How useful are principles in enterprise-architecture?

Not quite sure where this one started: probably from this Tweet a few days back by Anna Mar (@simplicableanna):

Gerold Kathan retweeted it, and I passed it on again as what I thought of as a useful summary. Nothing unusual there. But then one of my favourite EA thinkers, Richard Veryard, suddenly weighed in, in typically contrarian mood:

  • richardveryard: @tetradian @gkathan @simplicableanna Have difficult #entarch decisions ever been resolved by appealing to bland uncontroversial principles?

Which triggered off one of those interesting back-and-forth enterprise-architecture debates:

  • EricStephens: @richardveryard @tetradian @gkathan @simplicableanna #entarch Principles provide objectivity for decisions, even if pedestrian in nature
  • richardveryard: @EricStephens @tetradian @gkathan @simplicableanna Is there objective evidence that principles improve decision-making? #entarch #groupthink
  • chrisdpotts: Yes. #strategy | RT @richardveryard Is there objective evidence that principles improve decision-making? #entarch #groupthink
  • EricStephens: @richardveryard @tetradian @gkathan @simplicableanna I have anecdotal stories only. Great question and research topic. Need to define metrix
  • tetradian: @richardveryard: @EricStephens @gkathan @simplicableanna Is there objective evidence that principles don’t improve decisionmaking? #entarch
  • richardveryard: @tetradian The lack of evidence that something doesn’t work is not a good enough reason to waste time on it.
  • tetradian: @richardveryard plenty of anecdotal evidence (eg. I use principles often in my own decisions) – claims of ‘objective’ may be spurious here
  • richardveryard: @tetradian I guess there are many popular #entarch beliefs that would be impossible to disprove. #pseudoscience

I would agree there – though it’d be the popular belief in the efficacy or even the possibility of  ‘control’ that would be my first pick to question in this sense, with use of principles quite a long way down the list. But never mind – others continued the debate, anyway:

  • BakedIdea: @tetradian @richardveryard where i work discussion +agreement on principles is essential part of decision making process… // not sure how youd empirically prove their value though. more, quicker, better decision? no way to measure success
  • tetradian: @BakedIdea @richardveryard “no way to measure success” – yes, exactly. (or even ‘non-success’, in many cases)
  • leodesousa: @richardveryard @tetradian in the early days of our #entarch practise principles helped us manage complexity – reduced dev platforms 7 to 3
  • BakedIdea: @tetradian @richardveryard imo if you view part of #entarch as movin down a funnel of possibility then agreement on principles help movement
  • krismeukens: @tetradian (cc @BakedIdea @richardveryard) So we’re actually in the chaos domain? No causality. Just act? Act-Sense-Respond? Mmm #cynefin
  • tetradian: @krismeukens (cc @richardveryard @BakedIdea) principles are most use in ‘chaos domain’, as ‘seeds’ to provide equiv. of causality in Simple
  • krismeukens: @tetradian (@richardveryard @BakedIdea) ok, makes sense, I’ll think about that.
  • tetradian: @krismeukens (@BakedIdea @richardveryard ‘Act-Sense-Respond’ a bit misleading re principles: see http://bit.ly/w5kU1r , http://bit.ly/zQKAWi

I’ll admit that that last point from Kris Meukens about the Cynefin ‘Act-Sense-Respond’ sequence in the ‘Chaotic domain’ is a mild red-rag for me, given that I’ve spent literally years now trying to resolve the consequences of that one subtly-misleading mistake… I’ll agree that the sequence does occur, and is sort-of valid in its own way, as a sort-of method for sensemaking and decision-making in a high-variability context (i.e. ‘chaos’). But in essence that ‘method’ consists of ‘running away’ from the chaos as fast as possible, or preferably never be there at all. Which isn’t really much use for dealing with chaos as it is – and it also kind of defeats the object of the exercise anyway when we need to go into that chaos, intentionally, in order to create new ideas and options.

[For more on this, perhaps take a look at some of the posts on sensemaking with SCAN, such as ‘Comparing SCAN and Cynefin‘, or the posts on belief and faith, decision-making, and the series on linking intent and action (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4).]

This is where principles and the like come into the picture, because they provide a means to ‘pre-seed’ the variability, leveraging Gooch’s Paradox that “things not only have to be seen to be believed, they also have to be believed to be seen”. In effect, the principles provide a stabilising anchor in the midst of chaos, reducing the natural tendency to panic and ‘run away’.

