>Master of Paradox and the Enterprise Architect

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As enterprise architects, we need to have clarity of vision to see what is and to chart a way ahead for the organization. Yet, we live amidst polarities and paradoxes, which are challenges for every enterprise architect to see through.

In the book The Empty Raincoat, by Charles Handy, the author identifies nine paradoxes that we need not only be aware of, but also be focused on, so that we can find a better way forward for ourselves, our enterprises, and society.

Here are the top six paradoxes (of nine) of our time:

  1. Intelligence—“brains are replacing brawn…knowledge and know-how is the new source of wealth, [yet] it is impossible to give people intelligence by decree, to redistribute it. It is not even possible to leave it to your children when you die…It is not possible to take this new form of intelligence away from anyone. Intelligence is sticky…nor is it possible to own someone else’s intelligence…It is hard to prevent the brains walking out the door if they want to…intelligence is a leaky form of property. [Finally,] intelligence tends to go where intelligence is. Well educated people give their families good education.”
  2. Work—“some have work and money, but too little time, while others have all he time, but no work and no money…we also use money as the measure of efficiency. Our organizations, therefore want the most work for the least money while individuals typically want the most money for the least work.”
  3. Productivity—“productivity means ever more and ever better work from ever fewer people…as more and more people get pushed out or leave organizations…[they] do for themselves, what they used to pay others to do for them.” In a sense the newly unemployed stifle market demand and further growth.
  4. Time—“we never seem to have enough time, yet there has never been so much time available to us. We live longer and we use less time to make and do things as we get more efficient…[yet] we have created an insidious cycle of work and spend, as people increasing look to consumption to give satisfaction and even meaning to their lives.”
  5. Riches—“economic growth depends, ultimately, on more and more people wanting more and more and more things…If , however, we look only at the rich societies, we see them producing fewer babies every year and living longer. Fewer babies mean fewer customers, eventually, while living longer lives mean, usually poorer and more choosy customers.”
  6. Organizations—“more than ever, they need to be global and local at the same time, to be small in some ways but big in others, to be centralized some of the time and decentralized most of it. They expect their workers to be more autonomous and more of a team, their managers to be more delegating and more controlling…they have to be planned yet flexible, be differentiated and integrated at the same time, be mass-marketers while catering for many niches, they must introduce new technology, but allow workers to be masters of their own destiny; they must find ways to get variety and quality and fashion, and all at low-cost.”

Can we as enterprise architects ever resolve these paradoxes?

While, we cannot resolve the polarities of society, we can find ways to balance them, move between the extremes “intelligently,” as appropriate for the situation, and search for better way to adapt. We do this not only to survive, but to help our organizations and society thrive in spite of the paradoxes. “Life will never be easy, nor perfectible, nor completely predictable. It will be best understood backwards [20-20 hindsight], but we have to live it forwards. To make it livable, at all levels, we have to learn to use paradoxes, to balance the contradictions and the inconsistencies and to use them as an invitation to find a better way.”

So as architects what specifically can we do?

As architects, we are advisors to the Chief Information Officer (from a technology-business alignment perspective), Chief Financial Officer (from an IT investment perspective), and to the Chief Procurement Officer and Line of Business Program Managers (from an IT execution standpoint) and other organizational decision-makers. In this advisory role, we can help point out the polarities and paradoxes that may be driving the organization one way or the other, or actually in a conflicting, bi-directional manner. As advisors, we can highlight gaps, redundancies, inefficiencies, and opportunities and suggest ways to improve or capitalize on this. But most importantly of all, by having a structured way of thinking about IT planning and governance, we can provide a perspective to the organization that may otherwise be neglected or trashed (in favor of operations), and we can provide clarity to the organization in terms of planning and governance processes, when the organization may otherwise just be blowing around in the wind of universal contention.

“There are kings [executives] and there are prophets [architects]…the kings have the power and the prophets have the principles…but every king needs his prophet, to help him, and increasingly her, keep a clear head amidst all the confusions…prophets in spite of their name, do not foretell the future. No one can do that…What prophets can do is tell the truth as they see it.”

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