>Creative Destruction and Enterprise Architecture

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“The notion of creative destruction is found in the writings of Mikhail Bakunin, Friedrich Nietzsche and in Werner Sombart’s Krieg und Kapitalismus (War and Capitalism) (1913, p. 207), where he wrote: “again out of destruction a new spirit of creativity arises“. The economist Joseph Schumpeter popularized and used the term to describe the process of transformation that accompanies radical innovation. In Schumpeter’s vision of capitalism, innovative entry by entrepreneurs was the force that sustained long-term economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies that enjoyed some degree of monopoly power.” (Wikipedia)

From an enterprise architecture perspective, I find the concept of creative destruction an enlightening concept, in a number of ways:

  1. Two steps backwards—enterprise architecture is not just a forward planning endeavor. Sometimes, to move forward on the roadmap, you actually may have to take a couple of step back. To build new processes or introduce new technologies, you may first have to scrap the old ones or at least stop investing in them. Just like with a physical blueprint, sometimes you can build unto an existing house or modify it, and other times, you need to bring in the wrecking ball (take a few steps back) and build fresh from the ground up. (Of course, at other times you may have to change the wings on the airplane while it’s still flying.) It is on a fresh palette that a painter can create a new masterpiece.
  2. Creativity is the future—enterprise architects should not fear bringing in new ideas, innovation, and creative approaches. Just because something has been done a certain way in the past, does not mean that it always has to be done that way in the future. In fact, stagnation by definition means that the existing processes are doomed to be obsolete and surpassed by others who are adapting to an ever changing environment. Indeed, those enamored with the past can and often are a roadblock to doing things a new way. The old guard will stand up and say, we’ve been doing it this way or that way for so many years; who are you to come in here and try and change it; we know better; you don’t understand our environment. And sometimes, they may be right. But more often than not, the naysayers are fearful of and resistant to change. With ample research, planning, and testing we can develop better, faster, and cheaper ways of doing things.
  3. Change can be radical—Much of EA change will be evolutionary, a planned sequence of steps in process improvement and technology enablement. However, some change will be more radical and revolutionary. Some organizational change requires selling off, closing down, merging, acquiring, or otherwise “destroying the value of established companies” in order to innovate and create something new and better. Like the process of evolution and the survival of the fittest, those companies and processes that are not “making the grade” need to be shut down, discontinued, or otherwise morphed into value-add forces of long-term economic growth.

One final thought. Destruction is a darn scary thing. No one wants to see their handiwork taken apart, brought down, and be forced to start again. In fact, it is hard enough in life to have to build something, but to see it destroyed and have to start again can be maddening. The mere fact of seeing something destroyed is destabilizing and demoralizing. The organization and person asks themselves: who’s to say the next build will be more stable, more everlasting, more productive? Who wants to feel that their time has been wasted on something that is now gone? Who can be so confident that their efforts will ever come again to a substantive and meaningful accomplishment, and one that compares or surpasses to what was? However, this is the clincher of creative destruction—while destruction is enormously painful and undermining to self-confidence, “out of destruction a new spirit of creativity arises.” With a fresh start, an organization or person can build anew and perhaps from the lessons of the past, from the pain of building and destruction, from the processes of working something through and evolving it, a better future can be created. And there is hope for a new enterprise or personal life architecture.

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