Four principles for a sane society

How do we make sense of the big-picture in enterprise-architecture? The really big-picture?

Yep, it’s that time of year again: the lead-up to the annual Integrated EA conference, where they allow me to go somewhat off-the-wall and present the current ‘big-idea’ that I’m working on. For example, last year it was the theme of ‘The enterprise as story‘; and for this year’s conference I’m going even further out, with a theme of ‘How to think like an anarchist (and why you need to do so, as an enterprise-architect)‘.

And since they kinda like my turning up each year with a new book to show them, this’ll also be the theme for the current book. Which I haven’t yet started. And the print-deadline – if I’m to have printed-books in hand at the conference – is not much more than three weeks away. Which means that I need to get moving on it – not just somewhen in some distant Real Soon Now, but real fast, right now. Yikes…

Which kinda means I’m gonna need help on this one. Hence doing some live ‘Working Out Loud’ – doing the thinking-processes in public, and asking you to to chip in if you wish.

So, for this ‘enterprise-anarchist’ theme, I want to get away for a while from working down in the weeds of organisational-level enterprise-architecture, and look at the big-picture instead.

Not just the big-picture, but Really Big Picture Enterprise-Architecture (or RBPEA) – applying enterprise-architecture principles at the scale of an entire society, an entire nation, an entire world.

And then see where it takes us as we bring it down again to the kind of enterprise-architectures that we’d use at a more practical everyday scale.

I’ll freely admit that, once we do start to look at the big-picture scale, a lot of this one is likely to upset or even scare a lot of people – not just the usual mild don’t-worry-we’ll-get-back-to-normal-soon sort of scare, but a really existential-level scare, really really deep challenges about self-definition and all that. Ouch.

Yet it has to be faced, for one very simple reason: collectively, and possibly individually too, we cannot go on indefinitely with what we have right now.

The blunt reality is that our organisations are a mess: we learn that one very quickly in any real-world enterprise-architecture. It’s often so much of a mess that it can be a real surprise that anything works at all…

But one of the key reasons why our organisations are in such a mess, and keep falling back into a new mess each time we fix them, is because they exist within a social context that’s in an even worse mess, based on principles that really don’t work.

For example, right down at the most fundamental level, our entire current models of economics depend on a foundational-myth of infinite-growth. But the reality is that we can’t have infinite growth on a single finite planet: it’s not that it doesn’t work, it’s actually that by definition there’s no possible way that it can be made to work. Which, to be blunt, implies that the only sane way to make sense of current global economics is as a planet-wide pyramid-gameinherently designed and destined to cannibalise itself into oblivion, taking everything else with it as it goes. Oops…

Yeah – that kind of ‘oops’…

And pretending that it can be made to keep going indefinitely is wishful-thinking of the worst possible order: not just inane but seriously insane, in the sense of ‘unhealthy’, at the least.

That’s why – if we’re to have any chance of finding our way out of this global-scale mess – we need to go right back to fundamentals that do actually work: not just for our organisations, but the whole social milieu within which they exist. In short, we need principles for a sane society – principles that may well be very different from what we supposedly rely on right now. And throughout several decades of study, the four themes I’ve kept finding myself coming back to are these:

  • #1: There are no rules – only guidelines
  • #2: There are no rights – only responsibilities
  • #3: Money doesn’t matter – values do
  • #4: Adaptability is everything – but don’t sacrifice the values

I’ll expand on each of these themes in the subsequent posts in this series. But for now, yes, not exactly the mainstream view, is it? – in fact more like the exact opposite, which can be kinda challenging for everyone involved… Oh well… More on that in the posts that follow, anyway.

Implications for enterprise-architecture

One point I do want to emphasise is that this exploration needs to be about much more than just a bunch of abstract principles: it needs to work right down into the everyday world. I’m a firm believer in a recursive or fractal view of enterprise-architectures: what works (or doesn’t work) at one scale should probably apply at every other scale too.

For this reason, I want to end each of the posts with a section on ‘Implications for enterprise-architecture‘, exploring how the respective principle would apply in practice in real-world everyday enterprise-architecture, at the kind of scales that most of us are more used to – business-models, process-models, data-architectures, IT-architectures and suchlike.

Yes, the core of these posts is somewhat ‘out there’ in very high-level theory: yet all of that theory is worthwhile and useful only if we can put it to practical use in dealing with our day-to-day challenges at work and elsewhere. That’s the whole point here; that’s what I need help on, with this. So onward with this series of posts – and over to you, if you would?

4 Comments on “Four principles for a sane society

    • Many thanks, Alexander – I’m delighted to see someone else working with ‘Really-Big-Picture Enterprise-Architecture’, and putting it into real-world practice, too! 🙂

  1. Just started to look at your series, here, Tom.

    Will be interesting to engage in it (even though the conference is now in the past!). I hope to be able to add some value, given that my own journey includes doing whole-of-government strategy, industry development strategy, economic development strategy, and having applied this thinking at a regional, state and national levels.

    Also, I am quite interested in further exploring the value that derives from articulating principles which apply to capabilities at different levels of abstraction, so am interested in your exploration of some general principles here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *