Did you ever stop to recognize that we are all bombarded with “noise,” be it in the form of sound or motion or the endless pressure of the workplace, robbing us of the time we need to collect our thoughts, take a deep breath, and perhaps even have the chance to innovate?
Working with busy clients, I find the new normal to be one of near-constant interruption and a resultant inability to spend time in reflection – and real deep thinking. One executive, who was trained as an electrical engineer, put it simply: “The signal to noise ratio is unacceptable in today’s workplace.”
Signal to noise is technically the ratio of the strength of any signal carrying information to that of the interference that is present while trying to discern that signal. While it is generally expressed in decibels, it has come to be used in any number of fields, including WiFi networks. There are a significant library of equations describing it.
What my client referred to, however, was the ratio of useful information – the actual “signal” – we receive vs. the overload of “noise” that is endlessly transmitted our way. We effectively lose the “signal” due to the noise.
Our workplace has been transfigured in a little over thirty years. In the late 1980s, an “in” box and “out” box sat on each desk and letters and reports were drafted by hand or on typewriters. Back then, a phone call could interrupt us, but it was not forced upon us, especially if there was a savvy secretary sitting in the outer office running interference.
Fast forward to today, as emails pile up on our computer screens, chat boxes populate on top of them, and our personal devices hum with personal and professional texts. Often, we use streaming music to try to drown out the cacophony. And even then the inevitable mandatory video conference invitations (ironic that they are called invitations, isn’t it? Perhaps “mandates” would be more appropriate). Some clients lament that of 40 hours at work (virtual or in the office), all of those hours is scheduled in video or in-person sessions.
What can we do as leaders to mitigate the “noise” in our lives or at least take some initial steps? The first step, of course, is awareness that there is an issue. By naming it, we can begin addressing it. It might serve leaders to consider the following list or to develop their own. Try a few of these ideas – they have worked for many of our clients and can effectively help you hear the “signal” better and indeed reduce the “noise.”