How to Distil the Signal from the Noise to Focus on What’s Important

“I just appreciate silence in a world that never stops talking” ~ unknown

Arguably the internet has been one of the most powerful and influential inventions of our time. It has enabled hyper-connectivity through smart devices and the democratisation of data. It has enabled social media and, with it, a constant barrage of opinion. It’s afforded new business opportunities and streamlining of how we work. There is a blurring of lines between home life and work life, people are constantly available on multiple platforms. Everyone and everything is ‘on’. Despite the many benefits, it’s also brought with it considerable noise. There is now so much information and so much choice, it can be hard to filter through it all and really identify what’s important. Not only from an information gathering or learning perspective, but also from a humanistic perspective. The noise is drowning out what is important, that is, the signal.

This raises an important question: what is signal and what is noise? Simply put: signal gives whereas noise takes. Signal could be classed as our instinct, and our instinct cannot be taken away by the noise. I would argue that, in fact, instinct is the only thing that can tell what is signal and what is noise. 

Perhaps we can already tell what is noise and what’s signal, yet maybe we’ve tuned it out? That’s what noise does. It takes. It takes our attention, it takes our passion and it moves us away from our true self and our higher purpose. That is, our signal. Our signal is there somewhere but it’s covered in so much noise that we may find it hard to work out what really matters. 

Signal gives belief and trust, yet we are at critical risk of having our hearts hijacked by meaningless nonsense. We aspire to be like people we probably wouldn’t even like if we met them. Insta-celebrities who portray an inauthentic existence we strive for. It could be that this is what noise is doing – removing our identity. It’s doing such a good job that we think the noise is giving. We think the noise is our signal. We think that mediocrity is “good enough”, that average is something to aspire to. 

The noise has set the level of the bar so low because noise makes us think we are being extraordinary, but actually it’s just ordinary. Some people take action and take a stand, the masses will stick with the noise. We will stick with limited curiosity. We will stick with a system that limits creativity. With all of these weapons of mass communication we could do so much. But, perhaps we won’t revolt. Perhaps we’re not going to ask too many questions or delve too deep. The noise has made us happy with our role in society. Just as it ever was. If we want to maintain our role, then we should do nothing. We should not aspire for more, or question authority or try to “de-noise”. Under that circumstance we will never achieve anything extraordinary. But, is that what we want?

We have an individual responsibility to break out of this holding pattern of mediocrity. We have an individual responsibility to “de-noise”. But the systems, machines and the noise aren’t going to help on that path. To achieve this requires a toolkit comprising three components:

  1. Elevation for clarity.
  2. A filtration mechanism.
  3. Transposition for inspiration.
  1. Elevation for clarity:

We require extreme clarity of what matters and what doesn’t matter. It might look like noise, it might smell like noise, it might feel like noise but we’ll still think that it is signal. Our signal is our higher purpose and we need to be extremely clear of what this is to enable us to gain the clarity and insight required to filter the noise. 

  1. Filter out activities to keep the main thing, the main thing:

The second thing we need, if we want to break out of mediocrity, is to be persistent. We need to be so persistent in maintaining clarity of our higher purpose, or signal, that we remember the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. This requires a mechanism or way to filter our activities and ensure that we are focusing on the main thing that will bring us closer to our higher, elevated purpose. Within Powered By Change, we use the Attention Management Matrix to help ensure we focus on activities which are highly aligned to helping us achieve our purpose and provide more value than the energy they take. This matrix is incredibly powerful and useful to discern what activities should be pursued versus those that probably should not. 

  1. Transposition for inspiration:

The final part of a suggested toolkit is to search for inspiration. In Powered By Change, a technique we use for this is Transposition, which is basically taking inspiration from outside sources. It is based on observing what is being done, then taking this and superimposing the main thing from what is observed into what it is that we are doing. Whether one engages in transposition is a reflection of their level of curiosity to actually do this. It also needs to be done through the lens of our elevated purpose. 


What signal feels like is something we should want to pass down to the next generation. Signal is instinct. Instinct can’t be taken away by the noise. However, it can help us become desensitised to it. If nothing else, every time we are in a situation, we can assess what is signal and what is noise by remembering just this: Noise takes, signal gives and instinct guides what legacy lives. What will your legacy be?

Key Takeaways:

  1. Noise takes, signal gives. Signal is our higher purpose. The increasing level of noise can make it difficult to really distil what is important and contributes to achieving our purpose from things that do not.
  2. If we continue to focus on the noise rather than the signal we will continue to accept average as extraordinary and settle for mediocrity.  
  3. To effectively filter out the noise and focus on our signal a toolkit is required which enables us to: gain clarity on our elevated purpose, maximise activities that will help us achieve our purpose, and find inspiration through transposition. 

The Powered By Change solution (https://poweredbychange.com) provides a blueprint to effectively undertake these three key activities to help one distill the signal from the noise and to focus on what’s important to ensure we keep the main thing, the main thing. 

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