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Saturday, July 16, 2011

About Information - What is Information - From my upcoming book - Crafting New Choices

About Information!

I suggest a reading of James Gleick's book

Also to understand the structural view of information in contrast to prevalent processing view of information - I suggest a reading of specifically Chapter 19

From the first chapter of my new book that I am writing on Crafting New Choices

What is Information: Information is becoming an elusive overused word. As the chapters from the book of information revolution are unfolding, definition of information needs regular reviews. These reviews are becoming more important as the information revolution is becoming more wide spread. The impact of Information is not only increasing in the existing dimensions of human endeavor, it is creating altogether new dimensions of human existence.

Information was initially viewed as being about a message and/or a medium. A new idea emerged where some information is being regarded as material – as lying at the core of all existence, where it may be as fundamental as matter and energy. These concepts are under a slightly clichéd title of Information Physics. However, they are powerful concepts. If matter and energy are convertible physical entities, Information can create both matter and energy in a broader sense of the words. Thus an Informed actor is likely to create something tangible (matter or energy). [In Athena’s Camp] describes two views of Information - Processing View and Structural View. These two views must energize each other for the organizations to evolve into better forms for the future.

The processing view developed in 1940’s through the works of Shannon, Weaver and Wiener – which defines Information as mostly about signals being transmitted between senders and receivers. The universal tendency of organizations is towards breakdown and randomization, i.e., Entropy. All living systems must counter this Entropy, through matter and energy processing. These processes require information. The view has developed that everything is information.

The Structural view of information is about the information that is not doing any processing, it exists embedded in a structure giving it a form and defining its character. Such information is less involved in processing than in structuring.

The fundamental point here is that Information Revolution should be considered from two perspectives – one is the processing viewpoint which is already the dominant one. The second - the structuring viewpoint assumes more importance as the Information Revolution becomes more evolved. Structure and Process are different. However, both are extremely important for the understanding of a system.

The Structural View

All structures contain embedded information. Where there is structure – or pattern or organization - there is information. Embedded information is what enables a structure to hold its form, to remain coherent, even to evolve and adapt. This view says that everything may not be information, but everything has information embedded in it if it has structure. The main point here is that the processing view is not wrong, but in one context after another, it is insufficient if it is made the sole lens for looking at the role of information in organizations. A framework that includes a structural view as well should be stronger analytically and should reveal information to be a deeper and broader concept.

The processing view creates an impression that the organizations can be enhanced by adding new information and communication technologies, without necessarily having to change the organization’s structure in order to adapt advantageously to a technology. However, in organizations where the inertia to change is greater, an emphasis on processing view may make it more likely that structural questions about the nature of the organization are left inadequately addressed.

In contrast a Structural view brings to forefront the values, goals and principles that an organization embodies – on what matters to it and its constituents, from the standpoint of its identity, meaning and purpose as an identity, apart from whether it is doing information processing. A structural view relates to that part of the information revolution that is said to be about Knowledge. Data do not determine the nature of the structure. A structural view underscores how much a vibrant organization depends on the deeply embedded information and how difficult and complex it may be to change an organization. The processing view tends to be more about efficiency and performance than about meaning and purpose. A structural view assumes at the start that an organization’s information infrastructure is only part of the picture; more important is its ideational superstructure. While the processing view tends to illuminate technology as a critical factor, a structural view is more likely to uphold the human capital. While the processing view seems to appreciate quantitative approaches to information, a structural view is more likely to be qualitative.

First major paradigm shift with the structural lens is that it elevates the organization to almost a living organism compared to the other view of organization as a machine processing information. Highly subjective insights, intuitions, and hunches are integral part of knowledge. Knowledge also embraces ideals, values and emotions as well as images and symbols. These soft and qualitative elements are crucial to an understanding of the eastern view of knowledge (Chinese, Indian and Japanese).

Re-look at the Information Pyramid
Although the pyramid seems to imply that higher layers depend upon lower layers that is true only to certain degree. Each layer has some independence. The processing view relates to the lower two layers of the pyramid while upper two layers comes in the realm of structural viewpoint.


The structural view may include – ideational superstructure, organizational structure, technological infrastructure and a linguistic substructure. The Ideational Superstructure is the level of ideas and ideologies, myths and maxims, values and norms, etc. that define the nature of a culture and the structure within it.
The organization structure is the level of particular organization in the company. Broadly the structural view holds that all organizations depend on information and may be analyzed as information structures. This is the level for identifying which entities and areas are concerned with information and communication in the organization.
The level of Technology Infrastructure refers to all the hardware and software systems and all the connectivity that support communications and information flow. The information processing view tends to focus at this level.

The linguistic substructure
Ideally there should be coherence amongst all levels. Information decoherence may bring on structural instability, leading possibly to breakdown or radical reforms.

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