Noise, grumpiness, productivity and control

It’s been a long day. It’s been a long couple of days. I’m sitting on a plane and we have been in flight for about an hour. The baby in the seat next to me has been crying for just over an hour. No amount of music can drown out the sound of that crying. I know I have another hour to go. Soaking up the view on a balcony in Florence a couple of months ago seems a world away.

Someone once told me that the sound of a baby crying had been honed by thousands of years of evolution to be too annoying to ignore. Maybe I read it somewhere. Normally I’d be able to remember, but I’m in a filthy mood and my head is pounding. Every movement around me and every cabin announcement makes me yearn to have access to a punchbag.

I’m aware that I can’t be angry with the baby, so I’ve opted to be angry with the world. Or furious with the world. I just want someone to give me an excuse to be unreasonable. I’ve considered shooting the parents filthy looks, but I’m just reasonable enough to understand there is nothing they can do.

Control of your environment is hugely important to people. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small village in the countryside. We had the sound of a road some distance away, but other than that we didn’t have to really put up with noise from neighbours or loud parties. Even now I struggle to sleep in places where there is noise. Apparently it isn’t the noise that keeps you awake, it is the lack of rhythm. You can sleep on a train because of the rhythm, but you can’t sleep when it is people shouting. No rhythm.

I doubt I’ll sleep much tonight, which means I’ll be grumpy tomorrow. I didn’t sleep much yesterday either or the night before. But I’m presenting tomorrow so I’ll have to be nice to people. So I’ll bottle up my grumpiness and someone will find me irrationally grumpy about something on Thursday instead.

Every day in offices we put people in environments where noise is disrupting their flow, where it is overwhelming their ability to think. We vastly underestimate the impact of this. Noise, mood and capacity to perform are inextricably interlinked. Yet we ask about environment so infrequently when assessing barriers to productivity.

I apologise if you are meeting me on Thursday.

As with any of those pesky human resources I’m all too human.

Content in nice clothes

I get to go to a lot of conferences and I also get to speak at a lot of events too. So I spend quite a bit of time wrestling with content vs delivery. I’m lucky enough to work for an organisation that has bags of its own content, but we also have people better positioned to talk about it. We do great research, but it makes more sense to listen to our researchers explain it.

So I draw my content from a range of sources, inside and out. I think that is healthy. We encourage HR professionals to draw from research and thinking that’s outside of the traditional assumed boundaries of the profession – and I think that is right and proper. I work hard to make sure everything I waffle about can be well referenced.

So I try and pull this varied content into one place and use images and anecdotes to bring this to life for people. I try to make it informal and entertaining. Sometimes I do that better than other times. But generally (whether you are laughing with me or at me) I encourage people to enjoy as well as reflect. I dress my content up. And the thing is that when your content seems accessible people don’t question it that much. Or they question it in a friendly way, not as a genuine critical friend. Sometimes I get an easy ride. That’s not right. It might be natural, but it’s not right.

Recently I’ve seen some people with great stories to tell, but who aren’t great storytellers. People who couldn’t hold a room despite the fact they had great content. Despite the fact they had important messages to share, observations that could really make a difference. They have no content fashion sense and it kills them.

I’ve also seen people with virtually no meaningful content go down brilliantly, despite the fact that when they’ve finished speaking I feel stupider than when they started. They are stylish, but empty. Or perhaps they just know how the market works.

Recently someone asked me to help them out with their ‘presence’, as they want their work to do the talking, but they realise that presentation matters. That’s sad. That isn’t the way judging ideas or performance should work.

It’s a shame that we only recognise truth when it comes in nice clothing. It’s a shame that things in nice clothing get mistaken for truth. It’s a shame that substance doesn’t count for more.

I respect the right of people to demand to be entertained (I’ve seen Gladiator…), but I’m not sure we often realise the cost of that in terms of quality of thinking. I recognise that the age of sage on a stage is here to stay for a bit longer too. I know how the world works.

Smart and smartly dressed. I guess that’s where we need to be for the moment. But it would be great if more people spotted the Emperor’s new clothes didn’t require much material…