Jay’s right to be right


I’ve already talked about barriers to entry in this blog. I got a response from a reader, my friend Jay.

Yes, I do have a reader! Wow!

He made a good point about the barriers to entry as useful devices, screening out the “noise” from the “Signal.” That is to say, the signal is the useful information and the noise is the garbage created by external circumstances. As a person who has been (may still be, soon) professionally engaged with computer networks, I understand this concept. However, the only difference between the “Noise” and the “signal” is in whether the receiving end can process it in a useful way.

Bear with me.

Paolo Freire, a Brazilian law professor, did some very interesting work about the process and theory of education. He articulated the idea of the “banking” concept of Education. In this model, the teachers act as retainers and distributors of knowledge and the students are empty vessels for the teachers to fill. The teacher’s “task is to fill the student with the contents of his narration.” Students are perceived as unable to contribute, and are without knowledge until it has been given to them by the teacher. The students do not contribute to or interact with the knowledge to change or add to it; they merely receive it.

What students are supposed to do is take the static commodity that is knowledge information and shape it into the required forms—in the case of classes, it would be homework assignments, test, or papers. But they should not significantly add to the knowledge or change it. The authority to modify the knowledge information is restricted.


In the business world, the persons who have the authority to make policies are restricted. The executives hand down decisions and policies, a static commodity, for the employees to shape into the required form—a product, an organization scheme, a metric to meet.

In the military, Officers give orders that the enlisted people are not allowed to question. They must execute the order.

But even the military, the example that seems most suited to a strongly hierarchical system of authority benefits from allowing knowledge to come in from “below”.

In his popular book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, the physicist Richard Feynman talks about his experiences with the military. He was stationed at Los Alamos to do research and testing of the atom bomb. When he discovered where the military was procuring the radioactive material from, he freaked out. The men who were handling this volatile matter were doing it such a way as to endanger the entire base and blow it to smithereens. He immediately went to the military authority and told them about the danger they were in. Feynman wanted to tell the men working with the radioactive materials how to do is safely.

The general told him that the information was classified, and the men could not be informed about their danger. (it was the military’s knowledge, they owned it, they would do with it what they willed)
But the laws of physics supported Feynman’s plan and the general decided to let Feynman inform the men of what they were handling and how to handle it properly.

When he recounts the story, Feynman says that once the men were told what they were doing and given the information, they themselves came up with more efficient and better ways of handling the material than HE could have devised.

Here is the crux of the matter. When knowledge is retained and acted upon only by a few people, expertise is wasted. But if more people are empowered to act and interact with the knowledge then greater efficiency, greater results will be achieved.

But when knowledge and authority (the right to be right) is out of reach for most, most are powerless.

How many of us, in the company we work for, or the school we are in, found that we have to go against company policy to get our jobs done? As in, do the task first, and sidestep the proper procedure? Ignore or violate security measures to get something done?

Or who has had a truly beneficial idea that will have significant results for the company, but which will never go anywhere because the ones in POWER will not listen?

Then again, there are the majority of workers and students who have ceased to have ideas, since they have no way of implementing them in a system where action and power are reserved for the few.

In the realm of government, we used to have a system that put barriers of entry between the common person and power. It was called a monarchy. But the American democratic system was designed with faith in the individual to be able to operate meaningfully on information to take action and create policies. The framers of the constitution had faith in the people to create more “signal” than “noise”.