The panic-state often triggered by the infinity (or near-infinity) of possibility within a chaos tends to be expressed in the classic adrenalin-responses: fight, flight or freeze.  In practice, the functional purpose of the Cynefin Act-Sense-Respond sequence is to provide a means to shift the response-mode from ‘freeze’ to ‘flight’. What it doesn’t do is allow any option to remain in the chaos-space.

A much more useful approach is to centering-disciplines and the like to keep the panic at bay for as long as practicable, in conjunction with vision, values and more-actionable principles to provide a form of guidance within that space, all of it taking place in real-time.

The Act-Sense-Response sequence is only helpful in a high-variability context where principles are not used, and hence no guidance or ‘pre-seeding’ to re-constrain the variability towards a more useful outcome. As the published dynamics in the Cynefin framework make clear, the real risk of the Act-Sense-Response sequence is a collapse back to over-simplistic concepts of ‘control’; at best, it delivers a rather thin form of iterative sensemaking that kind of ‘dips its toes’ into the chaos and then runs back to the Complex-domain to make sense of what it’s seen – a cumbersome process that really slows things down. Hence, not recommended.

Given all of the above, I still don’t know why Richard Veryard was/is so vehement against the use of principles in real-time sensemaking and decision-making in enterprise-architecture. He didn’t seem to say much in those Tweets, other than that he sort-of regarded them as ‘pseudo-science’, without saying why. No doubt we’ll find out, here or elsewhere? But it seemed a conversation worth recording, anyway – I hope you find it useful!

[Update: later the same day]

Another Tweet came through from Kris Meukens, via Gerold Kathan:

  • krismeukens: #principles are invariable inclusive/exclusive statements as a tool to constrain the space for emergence in a complex domain #cynefin

Yes, in Cynefin that’s true, and as far as it goes, I’d agree with it. However, there are a couple of very important points that are glossed over in Cynefin, which to me seem part of the cause for Cynefin’s fundamental flaws in what it labels the ‘Chaotic-domain’.

First, although we might say that “principles are invariable/exclusive statements … to constrain”, that’s not actually how it works in practice: in fact that’s more a Simple-domain true/false concept of principles than a fully-modal Complex-domain one. (Again in my experience, Cynefin’s structure makes it all but impossible to see the recursions that apply here.) Principles are the actionable expression of vision and values, and there’s always a set of trade-offs that we need to make between them – a contextual prioritisation that varies with every context, in line with Requisite Variety and the like. Which means that whilst the principles themselves may purport to be “invariable/exclusive”, the way we use principles is not. That’s a rather important difference.

Second, although Cynefin does work well for ‘considered’ sensemaking (i.e. in what it terms the Complex and Complicated domains), there seems to be no grasp at all in Cynefin that the ‘decision-physics’ change as we approach close to real-time – almost exactly analogous to the shift from Newtonian-physics to quantum-physics at very small scales. (The distinction may not be so obvious with sensemaking, but it’s absolutely crucial in decision-making – summarised by a phrase I used throughout the last series of posts on decision-making, that at the moment of action, no-one has time to think.) Cynefin seems to try to treat the sensemaking/decision-making processes as if they’re exactly the same at ‘considered’ and real-time timescales, which does not work in practice: hence why its handling of the Simple-domain is poor, and its handling of the Chaotic-domain woefully-inadequate.

Unfortunately it’s proved impossible to discuss any of this with Snowden – a fact illustrated all too well in his comments on this website. Since there’s no way to resolve these glaring flaws in the framework, I have, somewhat sadly, had to give up entirely on Cynefin, and restart from scratch. To be frank, I would strongly recommend that others in EA and related disciplines should do the same: useful as Cynefin may be in some other contexts, it’s simply not worth the problems that it creates in ours. Your choice, of course. 🙂

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28 Comments on “How useful are principles in enterprise-architecture?

  1. Hi Tom
    Thanks for recording the discussion.

    Why am I so vehement? I’m afraid I thought that the opening blogpost (which you and others tweeted) was particularly fatuous. I have blogged about this before, so I risk repeating myself.

    http://rvsoapbox.blogspot.com/2010/02/whats-wrong-with-principles.html
    http://rvsoapbox.blogspot.com/2010/07/whats-wrong-with-principles-2.html

    I also note that many of the discussants seem unable to distinguish what principles OUGHT to achieve from what they ACTUALLY achieve. Hence my stroppy closing remark on important distinctions for #entarch: Opinion versus knowledge. Wishful thinking versus evidence-based practice. Comfort blanket versus tool.

    cheers, R

    • Hi Richard – strongly agree on all of those points – particularly the dangers where “many of the discussants seem unable to distinguish what principles OUGHT to achieve from what they ACTUALLY achieve”.

