It started that morning when you actually had time to go to your favorite coffee shop on that Wednesday morning. You, like many of us, had a bunch of time off for Christmas, so you decided, “I never go to that coffee shop and it’s one of my favorite places to think. Fuck it, I’m going.”
You threw on your favorite sweater — that one with the holes in the elbows — and your blue baseball hat. You ignored the urge to invite a co-conspirator on this visit. You just wanted an uncomplicated, unencumbered, easy trip to the coffee shop.
You arrived, grabbed a cup of black coffee, found a small, round, wooden table with two chairs, and sat down amidst the chorus of dozens of coffee drinkers discussing topics you could hear, but not understand.
With your hands firmly around your coffee cup, you stared around the room and your mind drifted. I love this place. All coffee shops should be built of dark wood. And all furniture. In fact, I need a new desk… made out of dark wood because… I hate my job.
There it is. It’s certainly a topic that’s been on your mind, but it took a solo trip to the coffee shop during a post-Christmas decompression period for you to actually hear what was important to you. More importantly, it sticks.
During the drive home you realize: I hate my job because, while I’m busy, I haven’t learned a thing in the last six months. That night over dinner, you find yourself shaking your finger at your best friend: Shame on me, six months of uselessness and that changes — now.
Frustration has blossomed into the beginnings of strategic resolution and the reason that happens is a lack of Noise.
The Noise wants you to believe it’s Signal. The Noise is things you need to do, and they are approachable, knowable, and accomplishable things. You do them — one by one — and mentally pat yourself on the back as you finish them because you have a sense of moving forward.
The Noise surrounds you. People walk in your office with their Noise and they write it on your whiteboard. You nod and agree, “Why, indeed yes, that’s noisy” and they leave comforted — thinking your agreement was somehow progress.
And that’s the greatest lie of the Noise. The idea that listening and reacting to the Noise is significant progress. Yes, these small bits of work we do all day are essential to getting things done, but go back to your last big vacation. After the first three days of decompression, when you were sitting in that hammock with a glass of red wine, under that oak tree that is older than anyone you know… tell me what you were thinking about. Was it the 27 bugs you left in an unverified state, or was it the epiphany that in the first three decades of your life you haven’t come close to building something as impressive as this damned oak tree?
The Noise wants you to believe it’s Signal and its omnipresence in your life slowly and deviously convinces you that the Noise is important. But all listening to the Noise does is deafen you to the things that are important.
Taking Time to Think
You return bright and shiny from long vacations because you’ve no longer been dulled by the Noise. Your job once you’ve returned is to maintain that shininess, which is hard… the Noise is everywhere.
This is why I believe you have to work to make a 1:1 a conversation and not a status report. This is why you’ve established a regular communication cadence with your team, but don’t panic when that cadence is altered. This is why you force yourself outside of the building where you seek unbiased external perspectives willing to not only explain their part of the world, but also hold a mirror up to yours. And this is why I believe you get up and radically change your gig every three years.
These habits are designed to create unexpected moments with Signal. Each moment with Signal is a moment that you’re killing the Noise and they exist so you remember what it feels like to care rather than just do.