Evoking a new way of thinking.

      Key Vocabulary: Codes and Cues, Representations and Compressions

           Code is the formal name for the use of a token to signify a specific and defined meaning. Codes are reductions. Any reduction's effectiveness is determined not only by the nature of the reductive process but also by the context in which the reduction is employed. Thus, when the goal is efficiency, codes can be very helpful. Morse code allowed for the transmission of a significant amount of information in its day. Codes can be dealt with via look‐up tables, statistics and Shannon's information theory.  It is efficient to assert the presence of a label and then to "look up" the appropriate behavior or next action based upon the label and not the situation being modeled. This behavior treats context and observation as if were a code. But, to assume or assert that messages consist of codes is to risk ignoring much of the meaning. Explanations based upon codes (labels, representations) cannot address the situatedness of context dependent actions.  Such situatedness recognizes signs as cues where context plays a significant role in determining meaning.

            When we use representations, labels, categories, and codes we have a tendency to demand coherence (a unity or oneness) between the situation, people, process etc. to which we are applying the representation and our understanding of the meaning of the representation itself.  

           Computers rely on efficiency's form of coherence. To a computer, coherence is the degree to which an item 'x' matches a definition or a set of items having observable qualities that match one another. Computer coherence is about measurement. Coherence of this kind is not created it is assigned, ascribed, and measured. This is the coherence of efficiency. Efficiency has no room to consider context, history, and situation. Efficient coherence demands a context of stability.  When the focus is on efficiency, in order to assure coherence, we create lists and provide codes that keep us tied to the ascribed meanings. We sanitize out the ambiguous and the unexpected. We look for confirming evidence and eliminate outliers as "noise." Indeed, there are times when efficiency and strict adherence to codes and checklists are absolutely essential. We want the products we order to arrive on time with excellent quality. We want our computers to operate without the need for error messages, and our baggage to arrive at the same airport and time as we do. If efficient codes have produced a positive experience before, we may want the next experience to be just like the previous one. Measured coherence and the establishment of procedure to enforce it are integral to how much of our world operates. 

           Instead of actively discussing the multiple approaches which may all be interpretations, enactments, decodings, or embodiments of a model, managers often act as if there is but one or perhaps two decodings. These "privileged" interpretations are given status as names, labels, or symbols and the labels are then used as guides for action. But, the risk we face is that our explanations are wrong and so are the actions/decisions based upon them.

           Models based on labels and categories we shall refer to as "representations." More complex models involving stories, multiple algorithms, rules of thumb, questions, ambiguity we shall refer to as "compressions." Both compressions and representations are reductions. But representations are far more reductive than compressions. Representations can be treated as a set of defined meanings — coherence with regard to a representation is the degree of fidelity between the item in question and the definition of the representation, of the label. By contrast, compressions contain enough degrees of freedom and ambiguity to allow us to make internal predictions so that we may determine our potential actions in the possibility space. Compressions are explanatory via mechanism. Representations are explanatory via category. Managers are often confusing their evocation of a representation (category inclusion) as the creation of a context of compression (description of mechanism). When this type of explanatory error occurs, more errors follow.