  2. Thanks Tom. (I tried posting a comment yesterday, but it seems to have gotten lost, so I’ll try again.)

    I am always staggered by the extremely long lists of meaningless principles that enterprise architects often seem to use as a kind of comfort blanket, and the contradictory claims for the supposed benefits of these lists.

    Some people agree that these lists of principles aren’t much good, and then argue we should devote time and energy to producing better lists. I think this is a pointless and even counterproductive exercise; a fetish for vague and wishful principles does nothing for the credibility of enterprise architecture as a whole.

    http://rvsoapbox.blogspot.com/2010/02/whats-wrong-with-principles.html
    http://rvsoapbox.blogspot.com/2010/07/whats-wrong-with-principles-2.html

    • Hi Richard – this point about ‘comfort blanket’ is extremely important.

      Like you, I’ve seen these floods of supposed ‘principles’, and like you, I greatly doubt how much use that flood would be – or is – in real-world decision-making.

      The difference here – or different lens here, perhaps – is that at present I’m looking very closely at ‘decision-making at the point of action’ – in other words, where predefined intentions meet up with the real world. What I’m seeing in practice is the old usable-checklist limit: each principle set can contain no more than around 7 items (plus-or-minus a couple). The reason why that’s a limit is exactly the same as in Simple/Belief: there’s only so much that people can hold in mind for immediate access at any one time, before they’re forced to break out of real-time and drop back into ‘thinking-mode’, which can’t take place during the action. Trying to carry too many principles into a context in effect stops us being able to work in that context: too many decisions, in a mode in which decisions are inherently trimmed to the absolute bare minimum. Hence the importance of prioritisation of principles: it’s only those that are in the top seven or so of the priority stack that will be accessible – and hence actionable – at run-time.

      The other side of ‘flood of principles’ is, I suspect, kind of yet another attempt to retain ‘control’ when the action necessarily moves over into the Not-known space. Kind of like back-seat driving, I suppose?

      Anyway, this is another discussion that’d take several hours at least, to pin down to something more exactly actionable – it’s by no means ‘finished’ yet, and I’m acutely aware of that fact. What I wanted to do here, with SCAN and the rest, was at least to get the discussion going again – it has, to paraphrase you somewhat (though with horrible mixed-metaphors…), been stalled too long in the doldrums of ‘comfort-blanket’, detracting from principles as useful tools. Continue the discussion another time, perhaps? But thanks, anyway.

  3. Hi Tom,

    I agree with your post, but also see the other side where principles can become wishful thinking if not put into action. Here is an example using some of your work with a twist that showcases an organizations principles. These principles sound good…look good…portray a great image of what this organization is committed to, but without putting them into action they become meaningless in do time. So, we turned these into behaviors that are incorporated into incentive plans / personal objectives. They will need to be-able to capture and articulate how their work aligns with these principles. No its not measurable, but why should it be. They are things that you hope in time guide decisions and actions…trying to tie them to “numbers” is wishful thinking. Although you can say, I used x number of this to do this and that is directly tied to principle x.

    bah, i can’t embed an image…sorry for the hard to read paste below…

    Strategy Model: Customer Strategy and Solutions Vision, Role and Principles
    Principles/ Commitment
    The ‘promise’ is delivered via principles or commitments

    •Company X’s customer segment, franchise and marketing strategies will be embedded within our consulting and product offerings
    •We will show empathy with the changing health care environment which has created new challenges for the customer groups we serve.
    •Create a diverse portfolio of innovative products and non-product solutions that meet our customers’ needs to improve patient health outcomes.
    •Provide In-depth health care trend expertise and health care reform knowledge that provides insight to customer groups working to improve patient health outcomes.
    •Apply our deep knowledge of the health care system and marketplace to develop new, sustainable approaches to demonstrate value to our customers.
    •Continuously evaluate opportunities, measure solution utilization and effectiveness and inform prioritization and solution investments
    •Foster an environment that supports continuously learning to fulfill our vision of contributing innovative solutions.
    •Increased use of alternative channels as ways to engage with customers as determined by their preferences

    • Hi Adam – many thanks for that example.

