Once upon a time, there was a little town called Busit in a valley, deep in the mountains.  Through the middle of this valley ran the river Menatz. The valley was fertile and the farmers produced bountiful crops of grain, vegetables, and fruit.  The livestock was well fed and the people had plenty.  However, every year, in the spring, the river floods, wiping out farms seemingly at random on either side of the river.

One the east side of the river, the people responded to the annual floods by making many small changes.  Farmers in one area would build a part of a levy to protect a few homes and fields, while farmers in another area would build channels for the water to run through to prevent flooding.  They worked hard to perfect their ways of moving water.  They even founded a small school where people could take classes on the best way to channel water, led by their very own Expert Teacher of Flood Prevention, Mr. Grounds.

On the west side of the river, people responded to the annual floods by seeking out the reasons for the floods, finding that there are three smaller mountain rivers that combine to create the seasonal floods.  They decided to build a dam on one of those rivers to control the floods.  They built a number of small dams and worked to improve their methods and techniques.  They even appointed a Chief Water Engineer, Ms. Heights, who mentored and supervised the building of dams.

As these methods became more sophisticated, the east siders and the west siders would both come to the town council asking for people, tools, raw materials, and money to address the flooding problem.  At first, the town council had no problem providing resources to both sides of the river.  After all, both had good ideas and both had proven that their ideas could work.  However, neither had addressed the overall problem.  The river still flooded every year, and although the smaller dams on the upper rivers had reduced some of the threat, and although the levies and water channels allowed some of the water to flow off fairly well, the floods were still coming along every year or so, and wiping out homes and farms. 

One year, the river went wild.  There was more water than anyone had ever seen before.  Upstream, most of the small dams held, but one of the dams simply overflowed and eventually burst, sending cascades of water downstream.  Downstream, most of the levies failed, and the waterworks were unable to keep up.  A hundred farms were destroyed, and three of the townspeople lost their lives.  One of the roads used by the traders was washed out and crops in storage were ruined.  The townspeople became angry and upset.

The town council called a special meeting, and both the chief engineer Ms. Heights, as well as the expert teacher Mr. Grounds, were roundly criticized.  Both had been telling their neighbors for years of their vision. Both had been saying “our valley will not flood, someday, if we do things my way.”  Both seemed wrong!  There was confusing and dismay.  Some east siders wanted to try building dams, while some west siders wanted to build levies and waterworks.  The arguing went well into the night.

The mayor has stayed out of the fight for the first few hours, listening and watching as both sides made their case.  Finally, he stood up and started to speak.

“People of Busit, I ask for a moment of your attention.  I’d like to propose a solution.”

The arguing died down as the room turned to focus on the mayor. 

“Some of you trust Mr. Grounds.  After all, he is knowledgeable and kind, and has taught you how to protect your lands from the water.  Others trust Ms. Heights, who has proven that her methods can work even in extreme situations like we faced this year.  I trust neither of them.”

A shocked silence fell.  What does he mean by that?

“I don’t want one person or the other to win.  I want the entire town to win.  We have to protect our farms and our way of life, and we have to do it together.  We have to know the course we will take and we have to take it as a town.  Both Mr. Grounds and Ms. Heights have failed us.  They have spent a lot of time trying to convince us, but no time at all trying to convince each other.   We are all responsible for this.  We all participated.  This year, we lost John and Mark and Mary to the floods.  How many more must die because we cannot agree?” 

The last question cut through the room.  Farmers and townsfolk, east siders and west siders, looked at one another, eyes darting around the room.  Heads nodded and bowed in recognition.  We did this.

“Tonight we will go home.  Next week, we will return here.  At that time, Mr. Grounds and Ms. Heights will present their solution.”  He looked over at the two leaders and fixed his eyes on each.  “Next week, they will present a single solution that both will dedicated themselves to supporting.  Both will work for that single solution, with all their might.  Both will agree.  If they cannot agree, both must leave Busit.  If they do not create one solution, then they are both wrong, and we cannot afford for them to remain.”

Both Mr. Grounds and Ms. Heights were caught off guard.  They both started to argue, but the mayor turned to the city council and shouted “all in favor, say aye.”  The council responded in loud unison, drowning out the commotion with a resounding “AYE!”  The arguing stopped.  The consequences were clear and unequivocal.  If they agreed with one another, they got to stay.  If they disagreed, both would be kicked out of town. 

“Meeting adjourned.”  Concluded the mayor.  The townspeople filed out of the room, speaking quietly among themselves.  Who would win?  What would the answer be? 

The next week was filled with rumor.  Everyone had an opinion.  Some liked Mr. Grounds down-to-earth approach and thought he’d win.  Others like Ms. Heights skill and intelligence and thought that she’d win.  Others thought that they’d never agree and that both would be kicked out of town. 

That next week, the town hall was filled.  People flowed out into the courtyard.  Inside the hot stuffy room, the mayor called the council to order and reminded everyone why they were there, and what the consequences would be.  Then he turned to Mr. Grounds and Ms. Heights to stand up and explain their solution.  A hush fell across the room as both of them walked together to the podium.

Mr. Grounds started out in an unexpected manner, by complimenting Ms. Heights for her excellent ability to construct dams.  Ms. Heights then chimed with, complimenting Mr. Grounds for building a community of practice and real expertise in the construction of local levies and waterworks. 

Mr. Grounds then continued, “We would like to propose a new way.  We will build a series of waterworks in the upper part of valley to create a great marsh.  The marsh will foster wildlife and at the same time, will provide a mechanism to control the floods.” 

He turned to Ms. Heights who continued.  “Building a great marsh will require large scale planning skills.  The dam building team that I’ve developed will need to use all their planning skills to survey the land, map out the flood plain, and engineer waterworks of a size and scale that we’ve never seen before.”

Mr. Grounds took his cue.  “The construction of a marsh will require all the skills and talent of the farmers who have attended my school all these years.  We will need your thinking, your assistance, and your support to make this happen.”

The room sat is sil
ence for the next hour as both of these leaders took turns explaining the tradeoffs that the town would have to make.  Considerable resources would need to be spent, and some farms would have to relocate.  People from both the east side and west sides of the river would have to contribute, cooperate, and assist.  Mr. Grounds school would change focus, to educate the people who would build and maintain the marsh, while Ms. Heights dam-building team would be the first folks to attend.  One of the dam builders would stay behind and to educate more engineers.

Once the outlines of a solution were laid out, the council was asked to vote.  Some members of the audience sounded out their objections, wanting to delay the vote, but the Mayor asked for a vote anyway.  The council was divided, but the majority supported the new plan, with council members from both the east side and west side joining together to support it.

For many years, the people of Busit worked together, building a great man-made marsh to contain the waters.  After just two years, most of the flooding was under control.  To guard against major storms, three more small dams were built in the mountains, and a new set of uniform levies were built to defend the lowest lying areas in the town. 

The town was unified and peace returned to Busit.  Soon the town was more prosperous than ever before.  The floods were controlled and without their annual disruption, the town grew healthy and strong.


This parable of conflict and resolution will be referenced in later posts. 

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with 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".

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