Attention: SEARCH and SIN

Dr. Ned Hallowell
Dr. Ned Hallowell
Dr. Ned Hallowell

I attended an extraordinary event this week hosted by Joe Polish and Peter Diamandis. Speakers included household names such as Steve Forbes, Ray Kurzweil and Arianna Huffington and some remarkably brilliant people you may not be familiar with. You can check out what Joe and Peter put together at

I learned something from every speaker, but I found a presentation by Dr. Ned Hallowell particularly applicable for success in a connected world. Dr. Hallowell is one of the world’s foremost experts on ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), a medical condition that is grossly misunderstood. Interestingly, his talk was mostly focused on getting attention and, since attention is a major currency of our connected world, Dr. Hallowell’s talk had my undivided attention.

How do you get someone’s attention? According to Dr. Hallowell, the acronym is SEARCH.

S – Scare
E – Excite/Educate
A – Attack/Annoy/Amaze
R – Reassure/Reward
C – Charm
H – Help

Like you, I was completely aware of (and have used) every method in his SEARCH acronym to create successful social media, advertising and marketing campaigns. And, I have paid the price when I have not been able to create compelling copy or visuals that accomplish them. But, I’ve never seen all of the most popular attention-getting tactics laid out this way, and it… um… got my attention.

After explaining the self-explanatory attention-getting words above, Dr. Hallowell turned our attention to: How to hold someone’s attention. For this, he had another acronym: SIN.

S – Structure
I – Interaction
N – Novelty

These actually do need a little explanation so, to paraphrase Dr. Hallowell, “structure” is the form factor you choose to rein in creativity. Mozart is probably the most famous composer of his era; his Sonatas, Concerti and Symphonies were all created inside of very well established structures. As you know, the structure did not hamper his creativity in any way. Dr. Hallowell’s thesis, which I completely agree with, is that the structures probably gave Mozart a comfort zone, a competitive benchmark and empowered a higher level of creative freedom. The same can be said for writings of Shakespeare and hundreds of other world-famous, time-tested composers, writers, graphic artists and other creatives.

Interaction is simply the level to which you involve the audience (Everybody clap your hands to the beat!) and, according to the good doctor, is far and away the most important tool for keeping someone’s attention.

Novelty, as a technique, is easy to describe and super hard to accomplish. Putting a unique twist on a tired format is where the true artists of attention-holding shine.

Dr. Hallowell went on to say that of the three aspects of SIN, Interaction was the most important, and that all three components must be balanced to achieve maximum attention-holding.

I know that you know all of this. In fact, I knew all of it too. But, in a world where brand briefs have deteriorated to data-driven, percentage-laden, over-regressioned, over-pivot-tabled drivel – I thought it might be fun to have some acronyms that can be used to drive thinking. After all, the currency of attention is so integral to our world; the exchange of attention is hard-wired into the grammar of the English language — you “pay” attention and you “receive” it. Just like money.

So, next time you start a brand brief or a mission, vision and values statement with the goal of getting and keeping attention in a connected world, remember to credit Dr. Ned Hallowell and thank him for SEARCH and SIN. That’s the kind of attention he rightly earned.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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