      (About embedding images, it should be possible to include an <img src=”…”> image-tag here, though that’d only work if you have the image already accessible somewhere else on the net. Apologies…)

      To be honest, I would read that list more as objectives than principles – qualitative aims, though not yet in themselves directly actionable for decision-making, which is the key usability-criterion for principles. What you have there is fine for the larger-picture business-level – which is the audience there, I think? – but needs to be distilled into something simpler and more actionable once we get closer to real decision-making.

      In the TOGAF 9 spec, Open Group do a good summary on definition-structure for principles – see section ‘Components of Architecture Principles‘, in Ch.23, ‘Architecture Principles’.

      — ‘Name’ is the principle itself, which must be framed in a form that is immediately actionable at decision-time – no more than 5-10 words maximum.
      — ‘Statement’ is the longer detail, which can be used when ‘thinking about principles’, but will drop straight of almost anyone’s awareness at run-time. (Open Group say that “It is vital that the principles statement be unambiguous”, which is probably fair enough, but note that the whole point of a principle is that it’ll be used for decision-making in a context that is ambiguous.)
      — ‘Rationale’ is the reasoning as to why the principle should exist, what practical purpose it serves.
      — ‘Implications’ would give typical examples of what would go right if it is applied, and what would go wrong if it isn’t.

      Hope that makes sense? Yell at me if not, anyway. 🙂

  4. Principles are the most important things for an architect.

    A principle is the enforced way an entity works in a context producing certain results.
    An entity is a whole or a thing that has seperate and distinct existence and can be identified or characterized by or through its combination of attributes.
    (the principle of a dieselengine, the espresso machine principle, the service-principle, the principle of re-use, etc..)

    The architecture of a structure is the coherent set of constructive, operative and decorative concepts of a structure. (Dragon1: http://wiki.dragon1.org/index.php?title=Architecture)

    Concepts are a type of entity.

    So the challenge for an architect is to select the right concepts in order to create the architecture. And he uses the concept-principles as argument for that.

    A concept, for instance the concept ‘self service’, has a principle, the concept-principle, telling us the way this concept work and produces results.

    The enterprise architect uses the concept-principle as argument to select the concept as part of architecture because the results this concept produces fits the needs, concerns, goals and requirements of the enterprise stakeholders.

    So depending on the goals and requirements of stakeholders an enterprise architect may propose the owner/client (CEO) of the enterprise to make self service as a concept part of the enterprise architecture.

    An architecture principle is a principle of concept that was made part of the architecture.

    http://wiki.dragon1.org/index.php?title=Principle

    • Hi Mark – I think I agree, though I’ll admit I’m having some difficulty with translation here – apologies…

      The only part I’d question is “A principle is the enforced way an entity works”. Again, this may just be a translation-issue, but I’m wary about the word ‘enforced’ here. ‘Enforce’ implies certainty, but the point I’ve made in the posts on that exploration of decision-making was that principles primarily apply – or rather, are most useful – where things are uncertain. Something to discuss further, perhaps?

  5. Yes, business level audience.

    They were the primary creators of them and truly consider them as their commitment to the enterprise as a whole…not just the organization they serve, but it’s surroundings, etc… I steered clear of putting them in the Open Group’s format, granted it appears more actionable and it makes you think / state why you created them and what they imply, but it just didn’t feel right and the rationale was their vision and role.

    They do have an aim / qualitative spin because I think they wanted to really make the vision, role work actionable or embedded in their organizations behavior. I believe principles are implications of your visionrole as objectives are to goals. Not sure if they need a structure like the Open Groups. I’ve used that several times in the past and got little out of it….it only helps in determining what principles we really want to follow and gives others the why behind the what. Guess it can be important?

    Thanks for the image lesson 🙂

  6. Tom

    You say “Principles are the actionable expression of vision and values”. I interpret this to mean that principles perform some kind of mediating function between vision-and-values and action.

    In his book The Art of Judgment (which I can strongly recommend as a counterweight to the Herbert Simon account of decision-making which dominates much IT thinking), Geoffrey Vickers talks about three related types of judgment – reality judgment (what is going on), value judgment and action judgment. I’m feel sure you will agree that an architect needs to be able to make all three types of judgment.

    In practice, these three types of judgment need to be integrated, holistically, and it seems to me that an appeal to general principles reduces and perhaps trivializes the deep relationship between the different types of judgment. I can see that an appeal to principles may have some transitional value for inexperienced architects in immature or chaotic organizations, but I think this limits the quality of the judgments that can be reached.

    Your own defence of principles seems to rely on a distinction between guidance (good) and control (bad), but I’m not sure this distinction stands up. What is the difference between a guided missile and a remote-controlled missile?

