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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 19-Jan-14

 


Sunday 19-January-14

Signal to Noise

A useful principle, taken from the world of electronics, is 'signal to noise'. Radio, audio and other signals pick unwanted variation as electrons and magnetic waves pass through resistors, transistors and other components. The result is noise that you can hear on audio signals and see on TV screens. Electronic designers work hard to reduce this, seeking to make noise proportionately tiny in comparison with the desired original signal.

In broader life, 'noise' can represent any unwanted element that obscures what you really want, from the chatter of others in a noisy party to unnecessary discussion in a business presentation.

A way of thinking about signal-to-noise is 'useful to useless' or even 'helpful to hindrance' as noise can be obscuring as well as a minor irritation, particularly if it increases to higher levels. At first party chatter can be ignored but as it gets louder it makes others harder to hear.

Perfection is often impossible and a practical ratio may be better. For example in playing games, the best ratio is often around 3:1, where you spend 75% of your time doing interesting things and 25% in housekeeping and other supportive actions.

A critical activity in many situations is reducing noise. This is important early on when the signal is amplified (and the noise with it) or where the signal and noise become so entangled that later attempts to disentangle them become increasingly difficult.

So whatever you are doing, ask yourself 'What is the important signal and what is the worthless or troublesome noise?' Then seek to avoid or get rid of the noise as early as possible.


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