Shadow Spectrum of Data


Apparently it is considered a dreadful blunder to ask, at the end of a job interview, ‘And what does your firm actually do?’ since a good candidate is expected to have learned all about the company before stepping through the door.

But perhaps there is some justification for asking what a firm actually does. For instance, a company may be involved in the production of synthetic composite materials for dental repair surgery. These composites will be a mixture of organic resins, monomers and ceramic powder; however, a very similar recipe is used by other companies to make the protective coating used on undersea oil pipelines.

When you ask ‘What does your firm do?’ it carries with it the shadow question, ‘What does your firm NOT do?’ There are probably numerous marginal areas of technology into which a company could extend its operations if it had the resources or incentive. And the significant resource here is information.

We have a scale of information concepts, moving from Data through Capta to Information to Knowledge and thence Wisdom; the various measured items of data are placed in context and disseminated and evaluated in order to identify their significance.

Perhaps we should now construct a shadow spectrum of ‘un-knowledge’; a bit like Rumsfeld’s known unknowns and unknown unknowns, we could identify the ways in which data and information are selectively ignored or misunderstood.

It is perfectly possible that the firms involved each recognise that they share an overlapping technology, with different requirements in terms of purity and scale. But it made me wonder if every business operation involves a shadow environment, like a parallel universe made of dark matter, populated with all the products and services they don’t actually make.

Even if they never bother thinking about possible alternative products which could be generated from their existing facilities and materials, it would be useful for businesses to have clear idea of what they do not produce.


Companion Piece Number Two

The lads on the factory floor
Can never understand why anyone
Would tolerate a queer. Such wretched creatures
(Or so they claim)
No residue of dignity maintain.

The lads on the factory floor
Have minds as uniform and grey
As their dirty boiler-suits. I can still recall the changing-room
Where they undress beneath
The protective gaze of a dozen glossy maidens
Yellow-taped to the standard grubby
Eau-de-Nil emulsion walls.

The conversation curdles with disgust
As one guy says ‘They can’t be trusted, you never know
What they might be thinking’
Serenely unaware that just last night
He had been sat drinking beer in
His local pub, just behind a table

Where two young blokes he hadn’t realised were queer
Discussed the renovation of a Triumph Stag.



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