    (For more on Vickers versus Simon, see my slideshare presentation on Rationality and Decision-Making).

  7. Stephen Weinberg argues that principles are essentially reductive.

    “Every field of science operates by formulating and testing generalizations that are sometimes dignified by being called principles or laws. The library of the University of Texas has thirty-fife books with the title “Principles of Chemistry” and eighteen books with the title “Principles of Psychology”. But there are no principles of chemistry that simply stand on their own, without needing to be explained reductively from the properties of electrons and atomic nuclei, and in the same way there are no principles of psychology that are free-standing, in the sense that they do not need ultimately to be understood through the study of the human brain, which in turn must ultimately be understood on the basis on physics and chemistry.”

    http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/AFOS/Debate.html

  8. @Richard Veryard (Apologies, been mostly-offline for a couple days – catching up.)

    Good points on the three judgement-types: useful distinction, likewise the importance of integration between them. That integration is essentially what I’m aiming to do with this type of framework (which, again, is still only at the ‘work-in-progress’ stage).

    “Your own defence of principles seems to rely on a distinction between guidance (good) and control (bad), but I’m not sure this distinction stands up. What is the difference between a guided missile and a remote-controlled missile?”

    Uh… I don’t quite see where you got that from? I won’t go back through the whole framework again – it’s all up there in the various posts – but firstly there isn’t a ‘good vs bad’ distinction anywhere in there (or rather, I didn’t intend there to be one). There _is_ ‘good’ or ‘not-good’ in the sense of ‘effective’ or ‘not-effective’, or ‘decision-method appropriate / inappropriate to the modality of the context’, but that’s about it: e.g. ‘control’ (simple true/false decision-making) is not likely to be effective when there are significant ‘shades of grey’ in the context.

    I don’t quite get the point you’re making about ‘guided-missile vs remote-controlled missile’? The former probably has fewer options to cope with variety (in Ashby sense) in its context because the control (sensemaking/decision-making) is internal rather than (partly) external, but conceptually they’re similar systems. There’s always a trade-off: e.g. remote-control doesn’t make much sense when there’s high information-latency, as in the case of an exploratory rover on Mars. Is that what you mean? I don’t understand… sorry…

  9. @Richard Veryard – Weinberg and “principles or laws”: to me they’re very different. In the sense that I’ve always understood the terms, laws are about (very) high predictability: they _define_. By contrast, principle are things to use when there’s higher uncertainty: they _guide_.

    Ultimately that quote from Weinberg seems way too reductionist for my taste, but that’s just me. 🙂

  10. I withdraw my comments about guidance and control, as it appears the analogy won’t stand the weight of the argument. I return to my basic distrust of principles as tools of rational or pseudo-rational thought.

    You may regard principles as distinct from laws. Obviously you don’t like Stephen Weinberg’s account of principles, but here are some more from less obviously reductionist sources.

    Principles or laws play the role of expressing the most basic ideas in a science, establishing a framework or methodology for problem-solving.

    http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/CYBSPRIN.html

    Early gestalt theorists … sought to define principles of perception — seemingly innate mental laws which determined the way in which objects were perceived.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt_psychology

    See also
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratio_decidendi

  11. When you have finished reading Vickers, you should read Jon Elster. What you want to call principles, he calls maxims. The point about a maxim is that it provides guidance even when we know it’s not always true, and perhaps especially when we have two opposite sayings – like Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth and Many Hands Make Light Work.

    Maxims are fun, but we don’t have to take them too seriously, and we certainly shouldn’t try to build an edifice of rationalization and justification on top of them.

    But many other people in enterprise architecture and elsewhere seem to want to use the word “principles” to mean something much more like a set of directives imposed by an authoritative institution (TOGAF) or some authority figure (the Chief Enterprise Architect), and used as the basis of verification and governance.

    Often the first principle in the list is a bit of quasi-theological bathos about the primacy of principles.

    I accept that the kind of maxim-principle that you are talking about may have some occasional value, but I haven’t seen any evidence that a systematic programme of defining and disseminating principles is worth anything like the effort and energy devoted to these lists.

  12. We can learn a lot from how our brain is dealing with a constantly changing world. Therefore I think, although this discussion is interesting, that is more important to look at whole picture of executive functions:

    Executive functions are important for successful adaptation and performance in real-life situations. They allow people to initiate and complete tasks and to persevere in the face of challenges. Because the environment can be unpredictable, executive functions are vital to human ability to recognize the significance of unexpected situations and to make alternative plans quickly when unusual events arise and interfere with normal routines. In this way, executive function contributes to success in work and school and allows people to manage the stresses of daily life. Executive functions also enable people to inhibit inappropriate behaviors.

