations. I also saw that introducing linear thought and the
English language tended to suppress that particular kind of energy. On
the other hand, the kind of energy that produces penicillin, airplanes
and computers isn’t available to the metaphorical mind in its pure
form. I came to see that in a world in which everything is profane and
nothing is sacred, energy and human vitality are suppressed.

the same period I read that in the Kaballah, the ancient Jewish
mystical tradition, a person’s life works best when they are able to
continuously integrate intellectual, physical, spiritual and emotional
energies. That seemed to be the key to the contextual shift I was
experiencing: energy in its purest form is in the background of
everything. But it gets expressed concretely in objects, results and
money. It gets expressed emotionally in relationship and caring, love
and generous listening. It gets expressed intellectually in creative
thinking and inquiry—in the asking of good questions and the invention
of new answers. And it gets expressed spiritually in those
representations that we hold sacred—our highest principles.

saw that in companies, when things started to go awry, one of these
energies was always missing. People were either not paying attention to
measurement (so there were no results) and/or they weren’t
paying attention to relationships (so projects got undermined).
Sometimes they weren’t paying attention to principles, and the fundamental meaning went out of the whole thing and people became demoralized. Other times there was no innovation—just
people saying and thinking the same things over and over again.
Whatever energetic expression prevailed in a company was reinforced by
the culture. Other thoughts were forbidden and people who most
represented the culture became the CEO or the most important
vice-presidents. People representing the type of energy most absent
were often dismissed.

Some years ago I saw a video of Red
Auerbach—the famous Boston Celtics basketball coach—speaking about what
it means to be a coach. One of the things he said was that his job was
all about team spirit. It was all about watching the level of team
spirit and whenever the level of team spirit went down, his job was to
pump it up any way he could through challenge, hard work, practice,
counseling, affection or whatever it took to get that team spirit up. I
saw then that energy is the same as team spirit in an organization.
That’s what we are fundamentally dealing with—an organization whose
team spirit is high, whose energy is high, will prevail, other things
being equal.

© 2008 Charles E. Smith. All rights reserved.