Why are the elite the elite?

An interesting follow-on this afternoon from the themes of the previous post, ‘Rethinking the architecture of management‘.

I was wandering around down town, doing the shopping. Outside this rather nice old traditional-style grocer’s shop, there’s a mob of 20-something students – Swiss, apparently – from the local ‘English as a Foreign Language’ college. Their lecturer is expounding about this shop, telling them in his somewhat condescending upmarket voice that it’s where they ought to buy real English food (??) to take home, and so on. Then he says:

If you see schoolboys walking down the road here wearing purple blazers, they are from the Royal Grammar School. They are the elite, the cream. At age 11 they have to take a special examination in mathematics and English, and only two percent pass that exam.

It’s kinda interesting to apply a services perspective to that assertion. All that the exam tells us is that it selects for ability in mathematics and native-language. Which means that those pupils will, in later life, probably be well-suited to doing tasks that deliver the kinds of services that make good use of those abilities. But that’s all that it tells us. Since every service is ‘just another service’, there’s nothing in there – nothing at all – that indicates that every one of those young students should therefore be described as ‘the elite’.

In service-architecture terms, everywhere and nowhere is ‘the centre’ of the enterprise, and every service is necessary to the viability of the enterprise, hence it makes no sense to describe any category of services – or the people who deliver those services – as ‘the elite’. (Individuals, yes, perhaps; a specific category, no.)

In short, the only reason why those students with that specific set of (proto)-skills in that location would be called ‘the elite’, is because people who are like them and have similar skills want to believe that they themselves are ‘the elite’.

In other words, it’s nothing more than a myth – the kind of circularly self-centric fantasy that’s guaranteed to cause serious dysfunction in a service-oriented enterprise-architecture.

Oops…

And yes, it gets worse! All the way through school, these young students will be told, time and time again, that they are ‘the elite’. That they are entitled to special privilege and special attention because they are ‘the elite’. Which they aren’t, because it’s just a self-aggrandizing fantasy.

Oops…

And wait – yes, it gets still worse! These young people go on to elite universities, elite business-schools, to become elite businessmen, businesswomen. Which they aren’t, because, again, it’s a fantasy.

Oops…

And now, yes, it gets worse again! – because they go on to become ‘the elite of the elite’, the ‘captains of industry’, the managers, who are ‘elite’ because they’re managers.

Yet management is ‘just another service’. There’s nothing inherently ‘elite’ about that set of services at all: every service is ‘just another service’, and every service is, by definition, essential to the enterprise. In a service-oriented architecture, there is no service that is inherently more important than any other: that’s the whole point.

Hmm…

So let’s ask a very simple question – a very difficult, dangerous, politically-explosive question: if every service is ‘just another service’, why is it that as a category, those who deliver the category of services that are called ‘management’ get to control more, and are given more, and paid more – often so vastly much more – than those who happen to deliver a different type of ‘just another service’?

Because as far as I can see it, from a service-architecture perspective, the only reason that they’re paid more is because they purport that they’re ‘the elite’. Which they’re not, because it’s just an arbitrary, self-important fantasy.

A whole load of smoke-and-mirrors to prop up the fantasy, of course – no surprises there. But beyond that there’s nothing of any substance at all: nothing more than a plaintive little chant of “the elite are the elite because they’re the elite”, and kinda hoping beyond hope that we won’t notice how empty that claim really is.

Oops…

Y’know, there might just be a problem there?

[And by the way, yes, I did indeed go to that kind of ‘elite’ school as a child. Which is why I do know, first-hand,  just exactly how vapid, shrill and empty those claims really are… Hey ho…]

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15 comments on “Why are the elite the elite?
  1. Jan says:

    What would be the smallest service?
    Did anyone ever looked for the/a boundary condition of a service?

  2. Peter Bakker says:

    @Jan
    For me the smallest service is provided by neurons 🙂

    And I think the role of management has something to do with feed forward, feedback and attention. Even in the brain there are neurons busy with management, but I don’t know if they act like an elite like Tom describes it 🙂

  3. Jan says:

    Isn’t a neuron a cell? A cell that is able to receive/process certain specific signals and is also able to provide certain other specific signals?
    Are, then, in your opinion, at the cellular level, these ‘cell-signals’ the smallest services?

  4. Tom G says:

    @Jan – Apologies, Jan, but I fail to see how your point about “smallest service” and “boundary conditions” has anything to do with the discussion above, which was about social contexts and categories of business-services?

    Peter/Jan – I’ll aim to cover some of this in another post later today, but I’ll have to admit that at present this seems like a complete red-herring (translation: “utterly-irrelevant distraction”). Oh well…

  5. Peter Bakker says:

    @Tom G
    You are right Tom, a better place (if any) for my reaction would have been the “Rethinking the architecture of management” page.

  6. Jan says:

    @Tom – Apologies, Tom, but I thought this was about… Services-in-the-world. Just picking a quote: “if every service is ‘just another service’ […]”. But it isn’t: it’s all about “social contexts and categories of business-services”. Well, again, sorry…

  7. Tom G says:

    @Jan – Jan, I must admit I’m feeling a bit antsy here. It’s perhaps just mild paranoia or something on my part, but despite the purported apology, each of your replies feels like nit-picking with selected irrelevancies for the sole purpose of trying to make me look wrong. If that’s the case, I really don’t appreciate it: the problems I’m trying to tackle in these posts are real, and – to be blunt – none of us can afford to waste any energy on trollish ego-games.

