The video below, from RSA Animate, is not about Enterprise Architecture.  At least, on the surface, it isn’t.  In the video, we hear the voice of Roman Krznaric, a philosopher, talk about the need to build a greater reliance on the human emotion of empathy in order to create social change.

But as an Enterprise Architect, I am in the business of creating social change.  I’m actually paid to get things to change (how’s THAT for a cool job).  Of course, I’m paid to make the changes within corporations, and the benefit goes to the corporation by making them more effective, efficient, or timely in their desire to “make tangible” their own business strategy.  However, the reasons and rationale aside, my job is all about change.  And people do change, but not easily and not quickly.

There are many reasons that people don’t change.  My father used to say “the hardest thing for a person to do is to think.  The second hardest thing is to change.  So if you want them to think, don’t ask them to change, and if you want them to change, don’t ask them to think.”  Oh, there’s truth in there.  You cannot get people to change simply by “convincing” them to do it.  There has to be more to it, and there is.  But to understand how to motivate change, it helps to start with a little thought experiment.

Think about the times when you changed.  Seriously… stop right now and think about your own changes.  Have you ever changed a core belief?  Have you ever converted to a religion, or away from one?  Have you decided to change your profession or career?  Have you ever decided that the things that you always assumed were now completely untrue?  Think about family members that changed? 

Did you change because someone asked you to think?  Or did you change because someone asked you to feel?  What led the way? 

I am convinced that the only EFFECTIVE way to motivate change is to reach out and touch someone emotionally.  You can bring them along with logic, but if you don’t find their heart, and connect with their feelings, they won’t feel your message.  Notice, I didn’t say that they won’t hear your message.  They can hear just fine… but without connection, they won’t feel your message.  And if they don’t feel your message, they won’t follow your lead.

We have often heard that change is about leadership.  But how does a leader lead?  Is it through logic and elegant words, or is it through emotion and beautiful thoughts?  The most effective way to lead is to use both, but if you have to use one, use the emotional side first.  In Switch, How to change things when change is hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath argue that you have to engage both the logical side and the emotional side to want to change.  However, their metaphor is one of a person riding an elephant.  The logical side is the rider.  The emotional side is the elephant.  Why, in their metaphor, did they choose an elephant?  Because the emotional side is much larger than the logical side, and we can viscerally understand the metaphor on the basis of size and strength alone.  After all, if the elephant wants to turn around, the rider can do little to stop him. 

In Switch, the Heath brothers argue that change is an emotional journey and that there are three parts: the elephant, the rider, and the path.  If the path makes sense to both the elephant and the rider, then you have removed the obstacles to change.  Make it a clear path.  Appeal to the rider to want to take it.  Appeal to the elephant by addressing the fear or uncertainty that may drive them away from it.  That is the job of the EA.  To make a clear path, and to make it so that it starts where the elephant is actually standing at the moment.

So as an Enterprise Architect, how do I find a way to communicate with the Elephant and the Rider in the people that I want to work with?  I use empathy.  I don’t just use empathy… I live it.  Empathy is the single most powerful, most important, and most useful personality trait that an Enterprise Architect can have, bar none.  It is a skill that must be practiced, and learned, and honed.  It is more than listening, but listening is involved.  It is more than feeling, but feeling is involved.  It is connecting at a deep level with the people that you are being asked to work with.  It is building an empathic bond with them.

Philosopher and author Roman Krznaric explains how we can help drive social change by stepping outside ourselves.

Having a strong sense of empathy means that the EA has a strong internal drive to connect with others.  He or she wants to hear their stories, and learn their troubles, and feel their triumphs, because ONLY by connecting with another individual can an EA understand what is motivating that person to change, and what is keeping them from achieving it.  Only by listening to their struggles, and their successes, and their own efforts, can the EA create a path for that “emotional elephant” that Chip and Dan Heath describe.  Because the job of the EA is to create the path.  The job of the leader is to connect with the elephant to bring them down the path. 

Some people motivate others through fear.  Do this or you will lose your job.  Do that or the company will go under (and you will lose your job).  Do this other thing or we will cut your bonus or give you an assignment that you will hate.  Some will motivate through rewards and recognition.  “Look at what Tom did!  He delivered excellent results and we want to honor him.  You can be honored if you do as well as Tom.”  In our capitalist society, that may even be in the form of income: “Your bonus will be larger if you do a better job.”  (Both of these approaches fail, by the way.  True story.  Watch this TED video of Dan Pink’s presentation on motivation). 

In order to motivate change, especially in creative jobs, you have to make it easy for the eleph
ant (the emotional side) and the rider (the logical side) to follow the path from where they are to where they need to be.  Notice that the path doesn’t start from where you think they are, or where a company thinks their employees should be.  It starts from where they actually are.  Without empathy, you may build the perfect “path” but it may start in the wrong place… where the elephant is not actually standing! 

Empathy also helps you to connect with the person who you want to change, and to discover their intrinsic motivators.  As Dan Pink points out in the TED video I linked above, the most important motivators are intrinsic.  They are internal.  They are not the incentives offered by the business.  They are the things that a creative, thinking person already wants:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. 

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives, 
  • Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters, and
  • Purpose – the yearning to serve a greater goal.


If an EA wants people to change, that EA has to engage that emotional elephant and that logical rider.  To give people the autonomy that they need, and to demonstrate the mastery that they can achieve, and to give them a purpose to follow, in the world of control, incentives, and finance that the business lives in, you have to first listen and connect and understand. That requires empathy.

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".

4 thoughts on “The most important personality trait of an Enterprise Architect”
  1. Totally agree. I collect aphorisms that I find useful and one of my favourites is…

    "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care"

    Until you can put yourself in their shoes and show that you can see into their current world, they won't try and see your new world.

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