>Tech is Threatening to Some and A Savior To Others

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As technology advances and supplants the “old ways” of doing things, some people are threatened that they are being put “out to pasture” and others find opportunity in the emerging technology—they find in it something new to learn and grow with, perhaps an opportunity to shine and become the resident subject matter expert at work or at home.

As we get older, it’s natural that some people may not be as flexible in “starting over,” learning something new, or changing the way “we’ve always done things.” It’s reminiscent of the sort of unflattering old saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”—a saying by the way that I don’t really believe (you should see my Dad on email, Internet, and so on—he’s great!). But at the same time, people, as do all things, have a life cycle, and our strengths and weaknesses go through peaks and valleys at various points on the cycle. For example, “with age comes wisdom.” Years ago, getting the chairman or CEO to use email was a corporate challenge. Now, young people are migrating to Social Media for communications, and email is the technology dinosaur. It’s a constant technology transformation.

In November 2009, the Wall Street Journal reviewed a new book by Sci-Fi author Cory Doctorow, called “Makers”. “This novel is set in a not-too distant future when the creative destruction of technological change has created an economy so efficient, with profit margins so thin, that traditional companies can hardly stay in business.” In this book, the inventor “uses three-dimensional printers to produce copies of machines and most anything else at close to no cost.” Now “good ideas are copied so quickly that they become commodities. Every industry that required a factory yesterday only needs a garage today.” Where this leaves us is in a time with “competition and invention getting easier and easier—it’s producing a kind of superabundance.” And the result is widespread unemployment and stress.

As we are presumably heading out of a major recession now with unemployment topping 10% (and some would say the real figures, including the underemployed and those that have stopped looking for work, at closer to 20%), we must but wonder whether the recession/unemployment is due to the financial crisis alone or is there some element that is due to our new high-tech economy, where everything in the manufacturing sector has either been tech-enabled or outsourced to Asia. And where we are left in a primary “services economy—pushing papers and flipping burgers? Is there a time coming when we become so technologically advanced, like in the Makers, that there is a very real threat of leaving hundreds of millions of people behind, while the few technology mavens “have it all”?

Interestingly enough, with the advancement of technology, the income disparity between rich and poor has grown where the top 1% of Americans own more than a third of the wealth, compared with a fifth of the wealth in the 1970s (according to Robert Reich).

I think it is critical that smarts and performance be rewarded (i.e. performance-based), but that we cannot let things get out of control and unjust. Billions cannot starve while the ultra-rich hop from rural mansion to Park Avenue condo and from private plane to recreational yacht. Technology must be used to level the playing field and not abuse it. Some like Bernie Madoff used systems developers and technology to create and issue phony financial statements to Ponzi-scheme clients showing trades that never occurred. Instead, we need to use technology to educate, communicate, share, and advance the opportunities for all and overcome the technology divide through amazing advancements here and yet to come. To do this, we must focus on continuous innovation and application of technology to the challenges we face—whether alternative energy, health care, world-hunger, global warming, and so much more. There is no shortage of issues for us to apply our minds and technology to—there is plenty for everyone to contribute to.

>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.