Signal and Noise

Those of you who saw my TEDxGatewayArch talk last October at Ripple Effect already know: as someone who designs classrooms I think a lot about signal and noise, and how they affect learning.  The best schools and classrooms are designed to balance signal and noise – quiet enough for communication, but stimulating enough to inspire. Sensory signal – the teacher’s voice, the white board – is king. Sensory noise – corridor traffic, the HVAC system – is a killer. Classrooms mostly call for quiet.

But life-long learners don’t live in classrooms. Our professional and personal lives are a maelstrom of signal and noise, all of it loud, all of it bright. I would argue that our brains are more beset by stimulation than at any other time in human history. And not just sensory – we’re exposed to constant and increasing stimulation on every dimension of human ability. Cognitive signal has exploded: you used to have to enroll at a university to access its library or faculty; now you don’t even have to leave your home. Social signal (and noise) has done the same. Don’t believe me?  Pull out your smartphone.

Stimulation is now harder to avoid than it is to find. The problem is finding the signal and navigating the noise.

That’s what TEDxGatewayArch does for me. That’s what TEDxGatewayArch does for St. Louis.

The Ripple Effect event at the Touhill last October was loud, and it was bright. Before and after the event, the concourse was a whirling bazaar of things worth experiencing. There was new local food and new local music. There were artists and dancers. There were political activists and there were robots. Most of all, there were ideas — lots of ideas.  I didn’t talk to anyone who loved everything, which speaks to the variety.  I also didn’t hear from a single person who didn’t leave inspired, which speaks to the quality.

The next big event is coming this Spring, and I’m already hooked.  Bring on the signal!  Bring on TEDxGatewayArch and THINK WELL!


-Marcus Adrian


Marcus Adrian was a TEDx speaker at our October 2017 event, Ripple Effect. Watch his to learn more: