Crises of Noise – S16.4

In the last few pages of my book, Governance and Social Leadership (CBU Press, 2014), I discuss the impact of noise on the development of governance and leadership. We did not have time to cover this topic at length in class, but it is an area that I think is of critical importance when it comes to developing an understanding of why we are continually hearing about crises in governance and leadership in all areas of human activity. Rather than restating my remarks, here is the central portion of that text.

We have become so accustomed to a noisy world, that our ability to be quiet has all but vanished. In fact, it is likely that for many people, the few moments of genuine quiet they experience induce as much, if not more, anxiety than the normal cacophony to which they are exposed. We are barraged with so much visual, sonic and tactile data that our overloaded senses shut down out of exhaustion. On the rare occasion when we are immersed in quiet, we fidget and fuss, searching for distraction – no longer knowing how to cope. Applying this notion more broadly, I would suggest that the current problems we are encountering with our systems of governance and leadership are best viewed as crises of noise.

Communications experts speak about the signal-to-noise ratio of a transmission. What this concept expresses is the extent to which the meaningful and intentional part of a message can win out against the interference that it encounters. Advances in information and communications technologies have provided media gurus, politicians, marketers and special interest groups with the means to flood the environment with noise. Some of this effort, of course, is designed to drown out the competition – a futile exercise that results in nothing but escalation. Some of it, however, is designed to prevent discussion that would lead to understanding and, beyond that, to evaluation, condemnation and the initiation of alternative courses of action. In the absence of quiet, and in order for social interaction to be constructive, individuals must learn to filter out noise. (pp. 197-198)

We spent the whole course talking about building the capacity to act in organizations. Many organizations exert a great deal of effort trying to design and implement effective governance structures, and even more time is often spent on the training and development of leaders. However, perhaps we should be more interested in learning how much effort they are expending on eliminating, or at least limiting, the incapacitating effects of noise.


About Robert A. Campbell, PhD

Robert A. Campbell, PhD, teaches courses in change management, leadership, and organizational behavior, as part of the MBA program in community economic development, for the Shannon School of Business at Cape Breton University.
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31 Responses to Crises of Noise – S16.4

  1. The crisis of noise in relation to systems of governance and leadership is an interesting one. Where does noise fit in an organization. Noise could positive or negative. Positive insofar as noise, subtle as it may be, can culminate and improve an organization’s culture and workplace well-being. These intrinsic properties can spawn into achieving organization values, core competencies and objectives. Conversely noise, more often then not, can create negative interference. Negative noise accumulated in relational organization interactions will diffract signaling making governance and leadership more difficult to attain. Under the influence of negative noise an organization will continue to forward the signal until it eventually permeates through the noise impedance. Fragmented organizations could possess good and bad noise. The good and bad noise created via separate trajectories of bonded clusters. In this situation signaling received could take on different meaning dependent on the relational outcome of these bonded clusters.

    Building and sustaining relationships internal and external are key in developing a good team, sector, and organization. The prudence of relationship is not fully recognized in most organizations’. Instead more emphasis and resource is placed on revamping organization strategies in hopes of creating more effective types of signals. This reaction is more apparent in large organizations and/or bureaucracies.

    • good point, I believe that there are negative or postive noise in relation to systems of governance and leadership. and we do not indentify what the standards of positive or negative noise. as often as not, the negative noise could accelerate the development of governance and leadership in special situation. On the contrary, postive noise may become a kind of negative noise during the changes of global arranging. Nowadays, as we are staying a noise world, more open more noise would be heared, but we still need to keep our intrinsic voice to be successful whatever for induvidual or organization.

    • Peter Lawlor says:

      What strikes me is the notion of positive and negative noise. How do we discern which is which? What process or method should be used? Is it possible that negative noise could result in a positive result?

      To start with, Steven Covey suggests that we do not spend enough time honing our listening skills and posits that most of us are poor examples of good listeners. He suggests that we should develop the ability to listen with the intent to understand rather than to reply (SOURCE: https://WWW.STEPHENCOVEY.COM/7HABITS/7HABITS-HABIT5.PHP).