    Read more: Executive function – effects, person, people, used, brain, personality, skills, Definition http://www.minddisorders.com/Del-Fi/Executive-function.html#b

    For me principles are just one of the outputs of the executive functions…

  13. I highly recommend this paper
    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=6037634

    Great research on EA principles. Quote from this research: “First analyses of the observations show that principles regarding IT architecture are rather well defined, equally well applied, and well founded in IT strategy. The EA principles’ business perspective, however is much less defined and even less applied, business strategy has a rather low impact. While this result may not be surprising—given EA’s roots in IT departments and its slow development towards more business oriented applications—it is a tenuous situation given the results of the more in depth regression analysis we present later on. The difficulties regarding the enforcement of EA principles seem to be related to the inability to measure EA principle implementation. Low values for the involvement of
    relevant stakeholders and for regular usefulness checks also contribute to the low extent and low usage of EA principles from a business perspective. If the business side was better involved, comparably high values for central definition/ maintenance, senior management support and therefore also observance let expect that useful effects could be achieved not only for IT architecture management.”

  14. Principles are useful to ease the decision making. I would compare them with the business rules that guide a process. They tell you what to do or what solution to choose in certain situations in aspecific domain of activity. Principles should be customised to your environment and agreed with stakeholders beforehand.
    The trouble is that principles are too vaguely specified in practice, too many, specified out of context and are too mixed (business, architecture, information etc…) to be of practical usage. As such they are not used in practice.
    Here is a post on this issue.

    http://www.ebizq.net/blogs/ea_matters/2011/11/enterprise-architecture-principles-lets-talk-about-them.php

  15. Peter B kindly posted a link on Twitter to the paper that Martin vdB recommended.

    http://www.alexandria.unisg.ch/Publikationen/200944/L-en

    The paper is based on a survey of attendees at an EA conference. I am not at all surprised to discover that such people believe that EA principles play an important role in their organizations, and that they tend to interpret their experience of decision-making as if this belief were true. This widespread belief does not provide conclusive proof of the efficacy of principles, as it could equally be explained by a kind of collective superstition or comfort blanket.

    The authors show that there is a strong belief in the power and utility of EA principles that refer to IT architecture, and rather weaker belief in the power and utility of EA principles that refer to business. This could be explained by positing a cultural difference between IT stakeholders and business stakeholders, which results in a different belief system.

    The authors find a widespread lack of verification and measurement concerning the implementation and usefulness of EA principles, and speculate that this lack may contribute to the low extent and low usage of EA principles from a business perspective. In other words, business stakeholders are less likely than IT stakeholders to be impressed by so-called principles that are not properly verified or measured.

  16. @Richard Veryard – Apologies for delay, am a bit behind in catching up here…

    “Maxims are fun, but we don’t have to take them too seriously, and we certainly shouldn’t try to build an edifice of rationalization and justification on top of them.”

    Sure, agreed. The distinction between a tool to use, versus a purported ‘truth’ to be misguided by, perhaps?

    “But many other people in enterprise architecture and elsewhere seem to want to use the word ‘principles’ to mean something much more like a set of directives imposed by an authoritative institution (TOGAF) or some authority figure (the Chief Enterprise Architect), and used as the basis of verification and governance.”

    Agreed, and agreed also I’ve seen this problem a fair few times as well. In my understanding, the mistake is that a principle is being used as a directive (i.e. a purported ‘truth’, which belongs on the Belief side of decision-making), rather than as a fairly loose ‘guiding star’ (on the ‘Faith’ side of decision-making). All the ‘rationalisation’ in the formal structuring of a principle a la TOGAF is really there to set the ‘ground’ for decision-making in uncertainty, rather than as a means to establish its purported ‘truth’.

    (Dunno if that quite makes sense… may be a too-condensed description?)

    “Often the first principle in the list is a bit of quasi-theological bathos about the primacy of principles.”

    There I’d have to disagree with you somewhat. I see ‘the primacy of principles’ as a straightforward and conceptually-useful recursion, in much the same way as the first procedure we write in an ISO9000-style quality-system is the procedure to write procedures. The moment someone gets ‘quasi-theological’ about it, they’ve missed the whole point of principles: ‘theology’ etc belongs on the Belief side (self-certainty), whereas principles provide a guide (i.e. ‘Faith’) in contexts beyond self-certainty.

