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Strip the signal from the noise

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Strip the signal from the noise

Scott Miker

When we are working to improve, there are a great many factors that suddenly come into play. They all seem important and it can be difficult to cut through the noise to receive the signal.

When I started my career I founded an audio engineering company, which basically meant I would rely on recording equipment and other audio production equipment in live and studio environments to complete a variety of projects for clients.

One of the things I did every single time I worked was to take some input (usually a microphone) and put it through various electronic and digital processing. I learned quickly that all signals have the main sound we want to hear, and the excess noise.

If we take a microphone and plug it into a sound system, we may not realize there is noise there. But there is. The microphone indiscriminately magnifies whatever source causes it to vibrate.

The key for audio engineers is to acquire as good of a signal to noise ratio as possible. This means, we want to have the signal come through loud and clear and the noise become smaller and less noticeable.

In life, we can use this analogy to see how we can improve. We are constantly bombarded with information (noise) but within that information are key attributes that can help us change, grow, and get better.

Most people struggle with this. They hear about someone achieving a goal and they focus their attention on certain elements.

They might hear that he was a Harvard student and quickly dismiss his path as too different from theirs because of the intellect required to attend Harvard.

We might hear about someone starting a company and becoming a great success so we assume we have to start a business to have our own version of that success.

We could even have some successes that we attribute to skill when they are, in fact, due more to a lucky bounce than proper decision-making.

Sometimes we are just in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we meet the wrong people at the right time.

There is so many options, variables, and other factors in success that it can be incredibly difficult to parse out the ones that can actually help us succeed.

But if we don’t, we run the risk of listening too much to the noise and not paying attention to the signal.

So we have to learn to listen to these and determine noise and signal. It can be incredibly difficult but after some experience it can become second nature to dismiss aspects that come through and are just noise to be ignored. Then we can start to put more attention and energy on the signals so we can then take action to improve.

Some people do this marvelously. They seem to ignore certain aspects because they know that they can’t be relied upon to help them make decisions and improve. Other aspects they grab onto and use in order to achieve their goals.

If we want to improve and get better in our life, we have to learn how to focus on the signal and disregard the noise. Whether this is to avoid getting sucked into a critic or ignore stories about extreme luck, we have to be able to keep moving forward and improving and not get pulled off track due to an overwhelming amount of information that we have access to at all times.