//Enterprise Architecture and the Lessons of History

Enterprise Architecture and the Lessons of History

I am an Enterprise Architect.  It is my job to look at things the way they are, and envision the things that should be.  It is my role to describe specific actions that specific people can take to change things (systems, processes, corporate structures, etc.) to lead an enterprise towards a better place.  The role is fascinating.

Yet I am troubled.  The role of Enterprise Architect is troublesome to a student of history and society.  Because in the history of humankind, there have been many people who have performed a similar role, and many of their actions led to terrible consequences.  How can I follow in their footsteps?  How can I not?

At this point, perhaps you are asking: what on Earth is Nick talking about?  What terrible consequences have Enterprise Architects wrought? 

The answer is elusive and yet painfully obvious: our role includes great promise but also great potential for harm.  We can focus innovation, or we can stifle it.  In the stifling of innovation, we can cause great harm in a single bad decision.  A single innovation may be the difference between a competitive idea and a market-creating idea.  In even starker terms, a single innovation may illustrate the line between success and failure, and between profit and loss. 

Here is the pattern that is so troublesome to me:

  1. Understand a great deal about the system
  2. Envision a future in which the system behaves “better” than it does today
  3. Create rules to guide the behavior of specific actors within the system
  4. Review the behavior of specific actors to find those who are not following the rules
  5. Recommend to a “higher authority” that a law-breaker should be prevented from proceeding on the basis of their “law breaking.”

Most Enterprise Architects will see, in this pattern, the notions of Future State Architecture, Architectural Principles, and Architectural Review.  These concepts are widely shared within our community and many good white-papers have been written to provide guidance, from one EA team to another, on how to “force” a wayward IT project to “follow the architectural principles that the enterprise agrees will lead to a better future.”

Take care, fellow EA, to learn from the lessons of history.  Consider these examples, and bear them with humility. 

Example 1: The Crucifixion of Christ

Consider the system: human society.  The challenge: how do we “encourage” individual people to behave in a manner that, taken as a whole, produces the greatest individual liberty?  What does the “better” society look like, and what rules should we follow to get there?  Moses took up that challenge and those that followed created a body of Law that not only led the Jewish people, but even today forms the basis for three great world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in order of emergence).  With the body of law, we have achieved steps 1, 2, and 3 above. 

With the administration of the law, we introduce a legal concept that prevailed during the time of Christ: the Sanhedrin.  This council of scholars were charged with understanding the complex rules written in the Law, and reviewing the behavior of individual people to see if they had violated “the rules.”  They made their recommendations to the Roman governor of Judea.  In their review of Jesus, they found his behavior to be in violation of the rules.  His vision did not match their own.  The results are both tragic and rather well known, so I don’t need to go into the details of the crucifixion here.

This example is particularly poignant to me because I am Jewish.  If I had lived at the time of Jesus, would I have recognized him as an innovator?  Or would I have seen him as the Sanhedrin saw him, as a heretic?  Would I have seen him as a person attempting to create a new religion that today leads a billion people towards moral behavior, or a provocateur that threatened to lead people AWAY from the “future state architecture” that the trusted council had envisioned?

Example 2: The Trial of Galileo

Flash forward to 1633.  Perhaps after a millennium and a half, humanity would have learned… right?  Au contraire. 

The religion founded on the prior example, Christianity, is fully in charge in Europe.  However, the Renaissance is in full swing, and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church is under attack.  In this age, the power of Catholic Church reached into the daily lives of kings and peasants alike.  But here comes Galileo to suggest that Copernicus was right: that the Earth was not the center of the universe.  Someone, quick, tell the Pope: Galileo is not following the standards!  Galileo must be told to “Stop what you are doing… you are jeopardizing our vision of the future.”  After all, how will people get to heaven if they doubt the church that is supposed to get them there?

Galileo is brought up on charges, convicted, and imprisoned for the rest of his life.  His crime: innovation.  The men who “reviewed” his work and made “recommendations” to the Pope were looking to see if he was “breaking the rules.”  If I had been part of the Pope’s inner circle, would I have been ready to make an exception in my sacred rules for the innovative ideas of this great man?  Would you? 

Counter-Example: The Publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”

Jump with me one more time, to 1838.  Charles Darwin, upon visiting the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle, discovers unique species that don’t exist anywhere else.  This voyage and his now-famous observations form the seeds of his theory of Natural Selection.  Darwin was a fairly devout man, having studied to be a pastor himself.  His wife, Emma, is even more Devout, and is very worried about his theories.  She states in one of her letters that she fears the possibility of having eternal life in heaven if Charles is not there to share it with her.  What kind of future can you aspire to when the love of your life questions the people who promote it. 