  17. @Peter Bakker – thanks, and yes, I’d agree that there are a whole class of ‘executive functions’, of which what I’ve been describing as use of principles (and, in the earlier posts on SCAN, the use of Beliefs) are merely one part of real-time decision-making.

    Perhaps you could extend those descriptions of mine to cover the broader range of ‘executive functions’, if you would? Or use that exploration of the ‘executive functions’ to highlight where I’ve got this wrong or too implete?

  18. @Adrian Grigoriu – Hi Adrian, and thanks for the pointer to your post on this.

    Looking at that post, you’ve reminded me that the term ‘principles’, and the structures used in TOGAF to the define them, are actually Assertions (Complicated-domain sensemaking) that are used in three fundamentally different ways:

    — as ‘approved truths’ for use in Simple contexts at run-time (i.e. Beliefs)
    — as design-guidelines for ‘considered’ decision-making in Ambiguous contexts
    — as ‘guiding-star’ for pre-seeding the conceptual-chaos in real-time Not-known contexts (i.e. Faith)

    My preference is that the term ‘principle’ should be reserved only for the last category of contexts: Not-known (or None-of-the-above), at real-time. In the other two domains, the nominal ‘principles’ would more correctly be described as Beliefs (‘credo’, literally “I believe”) or as guidelines respectively.

  19. @Richard Veryard – I do think you’re being perhaps a bit unfair here, Richard?

    “This widespread belief does not provide conclusive proof of the efficacy of principles, as it could equally be explained by a kind of collective superstition or comfort blanket.”

    The whole point of principles, in the sense that I’ve described, in that they’re applied in contexts that have high(er) levels of uncertainty or uniqueness. In that sense, the concept of “conclusive proof of efficacy” makes little to no sense, because the context inherently has low to no repeatability. There is, obviously, a danger of “collective superstition or comfort blanket”, as you say: yet that’s where other techniques against ‘groupthink’ and the like come into play. I don’t see it as a problem about principles per se.

    “The authors find a widespread lack of verification and measurement concerning the implementation and usefulness of EA principles, and speculate that this lack may contribute to the low extent and low usage of EA principles from a business perspective. In other words, business stakeholders are less likely than IT stakeholders to be impressed by so-called principles that are not properly verified or measured.”

    I can’t see your chain of reasoning there from “widespread lack of verification” to “business stakeholders are less likely … to be impressed by so-called principles” – there seems to be a ‘leap of logic’ there that I’ve presumably missed. And I’ll have to admit that your whole position on this seems to have a level of vehemence that feels way out of proportion to what’s actually being said or described: so to use the old expression, “what’s your beef here?” So I’m a bit lost as to what’s actually going on for you here: odd… What have I missed? Advise, if you would? Thanks, anyway.

  20. @Tom G
    Hi Tom,

    I can’t find an understandable definition of “implete”, can you explain that for me?
    (just curious)

    I’m just thinking that we (yes, me too) are focused too much on all kind of details like semantics or ordering/categorization issues which detract us from the (in my opinion) real EA goal:

    How can a business and/or enterprise and/or service provider adapt itself (or influence its environment) fast enough to cope with changing circumstances

    The key issue is that you need to have things like senses, (future) memory systems & executive functions plus, which is the most important thing, a reliable real-time communication backbone between all of those otherwise you will never be able to reach that goal.

    So I would like to see more (or a clearer) focus on those things. You mentioned a lot of building blocks which can be related to this/my/our view but the whole view is too fragmented or sometimes too much hidden inside discussions about all kind of (again: in my view) details.

    You must take this not as a ‘critique’ but more as some kind of ‘consideration’. I have some difficulty finding the right words because I try to reflect my feelings (which are not very factual and certainly not “the truth”)…

    And although my replies may seem to say otherwise: I do learn a lot from these detailed discussions 🙂

  21. @Peter Bakker – Hi Peter

    “I can’t find an understandable definition of “implete”, can you explain that for me?”

    Uh… it’s called a typing-error… 🙁 🙁 …should read ‘incomplete’. Apologies…

    “You must take this not as a ‘critique’ but more as some kind of ‘consideration’. ”

    In the correct sense of the term, it is critique – and that’s exactly why I value it! 🙂 You’re not ‘propping yourself up by putting me down’ (which, sadly, some people will do…), but instead you’re pushing me to get it working better, to make it clearer, to make it more useful – and pushing me like that helps everyone, hence a very definite ‘Thank you!’. 🙂

    “How can a business and/or enterprise and/or service provider adapt itself (or influence its environment) fast enough to cope with changing circumstances”

    My answer there is that a business (or whatever) adapts as and because the individuals adapt – which then builds towards a collective response. There’s a lot of people focussing on the collective layer at present, and no doubt doing good work there. What I’ve been doing here is looking primarily at the individual – at choices and actions, and the sensemaking and decision-making that underpins those choices and actions.

