Traditional management espouses that executives are supposed to develop a vision, chart a course for the organization, and guide it to that future destination. Moreover, everyone in the enterprise is supposed to pull together and sing off the same sheet of music, to make the vision succeed and become reality. However, new approaches to organizational management acknowledge that in today’s environment of rapid change and the many unknowns that abound, executives need to be far more flexible and adaptable, open to learning and feedback, and allow for greater individualism and creativity to succeed.
In the book Managing the Unknowable by Ralph Stacey, the author states that “by definition, innovative strategic directions take an organization into uncharted waters. It follows that no one can know the future destination of an innovative organization. Rather, that organization’s managers must create, invent, and discover their destination as they go.”
In an environment of rapid change, the leader’s role is not to rigidly control where the organization is going, but rather to create conditions that foster creativity and learning. In other words, leaders do not firmly set the direction and demand a “cohesive team” to support it, but rather they create conditions that encourage and promote people to “question everything and generate new perspectives through contention and conflict.” The organization is moved from “building on their strengths and merely adapting to existing market conditions, [to insted] they develop new strengths and at least partly create their own environments.”
An organization just sticking to what they do best and incrementally improving on that was long considered a strategy for organizational success; however, it is now understood as a recipe for disaster. “It is becoming clearer why so many organizations die young…they ‘stick to their knitting’ and do better and better what they already do well. When some more imaginative competitors come along and change the rules of the game, such over-adapted companies…cannot respond fast enough. The former source of competitive success becomes the reason for failure and the companies, like animals, become extinct.”
Organizations must be innovative and creative to succeed. “The ‘new science’ for business people is this: Organizations are feedback systems generating such complex behavior that cause-and-effect links are broken. Therefore, no individual can intend the future of that system or control its journey to that future. Instead what happens to an organization is created by and emerges from the self-organizing interactions between its people. Top managers cannot control this, but through their interventions, they powerfully influence this.
With the rapidly changing economic, political, social, and technological conditions in the world, “the future is inherently unpredictable.” To manage effectively then is not to set rigid plans and targets, but rather to more flexibly read, analyze, and adapt to the changes as they occur or as they can be forecast with reasonable certainly. “A ‘shared vision’ of a future state must be impossible to formulate, unless we believe in mystic insight.” “No person, no book, can prescribe systems, rules, policies, or methods that dependably will lead to success in innovative organizations. All managers can do it establish the conditions that enable groups of people to learn in each new situation what approaches are effective in handling it.”
For enterprise architecture, there are interesting implications from this management approach. Enterprise architects are responsible for developing the current and target architecture and transition plan. However, with the rapid pace of change and innovation and the unpredictability of things, we learn that “hard and fast” plans will not succeed, but rather EA plans and targets must remain guidelines only that are modified by learning and feedback and is response to the end-user (i.e User-centric). Secondly, EA should not become a hindrance to organizational innovation, creativity, and new paradigms for organizational success. EA needs to set standards and targets and develop plans and administer governance, but this must be done simultaneously with maintaining flexibility and harnessing innovation into a realtime EA as we go along. It’s not a rigid EA we need, but as one of my EA colleagues calls it, it’s an “agile EA”.