Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

The Signal and the Noise

I have recently fed my inner engineer geek self by reading Nate Silver’s wonderful book: The Signal and the Noise.  Silver became well known as a forecaster of election results by understanding how political forecasts work and adjusting them for accuracy issues.  His book talks about not only election results forecasting, but also sports betting, global warming and many other issues.  The signal is the real data and the noise is all of the feelings, hunches and personal biases.  Finding the signal and not getting distracted by noise is the issue.

Signals

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In examining my own life, I like the concept of thinking about both the signal and the noise.  As a professional, I knew what I was doing and worked hard to be good at my jobs, but feedback was both positive and negative.  Knowing the truth – or the real signal – had to be separated from the noise around me. What do I mean by noise?  Comments such as  “Women cannot do that job”,  “You look too fragile to work in a factory” or “You think differently” were all negative noise.  They obscured the signal of the real results.

Noise

Raising children also provided both a signal—they are good people who did not have major issues and are all good adults— often blurred by the noise. I would hear from my children “So and so’s mother is nicer than you are“; from other parents “We eat a full home cooked dinner every night because it is so important“;  or even from fellow professionals “My wife has an advanced degree but we agreed that raising good children was more important than her paycheck“.  By the way, these are all real comments.

Determining the signal took a good deal of thinking, processing, self confidence and conversation with other working mothers.  But, without having the courage of my own decision making, lots of support from others and the determination to adjust and make things work, the noise could have been deafening.

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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