For the past couple of months I’ve watched my son, Ian, prepare for his first trampoline meet, coming up this weekend. It is an amazing example of the use of negative feedback in the learning process. You try something, figure out what you did wrong, try it again, until you’re happy with how it feels. Of course, you have to do this for each of the 6 or 7 elements of the whole routine and then you have to put all the elements together into a complete package. Pretty much the learning process for anything.
I’ve been thinking a lot about noise (in the information/communications sense) lately, and it struck me that what Ian is doing in his training is a deliberate process of noise reduction. Anything that happens when he is trying a specific element, or the whole routine, that isn’t part of that element or routine is noise. By reducing, and hopefully eliminating, this noise, he is getting to the point of pure “signal.”
At that point, it is tempting to claim success. But what would be the fun in that? Once you’ve eliminated all the noise from one routine it is time to add in some more noise and notch things up a level. Then you go through the whole process again.
The same is true in any individual or organizational endeavor. This is, in fact, the whole basis of innovation: take what you already know, add some noise to the mix, and reduce the noise so you get not back to where you started but to a whole new level.
Knowledge management is often talked about as the management of knowledge that already exists. I think that noise management may be a key part of creating that knowledge.