    The point about ‘just another service’ within a service-oriented whole-of-enterprise-architecture has explained in considerable detail in the various previous posts on Enterprise Canvas and the like. If you haven’t read those already, I’d strongly recommend you go back and read those first before coming back here.

    Hence, a very simple request: either discuss the potentially-valid point about boundary-conditions etc in one of those posts; or keep to the point here, which is about the dangers – including societal dangers, at the larger-scale – of arbitrarily privileging one category of services over others.

    You choose: one or the other, or neither. Please don’t play games, okay? Because to be blunt, right now it does feel like you’re playing a particularly petty and pointless ego-game of “let’s all denigrate Tom”, and you’re going the right way to get yourself permanently blocked from this site, and from all further discussions on enterprise-architecture. Final warning: keep to the topic, and don’t play games. Fair enough?

  8. Jan says:

    @Tom – You amaze me (again). However: Thank you for making clear to me the way you start to feel when you read my writings.

    What can I say? This. It is not (never was) my intention to nit-pick, to address irrelevancies, to make you (or anyone) look wrong, to ‘do’ trollish ego-games, to play other petty and pointless ego-games, to denigrate you (or anyone), to get blocked from this site/discussions. I have no single reason to do such thing to you (or anyone).

    I’m the most wicked man in the universe…

    Yet, you do read these things in them, making you feel the way you do. Perhaps we too often (seem to) totally miss eachothers points. The only hits there seem to be, are the ones like the one above. There is no point in such hits. Is there?

  9. Tom G says:

    @Jan Jan – I apologise, but this is how it feels. You’ve certainly so before, which has left me feeling extremely wary about engaging in any discussion with you.

    (Let’s just ignore your “I’m the most wicked man in the universe”, shall we? – because that really is a trollish response…)

    Yes, I do understand that we can miss each other’s points. And yes, I do understand that there’s a real risk of ‘lost in translation’, because I do acknowledge and respect that English is not your native language.

    That said, take a look again at your various comments above, especially the first: where is the connection to the actual topic of this post? None: none at all – which suggests that at best you haven’t actually read the post, but just dived in anyway with an arbitrary idea that, yes, is a valid question in itself, but not in this context. And rather than coming back to the point, you then follow that with another comment that goes off at two yet other tangents, splitting either side of the actual topic of the post.

    So what the heck is going on here? Why are you doing this? If you’re going to miss the point by that much every single time – points which others seem to have no trouble at all in understanding, as we can see above and in other posts – then is there any point in attempting to engage with you?.Or, for that matter, for you to attempt to engage in discussion here? That’s the question that I would please ask you to consider carefully before you come back here again.

  10. Jan says:

    Tom,
    If it’s okay with you… I will continue to carefully read and enjoy your posts – just as I’ve done the past couple of years. It’s ‘only’ because of my, say, specialnview-on-the-world that I act the way I do. Why do you act the way you do? Isn’t that because of a world view you feel comfotable with, you can work/live/etc with? In our case these two world views appear to differ widely and have little in common. I don’t see any right or wrong in that – it’s just the way it is. So… I won’t comment any more (until you explitly ask me to). Thanks anyway for your patience.
    Jan.

  11. Tom G says:

    @Jan – Jan, yeah, sure, let’s just carry on as we are.

    I don’t know why this kind of friction comes up, but it does sometimes, only with some people and not others – and I don’t know why that should be so, either. And whether the reason for that friction is valid – or only imaginary, or from misunderstanding – when the trust is blown, it’s very difficult to get it back. I do accept that that isn’t what you meant to do. Oh well. Apologies from my side also, anyway.

    And likewise, thanks for your patience too.

  12. Stuart Boardman says:

    Tom. I haven’t yet read either your post or the comments, so this is a comment on neither. I feel a bit comfortable these days with the term elite, because of the way it is currently used in NL (by more than one populist politician or commentator) to disparage anyone who actually thinks about anything.
    So, even though I suspect I might agree with your argumentation, I’m inclined simply to avoid using the term.
    Now I’ll go back and read what you wrote!

  13. Ron van den Burg says:

    Tom, again an excellent piece with which I agree completely. May I suggest to read Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset’? In the book, it is explained what happens with those labelled ‘talents’ (elite) and shows the mechanisms that lead to catastrophes. It contains a lot of real life, known examples.

    I am glad that you escaped the elite’s pitfall into a fixed mindset.

  14. Stuart Boardman says:

    Big error in my earlier post. I meant to write “uncomfortable”. Bit of a difference!!!

  15. Graham Meaden says:

    Is a management service more elite?…that depends. Does a management service have greater influence over the effectiveness and efficiency of the sum total of all the other services? Whether they manage well or badly, I would say they do. If they manage the other services like a system then they would require wisdom and judgement. If they did that and managed well maybe they would have earned their “elite” status.

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