Re: Signal vs. Noise LO2659

Michael McMaster (
Thu, 31 Aug 1995 22:14:20 +0000

Replying to LO2614 --

Carol Anne, our readings of Shannon don't differ as far as you
suggest. I agree with what you say he said. But my interpretations,
along with some added material of his, leads to somewhat different
conclusions. I think the issue isn't one of Shannon so much as one
of people and group processes. *Anything* might lead to an excuse for
the pathologies of the leader. (Oh, sorry, you called it "common
misunderstanding.) I won't try and avoid that issue but
just let it be so.

My point is that the judgement of what is noise or not will be after
the fact and usually after some clarifying dialogue. As a leader -
or participant - in a conversation, I might challenge any statement
as "noise" and only more dialogue will convert it from noise if that
is to occur. (Or time and circumstances.)

Any limits are acceptable and valid. Any limits will have their cost
(whether set wide or narrow). But the matter of what is within the
limits will always be open to interpretation and the boundaries are
where the "noise" may transform into information.

> Claude Shannon asserts that to be information, it has to be
> something we didn't already know.

He also said that the maximum information content is that area where
there is the greatest ambiguity and the greatest suprise. This is
the area where resolution is difficult but attained. Where it is not
attained, for whatever reason, there is noise.

Here is the issue. If what is wanted is quick resolution - and
therefore minimum information - then narrow limits and strict and/or
rapid interpretation makes sense. If what is wanted is innovation,
creativity and possibility then wider limits and looser and/or less
rapid conclusion makes sense.

> An example: Our job is to decide what vehicle to use to convey some
> products somewhere. We consider trucks, rail, airplanes. Somebody
> says "horseback." Is that noise, or the seed of a new idea? Depends
> on context (are you delivering to the High Himalayas?).

This is a good example of context provided by production intentions.
That is, horses are a viable option in some circumstances. But this
is exactly the circumstance that limits creativity and turns much
that is potentially useful into noise.

What about the context set by intention for innovation and creativity
as an outcome in their own right? Here, "horseback" may be a
valuable contribution to the dialogue by suggesting older methods, by
analogy, by pointing up unchallenged assumptions, etc. It might lead
to "motorbike delivery", for instance. (I admit my attempts at
creativity are somewhat weak but you get the point.)

"Noise" occurs at the boundaries where one side is is chaos and the
other is creativity.

Michael McMaster