      In order to achieve this level in communication, I believe one needs to calm the mind and shutout the “noise”. Not just the external noise but the noise of our thoughts that, when active (which is all the time), can keep us from focusing on the meaning of the noise. Taking time to quietly ponder and reflect can assist in understanding the meaning behind the noise. This is a skill that can be developed.

  2. Victor Tomiczek says:

    I think much of the problem with addressing the present crises of noise is the cultural lag created through the proliferation of smart phones and our subsequent tendency to disavow the present. We can’t address the issue if we can’t recognize what is actually noisy.

    An organization’s governance structure is implemented by people who may not be aware of the biggest cause of noise because they are caught up a cultural lag. This refers to the fact that it takes time for a culture to catch up to the effects of technological innovations. The biggest noise factor in any organization (from the most informal to formal) is smart phones and their capability to connect every individual to the internet all the time. We are, in effect, creating the noise that stunts progressive organizational governance.

    It seems that we do not reflect upon our present situation but instead just want to get through it. Noise helps us avoid the now. Thus, in tackling the present crises of noise is to acknowledge a fundamental problem of self-disengagement and therefore should lead to an investigation into the underlying sources that cause people to be estranged from their present selves.

    We are in Dupree’s a-literate world of immaturity. In our society, it’s not that we cannot interact with others, but that we choose not to. We do not enthusiastically engage in new relationships with people, but instead follow the meaningless clickbait drivel found upon the shallow face of the internet. Nearly all of the world’s most popular websites are search engines [Google, Baidu (recent trending Google searches for North America are all celebrities)], social networks (Facebook, Twitter) video sharing/streaming (Youtube, Netflix), or e-commerce/shopping (Amazon, Taobao).

    We seek out the noise we should combat. Until an organization can recognize, reflect, and then act upon the most prevalent sources of incapacitating noise, it may be likely that no real governance progress is possible. Whether through economic, marketing, media manipulation or through our own ignorance, we are the arbiters of our own noisy downfall.

    • Robert Bolton says:

      Well said, and I agree. The irony lies in the fact that most organizations are in a race to obtain these nuance media streams in efforts to encourage interaction amongst employees to build relationships and gain governance. Senior executive use social media to reach out and connect with the commoners in hopes of projecting a sense of belonging to the herd. From their perspective noise is negligible in comparison to gaining connection to a greater audience whom may aid in boosting market share or obtaining organizational objectives. Noise from social media is here to stay and it up to managers to learn how to properly assess and recognize the trade-offs associated with introducing social media in the workplace.

    • Ian Wheeliker says:

      Combating noise or anything (substance or otherwise) that leads us to be disengaged or be estranged from our present lives doesn’t usually resolve the crisis. Maybe the crisis is much deeper than we think. Maybe it is a people crisis not a noise crisis. Maybe people don’t know how to be present, quiet with themselves and happy anymore. Maybe they are seeking happiness and avoiding their present lives with noise the same way some use substances to escape, disengage and attempt to meet their needs.
      I wonder whether our busy lives have had an impact on how we raise the next generation and what we are teaching the young ones growing up now. Do parents keep kids so busy they don’t get the chance to get lost in their thoughts, or create their own entertainment or learn how to just relax and take time for themselves?
      I wonder if noise is just like anything else in the world that can be an escape or distraction some need it some don’t. Maybe the question is not so much about noise but rather about people and how we are in the world, what we pass on to the new generation in values and beliefs, norms and normal behaviours. What is the difference between people who need noise and people who don’t? I don’t know whether we choose not to interact with other people or whether we are socialized to interact in ways that reflect the technological and information era we live in. The crisis of noise may be a bit of a red herring.

  3. When we mention about the ‘crises’ that most topics would trend to financial crises, rather than connect ‘noise’ with ‘crises’. Until now, no one points about the crises of noise but it definitely is a vital area being watch in modern time. Especially, in relation to governance and leadership is new topic to discuss. Furthermore, in order to know what the concept of the crises of noise in governance and leadership, firstly we could know what kind of crises of noise let governance and leaders to choice a correct way. Or other unclear noise would interrupt people who are staying in current hard to judge which one is better. In some sense, the governance construction need more efficient and effective methods carry on the practice rather departure the center that we originally maintain to enhance our governances and leaders’ capacity.