It took 20 years for Darwin to publish his book, partly because he needed to come to terms with the innovation he had stumbled upon, and partly, some historians suggest, because he needed to come to terms with his concern for Emma and her beliefs.  Yet, publish he did.  He performed the same act that Galileo did: to innovate.  In many ways, it was the same act that the Illiterate Jesus performed nearly two-thousand years earlier: to challenge the status quo and create a vision of the future that made sense, yet did not follow (or even compelled one to break) the rules of behavior that prevailed at that time. 

But did the British police come to arrest Darwin?  No.  To the immense credit of his time, and the overall understanding of the Age of Enlightenment, Darwin lived out his life as a free, and freely thinking, man.  Why?  Because there was a process, and a self-governing body of thought leaders, who cared about encouraging innovative thoughts and ideas.  In Darwin’s case, this was The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge.  His innovations were so widely celebrated that, by the time of his death, he was honored with a State funeral, one of only five non-royals to be so honored in entire eighteenth century.  He is entombed in Westminster Abbey near the remains of Sir Isaac Newton. 

There is an interesting distinction to make about Mr. Darwin here:  He saw that the evidence in nature didn’t fit some of the underlying assumptions of the Church of England (a
nd most other branches of Christianity), but he did not directly challenge the religion itself.  He did not describe alternate rules for people to follow, or create a new religion.  Darwin observed, drew conclusions based on evidence, and published what he believed were valid theories. 

He has since been proven to be right in more ways than he could have ever predicted.  The entire field of modern Biology rests on the ample observation of evolution.  His ideas “went viral” long before those words were coined.  The concept of “survival of the fittest” has been used (or misused) in nearly every other field of human endeavor. 

What lesson can EA learn?

This small sample of events cannot create a useful of theory of human behavior.  One would need thousands of examples, not just three, to create a theory of leadership, incentive and innovation that applies.  However, there are lessons that can be drawn empirically. 

A) If you create “rules,” expect that three kinds of people will break them: Fools, Scofflaws, and Innovators.  For the first, apply education.  For the second, apply incentives.  For the third… be willing to change the rules. 

B) Innovation may challenge your idea of both the goal, and the method to get there.  In the execution of the EA program, be careful not to execute the innovator.  To avoid this possibility, create a process for encouraging innovation, not just providing an exception for it.  Have a body of people who are motivated to innovate and take their council seriously.  Exceptions are unnecessary if innovation is recognized.

C) No matter how hard you work to create a vision for the future, and to create “beautiful rules” to lead people there, perfection will elude you.  Do not strive for perfect vision or perfect rules.  Strive instead to create a system where the rules, and the vision, change with the times.  Your business will change.  You will change.  Technology will change.  Stakeholders will change.  Competition will change.  Opportunities will change.  A static vision will do more harm than good.

So where does your EA program sit?  Do you describe the future and then set up rules to help people to get there?  Do you have a program in place for recognizing innovation, rewarding it, and encouraging it, especially when that innovation may challenge your future state architecture? 

Which example will you embody?

By |2010-12-24T17:24:05+00:00December 24th, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|2 Comments

About the Author:

President of Vanguard EA, an Enterprise Architecture consulting firm in Seattle focused on the Pacific coast of the US. Nick has over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

2 Comments

  1. Anthony M. December 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    I agree that you need a steam-release valve when innovation comes along.  But I'd like to point out another commonality – in all your examples the actor provided the answer, fully grown, like Botticelli's Venus. The establishment was backed in a corner – they had to be 'wrong' for the idea to be right. Luckily EA teams need not take such a 'wooub' approach when envisioning the future, and creating rules.

    They have opportunity  to create joint ownership as the vision and rules evolve is a bit better, and agreement as to the governance approach.

    "That to secure [This Strategy],  [Enterprise Architecture] is instituted among [The Corporate Hierarchy], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed — That whenever any Form of [Enterprise Architecture] becomes destructive of these endsden cl, it is the Right of [Senior Management]  to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new [Enterprise Architecture Team]," – with apologies to T. Jefferson.

  2. NickMalik December 28, 2010 at 5:41 am - Reply

    Love the paraphrase of the Declaration of Independence.

    And I agree with your assertion… Your response embodies the correct principles Anthony, that of negotiation and flexibility.  

    — Nick

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