    The reason I’ve been focussing there is because there’s a really evident mismatch between what people plan to do – collectively and individually – versus what they actually do at the point of action. Clearly, as a collective, we want individual actions to support collective choices: but we won’t get that to happen unless we do focus on what actually happens just before and at the point of action, and the linkages to the ‘considered’ choices at somewhat more of a distance both before and after that point of action.

    “The key issue is that you need to have things like senses, (future) memory systems & executive functions…”

    Agreed on that part. I’ve been trying to simplify all of that with the SCAN framework, but perhaps I’ve over-simplified it? – hence the sense of fragmentation?

    “…plus, which is the most important thing, a reliable real-time communication backbone between all of those otherwise you will never be able to reach that goal.”

    That’s what I mean by the linkage between ‘considered’ versus real-time. However, there’s one really important point: at the point of action, there is no communication between individuals. Communication can occur up until very close to before the point of action, and very close after the point of action; but it can’t and doesn’t occur at the point of action – because at the exact point of action, there is only the individual.

    (The physics parallel here is Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’: once we go below a certain statistical level – around 10 quanta, as I remember – we enter a domain where observation of entities moves into an inherently-uncertain space. When we get to a single quantum-entity, we can tell where that entity is but not where it’s going [i.e. a ‘particle’], or where it’s going but not where it is [i.e. a ‘vector’ or ‘wave’], but not both. The concept of communication between entities almost makes no sense at that level. What I’m trying to describe here, about ‘the moment of action’, is something similar, though not quite the same: my understanding at present is that there’s either no communication between actors, or communication via other means that somewhat overrides individual choice [e.g. mechanical connection such as pulling on the same oar of a row-boat]. The linkage to collective choice is definitely an analogue of the statistics of the Uncertainty Principle: we need more than person to be a collective in the first place… 🙂 )

    I’m sorry if I can’t make it clearer at the moment: it’s turning out to be extraordinarily hard to describe. In a sense, it really is an analogue of quantum-physics (in the statistically-uncertain range) versus Newtonian-physics (in the statistically-certain-plus-emergence range) – and just as with quantum-physics if the only terms you have are Newtonian, it’s a real struggle to find the right language to describe it.

    I don’t know if that helps, but that’s about the best I can do at the moment?

  22. @Tom G
    Thanks Tom,

    About implete: I should have figured that out because the first hit from Google was a link to “incomplete” but it also gave some results like http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/implete 🙂

    I totally agree with your choice/vision to look primarily at the individual, although my reasoning is perhaps (due to my lack of knowledge it is hard for me to relate to the field of physics) slightly different. I think that most issues we have on larger scales are similar to things that happen on the individual level inside our brain/body. Looking at our brain it becomes clear why “there’s a really evident mismatch between what people plan to do – collectively and individually – versus what they actually do at the point of action”. That is because there is a constant battle inside every one of us between our limbic system and our frontal lobe. And our limbic system is still winning most of the time…
    So I don’t believe Enterprise Architecture will solve a whole lot of issues in the end if Enterprise Architects keep refusing to work with behavioral models and simulations.

    I think there is enough overlap in our views (because we discussed a number of times about this or related subjects) to invent some kind of win-win solution together, or even better a prototype! 🙂

  23. @Tom G
    There is a confusing range of uses of the word “principle”. I think you are swimming against the tide in trying to use the word to refer to some personal and authentic decision-making heuristics or maxims, when so many people (perhaps including those who participated in the survey described in the research paper we’ve been discussing) use it to mean something more like a directive. There are EA reference models that define principle as a kind of directive. Use a different word, why don’t you?

    In general the word principle means something from which other things are derived, and is irredeemably associated with top-down thinking. Who wrote books called Principia? On the one hand, Newton, Descartes, Russell/Whitehead/Moore. On the other hand, Swedenborg.

    The primary of principles is not recursion and has no possible practical value, it is simply preaching to the converted. “Here is the word of the Chief Architect: thou shalt have no other principles than these. Thou shalt honour the Chief Architect that thy days shall be long in the enterprise. Thou shalt not covet the Agile Manifesto. etc etc”

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