    • LI YANG says:

      I agree with you Jing Yu, to known what kind of crisis of noise would affect governance and leaders’ judgment is very important. Further, a more optical governance construction would also help them filter wrong information.

    • Yazhuo Hou says:

      I really agree with you. There is a big problem today in organizations and that is too much information sharing. There isn’t enough sense-making. Because it’s so easy to email and update people, there are too many messages, too many change programs, too many directions. When the going gets tough, leaders ramp up the volume. As a result, an already overtaxed system collapses from information and other overload.

  4. LI YANG says:

    It does a refreshing topic when we associate crises of noise with Leadership. As a new method of human’s transfers, Mass media has flooded to our lives even in small corners, that gives people more channels to access and spread the information. In among of that, there is no lack of people to spread false information for personal interests or political demand. Therefore, in this information-overloaded age, not only must organization put effort on gathering information, but they must learn how to identify the reliability of information, how to analyzing the valuable information, how to optimize their governance construction to meet a high efficient management. Only can they realized the source of the noise, they can eliminate it and clearly understand the present situation and problems on the basis of wise of choice of the path.

    • Fangyuan Xu says:

      A good leader, not only can do all kinds of decisions, more important is he can continuously optimize his own decisions. In absorbing to give opinions and Suggestions from all parties, leaders are good at considering the situation, making the right choices in a timely, and carrying out resolutely.

    • Victor Tomiczek says:

      I believe a distinction an organization has to make is to filter out the noise that we create (by not giving enough credence to the importance of organizational governance), and the noise that is used to distract the overall population from facts, policies, and actions that run counter to the greater good. There exists a relatively small number of people whose extreme privilege and wealth increases specifically because of their interest in producing distracting noise used to deflect a population away from caring about things that matter.

  5. Peter Lawlor says:

    I am reminded of the carnival midway. Lines of gaming kiosks with loud music, flashing lights, bright colours, big prizes, and enticing shouts of challenge from the sidelines all designed to get my attention and distract me – to draw me in. These distractions can pull us into other directions and take us off the intended path of travel, can slow our progress and sometimes produce little or no gain.

    I have experienced the noise and commotion of the world both as an individual and as it relates to organizations.

    As an individual I have been distracted by the noise around me. The constant barrage of information and data that stimulate my senses. Quieting my mind is difficult but is possible when done with intent. I have established habits that promote and support what I call “quiet time” – no radio, no TV, no cell phone…etc. A quiet time to ponder and reflect.

    This can also happen in organizations when we become reactive to the noise around us. It is important to pause and ponder the clamor and search for the meaning. Quieting the mind and sifting through the information debris, to find the pearls of meaning, in an effort to understand is critical.

    I have seen governance systems/models that have developed in response to the “noise” in an attempt to satisfy the perceived needs of all participants – both internal and external. They are complicated systems that are, in theory, designed to enable organizations to achieve their desired objectives but in fact can act as a barrier to success. In some cases, the systems fail all stakeholders. An interesting observation is many within these types of organizations do not see the obstacles the system creates. The behaviors and activities are seen as the norm and attempts to adjust or modify are met with resistance.

    Although we cannot control the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we can manage our reaction to and develop strategies address the phenomenon. Thus, we can choose to be distracted or find ways to minimize its effects on us and the environment around us.

  6. Fangyuan Xu says:

    The task of leader is to analyze the various problems in the research and find a solution about the problem and then make decisions. In the process of any problems need to solve, it will appear a lot of the methods to solve the problem from a variety of ways and a variety of participants, in this process, the leaders need to face all kinds of influence the sound of the final decision, rely on their own experience and thinking traits to screening and application of them which make out the information of interference, in order to achieve strong determination can be obtained finally. So how to eliminate interfering information is clearly the skill whihc the leader should to be training.

    • Seonaid Macneill says:

      I agree. I think the most important aspect of canceling out interference or noise is to first acknowledge that there is noise at all. Sometimes, it is all too easy to become so absorbed by the noise that we forget what is really the task at hand. While we cannot truly eliminate noise, a good leader must know how to properly tune it out.

    • Man Jiang says:

      I agree. During the process of a decision making, there must be some different voices because there is no a decision that could satisfy all aspects’ need. These voices could be considered as noise, but also the resource of decision making. Leaders could learn the source of these voice, know the needs of people and make a more reasonable decision.

