To understand shared-enterprise, look for the tattoos

People seem to struggle so much with the word ‘enterprise’ in ‘enterprise-architecture’. So often they seem to think it’s about technology. Or money.

But if you want to understand ‘enterprise’, look for the story.

And if you want to see where and how people really commit themselves to an enterprise, look for the tattoos.

That’s commitment… 🙂

And actually, no, I’m not joking. (Not much, anyway.) There’s an excellent article on this in a recent Financial Times: ‘The culinary art: Nothing shows chefs’ commitment to the trade like their food tattoos’. It’s an article I would strongly recommend to any enterprise-architect: it describes what is to me one of the best illustrations (literally!) of what a shared-enterprise means, and how people connect with that enterprise:

“Although tattoos are non-conformist,” says [Russell] Norman , “they are also very conformist. It’s a way to show other like-minded individuals that they will understand you and your ideals. When chefs get tattoos of knives, food or kitchen equipment, it shows a sort of tribal allegiance.”

So what does this look like in practice? Well, here’s one example from the FT article:

The caption for that photo is worth including in its entirety:

Dario Sutera, 28, chef de partie, Locanda Locatelli, Marble Arch. I cook a lot of fish, and so I love that I have a fish tattoo that symbolises strength and power but is also what I live off. It’s a sign of respect, in a way. If I have a bad day, I look down and there it is (it’s quite big so it’s hard to miss) and it reminds me that perseverance is a strength, a great quality and very necessary for a chef.

Notice that it’s not like a brand – a corporate identity owned by the collective – or a generic symbol such as the chef’s uniform. It’s an intensely personal badge of commitment to that shared-enterprise – the way in which each person interprets how they connect themselves to and with that enterprise.

As the article puts it, we could perhaps argue that chefs are something of a special case:

While tattoos are more fashionable than ever, it’s fairly unusual for a profession as a whole to get tattoos illustrating what they do – there aren’t many bankers with pound signs inked along their arms, nor many plumbers decorated with wrenches.

But what about enterprise-architecture itself? Like the chefs, we’re often “a driven, passionate, artful, moody and overworked lot”, and likewise “crazy” too – or at least seen that way by many of the people with whom we work! So should we get our own tattoos too, perhaps? 🙂

Any suggestions for suitable designs, folks?

[Thanks to Florian for the initial Tweet-link.]

6 Comments on “To understand shared-enterprise, look for the tattoos

  1. Tom,

    This is why I follow your blog. Heart for the profession.

    My suggestion would be a picture of the Vitruvius Man (by Leonardo Da Vinci) with the words ‘Utilitas’, ‘Firmitas’ and ‘Venustas’ superimposed. This could be a tattoo common for all kinds of architects. Don’t know how to make it EA specific. What might be a good icon for a whole-of-enterprise? A Globe? An Office building?

    A tattoo to show your love and passion for something is fine to me. A tattoo to show that you belong to a certain group can get dangerous (e.g. tribal tattoos of violent gangs).

    Anyway, does this mean that we have to leave the jackets of our buisness suits at home and wear shirts with short sleeves?

  2. it’s also part of the “brand” and “uniform” of chefs. What is the Enterprise Architectures “brand” … what is our “uniform” to define our tribe of passionate, deep thinking, questioning, artful, driven, PITAs to executives? It’s not the MBA some carry. What is it? How do executives know we are part of this elite tribe?

  3. @Paul Goes – I do like the idea of the Vitruvius figure (though I still don’t have the nerve to get a tattoo anyway… 🙁 )

    I take your point about ‘tribal tattoos of violent gangs’, though even in that there are some interesting points – the blurring of shared-enterprise versus ‘sense of belonging’, for example. Hmm…

  4. @Pat Ferdinandi – Very good point re ‘brand and uniform’.

    One of the real difficulties we face here (in some ways the opposite of Paul’s point above re gang-‘tags’) is that one of our ‘key selling propositions’ is the commitment to difference, to not conforming, to being able to break outside of any ‘groupthink’ box. Hence we need a uniform that isn’t a uniform, a brand that is in a sense a brand because it is explicitly not a brand. Tricky… 🙂

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