Signal to Noise

This is a re-publishing of a post that I wrote for my “Lessons Learned, Lessons Shared” blog in April 2010:

The signal to noise ratio is one of those fundamental concepts in telecommunications and a principle that can apply to communications, or life, in general.
The basic idea is that it doesn’t really matter how loud your message is or how quiet or noisy your surroundings are – it is the difference (or the power ratio if you want to get technical) between the two that matters. You can scream at a loud rock concert and not be heard or understood by the person right next to you, or you can whisper inaudibly in the quietest setting you can imagine.
In telecommunications terms, a received power measured in watts won’t do you any good if you are sitting next to a multi-Kilowatt broadcast transmitter that swamps the front end of your receiver. However, at the other end of the power spectrum, a microwatt signal can be adequate if you are in a relatively quiet (electrically) location and/or have a receiver with a very narrow bandwidth that excludes the “noise” signals at all frequencies except the one that carries your signal.
Remember that “Anything that isn’t what you want to hear – is noise”. Have you ever experienced that situation where you never noticed something – until you are made aware of it and then you see it everywhere? Maybe it’s a yellow car that you thought didn’t exist, but once you see one you see them everywhere; or perhaps it an advertisement for refrigerators – which you never noticed until you were in the market for one. Up until you are made aware of, or have an interest in, something, it was just part of the background noise but when it’s something you are looking for it becomes “signal”.
And how about when you are communicating with someone: talking one-on-one, giving a presentation or writing something? Does your message count as “signal” to your intended audience and what “noise” are you competing with. By noise I mean whatever might distract or pre-occupy your listener. Think not just about increasing your signal (message) level but also what you can do to minimize that noisy environment. It is the difference between the two that truly matters. Something to think about…


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