>Making Something Out of Nothing

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At the Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit this past week (October 7-9, 2009), I heard about this new math for value creation:

Nothing + Nothing = Something

At first, you sort of go, WHAT?

Then, it starts to make a lot of sense.

Seemingly nothings can be combined (for example, through mashups) to become something significant.

When you really think about it, doesn’t this really happen all the time.

INFORMATION: You can have tens or thousands of data points, but it’s not till you connect the dots that you have meaningful information or business intelligence.

PEOPLE: Similarly, you can have individuals, but it’s not until you put them together—professionally or personally—that you really get sparks flying.

Harvard Business Review, October 2009, put it this way:

Ants aren’t smart…ant colonies are…under the right conditions, groups—whether ant colonies, markets, or corporations—can be smarter than any of their members.” This is the “wisdom of crowds and swarm intelligence.”

PROCESS: We can have a workable process, but a single process alone may not produce diddly. However, when you string processes together—for example, in an assembly line—you can produce a complex product or service. Think of a car or a plane or a intricate surgical procedure.

TECHNOLOGY: I am sure you have all experienced the purchase of hardware or software technologies that in and of themselves are basically useless to the organization. It’s only when we combine them into a workable application system that we have something technologically valuable to the end-user.

Whatever, the combination, we don’t always know in advance what we are going to get when we make new connections—this is the process of ideation, innovation, and transformation.

Think of the chemist or engineer or artist that combines chemicals, building blocks elements, or colors, textures, and styles in new ways and gets something previously unimaginable or not anticipated.

In a sense, organization and personal value creation is very much about creating relationships and associations between things. And a good leader knows how to make these combinations work:

Getting people and organizations to work together productively.

Generating new ideas for innovative business products or better ways of serving the customer.

Linking people, process, and technology in ever expanding ways to execute more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

Enterprise architecture shares this principle of identifying and optimizing relationships and associations between architectural entities such as business processes, data elements, and application systems. Typically, we perform these associations in architectural models, such as business process, data, and system models. Moreover, when we combine these models, we really advance the cause by determining what our processes are/should be, what information is needed to perform these, and what are the systems that serve up this information. Models help architects to identify gaps, redundancies, inefficiencies, and opportunities between the nothings to improve the greater whole of the something.

The real enterprise architect will make the leap from just describing many of these elements to making the real connections and providing a future direction (aka a target architecture) or at least recommending some viable options for one.

Nothing + Nothing (can) = Something. This will happen when we have the following:

  • The right touch of leadership skills to encourage, motivate and facilitate value creation.
  • The allocation of talented people to the task of combining things in new ways.
  • And the special sauce—which is everyone’s commitment, creativity, and hard work to make something new and wonderful emerge.

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