    • Melissa MacDonald says:

      Yes, I agree that the leader should learn how to eliminate interfering information. As part of a governance structure, the participants should also learn this as well because they have to work together in order for actual leadership to take place.

      Implementing policies for social media in a workplace can be part of the problem, but social media may be required in some instances. It is a complex issue to think about and try to find solutions.

  7. Seonaid Macneill says:

    (Sorry for my late comment! I completely forgot to respond.)

    I know that, personally, I use noise to drown out other distractions when trying to focus on a task. Sometimes, a bit of background music or white noise is the perfect antidote for chatter in a noisy library. I have noticed, however, that sometimes I will accidentally write a lyric in the middle of one of my sentences. It usually even goes unnoticed, which is the most concerning part. I only notice when I proofread. This leads me to question what other aspects of my life are interwoven with noise. Where else have I completely missed the point?

    For example, I remember reading the email that this post was published. In the time since then, however, the noise of real life drowned out that specific responsibility. We need to be able to focus our minds in such a way that noise can exist, but in a muted way.

  8. Man Jiang says:

    When people refer to “noise”, for most of time, it is seemed as a not good word. It seems like the noise always disturbs people’s normal work. However, the noise is also an important part of our life. People can not live in a completely quiet environment where people will be anxious, even manic. People often need to reasonably use some noise to distract. This means the noise is not all bad. For developing governance and leadership of organizations, effectively use some noise is essential to build the capacity to act in organizations as well. We should research for the source of different voices and learn something from the noise. In conclusion, the noise cannot be completely eliminated, and we don’t need to remove it. What we should do is to filter out the noise and learn from these differnt voice.

    • I agree with Man Jiang’s opinion. noise is not totally bad. the governance and leadership of organization need some noise to build the capacity to act. we just need to work well how to use the good noise and avoid the bad news. Leaders need to face all kinds of influence the voice of the final decision, so we study learning the leadership is order to according to our experience and teaching skills to filter and eliminate the interference of information.

  9. Noise, of course, also have a good side, it can quickly spread the company’s culture, personal opinion or a leadership decision to the organization. It is helpful for the team cohesion. People need to noise rather a pure quiet. The silence will make people anxiety and have no clue. We need to talk with each other and spread information to other people that will create some good idea,opinion and advance technology.
    In my opinion, the crisis of “noise” in an organization is equal to our previous mentioned in the leadership class, how to collect the useful information when leaders receive the hundreds of letters or e-mails every week and every day. I think the crisis of noise seems like that how to avoid the useless information and email, which types email may contain lots of annoying advertisements and useless. So, the first solution, the secretary or assistant of leaders can clean up some useless information and noise from an organization. It greatly improves the efficiency of the leadership and reduced the amount of time for leaders to read the information. The second way is to examine a leadership’s choice and personal ability.

  10. Ian Wheeliker says:

    I am one of the older students in the class and I grew up in an era of rotary dial telephones, news papers that provided the most up to date information and no cable TV. The world and organizations have become noisier there is no doubt of that. I have never experienced a time when we have more access to information, ability to connect globally and to stay connected to people and things that matter to us. Organizations that create noise without meaning are just noisy. Organizations that use technology to connect with clients, connect staff to each other and to connect to the external world and relevant issues are creating noise but with meaning and purpose. I see how superficial many sources of noise have become. CEO’s and celebrities tweeting gibberish and selfies that embarrass themselves or an organization. I also see how valuable the information era has become. This blog, for example, is another form of noise and at the same time a forum for connection. For some it might just be noise, for others it might be very meaningful. I think the critical piece from the book excerpt is to learn to filter out the meaningless noise at a personal and organizational level. I will leave it at that and be quiet for a while.

  11. Yazhuo Hou says:

    In my opinion, leaders need to help people sort out what really matters, what needs to be the focus. As leader you are privy to information from a wide variety of sources and it’s your job to provide focus. You are in a prime position to see the big picture, see patterns that emerge, and to connect the dots for people.

    • Yunzhu Liu says:

      I agree with you and I think that is what I called “companies choices”. They need to understand what kind of sound is good for development and what sound is hurting the environment of business. Those kinds of actions are not only for companies but individuals too. Everyone should understand what are the positive and negative noises and make choice of their own development.
      Moreover, as leaders in an organization, they have to distinguish the good and bad noises, as you said, they need to decide what are good for the organizations and lead the organization with the right decisions.

  12. Melissa MacDonald says:

    This post made me think about a meeting I was in last week in Halifax where a number of different organizations were in attendance. There were over 50 people there and at one point I looked around and many people were looking at their phones. We live in an age where we jump to every beep to see what message is waiting for us. I am guilty of this as well. This is just one example of how noise interfers with our listening and also contributing to a conversation.

    I agree that some noise is positive. The problem is learning how to filter out the negative noise and to know what is good and what is not . A person may be able to do this individually, but how do you teach those in your governance structure to do the same. I graduated from high school in 1991, there was no internet(not that I was aware of anyway), I learned to type on a manual typewriter. I had to do research in a book at the library.

    The majority of children are using smart phones and tablets as soon as they are able to hold one. If we want to teach people to filter out the noise, it should start at a young age. A thought that seems impossible when adults cannot do it themselves. Workplaces are making including social media usage sections in their policies and taking other initiatives to help filter out some of the unnecessary noise, but it will be a difficult thing to change.

    • Lude (Ruth) Feng. says:

      I agree with you said that we need to think about how to filter out the negative noise and to understand which noise is positive and negative. This idea is really important for leaders.

      I would like to said: when we understand when we always using smart phone and tablets, we will loose lots of time and money, we would be able to think about how to distinguish positive and negative noisy, and being quiet both in mouth and mind are beneficial for us.

  13. Lude (Ruth) Feng. says:

    Being quiet is really important in social interaction. But most of us cannot keep quieting both in mind and mouth. sometime we long for expression our opinion; sometime we prefer a quiet environment. In a social interaction, quiet and noisy are both important. According to different environment and target, noisy and quiet would bring out different results. In classroom, when teachers teach new knowledge, students need to be quiet in mouth; while, teachers need to be noisy; but when students give feedback to teachers, teachers need to be quiet at that time.
    Noisy could be both positive and negative. In a debate, every one need to be noisy, but every one need to be quiet either. Noisy could result the end. Noisy and quiet are both important. Nowadays, more and more people are noisy in meeting, or just to be quiet in their mouth(not both mouth and mind). In my mind, I would like to say that being quiet are more important than noisy.

  14. Lude (Ruth) Feng. says:

    Also, I need to say I agree with Robert’s idea in his book, “not just keeping your mouth shut, but quieting the mind.” In out study, work, and life. keeping quiet both in mouth and mind could change our life to be better.

  15. Yunzhu Liu says:

    In my opinion, we first need to define what is noise and what is the standard for positive and negative noises. Personally, noise does not mean anything good. In fact, I think noise is the sound we do not like or accept. Just like the alarm in the morning or my mom telling me to sleep early and wake up early, it does not mean those sounds are harmful, it is just because we do not like the sound so we call them noise. Actually, it is good that my mom tells me to sleep and wake up earl because it is healthy. Sometimes we reject the suggestions that we like. Therefore, I think no matter what kind of “noise” that is, we still need to listen to it since some advice we don’t like is good to us. In that sense, companies or public should know those noises; however, they are not necessary follow what the noises say, that depend on the choices of the businesses. All in all, the point for companies dealing with the”noise” is not muting them, but processing them in appropriate way.

    • Jianbai Yu says:

      I really like your example, your mum telling you sleep and wake up early. But as my understanding, the noise what here is meaning the problem that people met at governing and leading a system. The purpose of the article is let’s think about how to filter the impurities then absorb the meaningful nutrient from that noise, Instead of defining the noise is good or bad.

  16. Jianbai Yu says:

    This article is thought-provoking. The world is too noisy right now, we cannot make everyone happy. At the same time, discarding noise is unrealistic, due to humans are group animals. An old saying –Never pleased by external gains, never saddened by personal losses, such people only exist in the fantasy. So how to reduce negative effect from the noise is realistic. I have no idea for that, because I’m very easily effected by others. Many people told me, don’t care about others, just keep your step and thinking. But they just say that and do others. This is the human evil.

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