Enterprise and ecosystem

What is an enterprise, really? It’s a question that always seems to invoke a lot of discussion amongst enterprise-architects – perhaps not least because the answer is so essential to any description of whatever it is that we actually do!

Anyway, for some reason – and I’ve actually forgotten why – I put up the following yesterday on Twitter:

Working-definition: An enterprise is an ecosystem with a (sense of its own) purpose or direction. #entarch

Which turned out to be the seed for one of those really good back-and-forth discussions that do occasionally happen there. The first part with was Gene Hughson, over on the US East Coast:

  • GeneHughson: needs something more to convey the human element IMHO
  • tetradian: agreed (tho’ partly implied by ‘sense of its own…’) – wanted first to break it out of ‘enterprise=organisation’ problems
  • GeneHughson: true…hard enough to break out of ‘enterprise=commercial business’ misconception

Somewhat later, Nick Gall (@ironick) and Joyce Hostyn joined in, and later Nick Malik as well, all of them also over in the US:

  • ironick: an enterprise is more like an organism than it is like an ecosystem. a market or an industry is more like an ecosystem #entarch
  • joyce_hostyn: what elements form an enterprise? if suppliers, customers, community included then can see as ecosystem #entarch
  • ironick: yes, and if you include human microbiome, then each human is an ecosystem. but org/eco distinction still important
  • joyce_hostyn: beyond microbiomes, as humans our social connection with other humans is as critical as our body to health. // though I have used analogy of organism for enterprise in context of immunity to change
  • ironick: i guess organism/ecosystem analogy hinges on DNA. org=same DNA & eco=diverse DNA. Does enterprise have same DNA?
  • tetradian: @joyce_hostyn I do include customers etc in enterprise – hence why I see it it as ecosystem-with-shared-purpose
  • tetradian: @ironick “org/ecosystem distinction important” – yes: org=how/with-what, ent/eco=why; org=inside-out, ent=whole/outside-in // org is _within_ eco; key points of connection b/w org and others in eco = shared-purpose, share/exchange of services
  • tetradian: key difference is ecosystem just _is_; enterprise has (shared) direction, movement, intent, sometimes sense of ‘self’
  • nickmalik: but partners in eco don’t have to share purpose or values, just money.  Sometimes in biz, you dance with the devil
  • tetradian: @nickmalik “partners in eco don’t have to share purpose or values, just money” – huh??? – see http://bit.ly/TkWLTZ [‘what is a value-proposition?’] #entarch //  (biz-centrism – money-obsessed self-centrism – is how businesses get kicked out of biz-ecosystems… #entarch )
  • tetradian: @nickmalik “Sometimes in biz, you dance with the devil” – there are very good business-reasons for business-ethics… 😐 #entarch #bizarch
  • nickmalik: you are correct that #BMGEN #BMC is fundamentally flawed – product != value prop.  I hit same flaw in my analysis
  • nickmalik: is a retailer who sells the iPhone ethical if workers at Foxconn commit suicide?  Where is the line?
  • tetradian: @nickmalik “Where is the line?” – that’s exactly the challenge – and it goes _way_ deeper than just surface-level money-only focus // one tool really useful for this is Causal Layered Analysis: Wikipedia http://bit.ly/bdrHAf , original http://bit.ly/Y8RO2

After that, there was a nice (and, later, somewhat silly 🙂 ) back-and-forth with Michael Vrijhoef, from the Netherlands:

  • m_vrijhoef: so if we have the same budget resource we actively have an architecture? 🙂 Oh well….
  • tetradian: we _always_ have an architecture – it’s generally a good idea to have some choices in it! 🙂
  • m_vrijhoef: true! Conscious choices even!
  • tetradian: not just choice but _conscious choice_? with real thought/awareness?? that’s asking a bit much of business, isn’t it??? 🙂 🙂
  • m_vrijhoef: oops, sorry! I got carried away there for a bit!
  • tetradian: @m_vrijhoef: “oops, sorry! I got carried away there for a bit!” – as do we all, good sir, as do we all… 😐 #wishingthingswerebetter.. 🙂

Following all of that, I kind of kickstarted it again with another question:

if we use ‘enterprise’ only to mean ‘a commercial business’, how do we describe relations beyond/with that business? #entarch

Roderick Lim Banda, from South Africa, was the first one to join in on that:

  • rlimbanda: that is why enterprise is an endeavour by organization or network or of persons, families/households, communities.
  • tetradian: @rlimbanda “that is why… network…” – yes, exactly – a much broader understanding of whose ‘enterprise’ it actually is
  • rlimbanda: hard to see coz the enterprise is more evident when network collaboration matures to workflow, processes and transactions.
  • tetradian: @rlimbanda “hard to see” – yes, exactly – to me, part of EAs task is to make that network/shared-enterprise more visible

Next was Brendan Morley, from Australia:

  • morb_au: the extended enterprise if I recall TOGAF, or even the “vision” …?
  • tetradian: “if I recall TOGAF” – TOGAF’s ‘enterprise’ can be multi-org, but still tends to be ‘inside-out‘ view only (mostly tech-only, too) //  “or even the “vision” …?” – I prefer ISO9000-type ‘vision’ (indefinite-time, always larger than org) – also ‘promise’-commitment
  • morb_au: who would be the audience of an outside-in view? The shareholders? The supply chain? The body politic?
  • tetradian: “who would be the audience of an outside-in view? The shareholders? The supply chain? The body politic?” – all of those, and more
  • morb_au: I wonder if “Members of the community work with Queensland Police to stop crime and make Queensland safer” counts?
  • tetradian: “Members of the community work with Queensland Police to stop crime and make Queensland safer” – yes, good example of ent-vision
  • tetradian: reframe ‘enterprise’ as mutual service-relationships/interactions between all stakeholders – makes #entarch make a lot more sense

By this time the clock had worked its way round to the US East Coast, and Eric Stephens, with a somewhat different perspective:

  • EricStephens: (not sure I follow) – enterprise = biz/govt agency/ministry, not for profit. interactions equally important – value flows diff.
  • EricStephens: @tetradian commercial interactions have reciprocal flows/exchanges (money for product/service). Govt agency reciprocity less direct
  • EricStephens: @tetradian Govt: we pay taxes and may harvest benefits at some time down the road. also, individual contribution benefits > 1 individual
  • tetradian: @EricStephens “value flows diff.” – yes: problem occurs when money is viewed as _only_ valid form of value in an enterprise

And finally to another back-and-forth with Nick Gall (which also ended up being happily silly towards the end 🙂 ):

  • ironick: if essence of enterprise is shared intent, etc. then again organism or even community seems a better analogy
  • tetradian: @ironick “..then organism .. seems a better analogy” – not really: they’re distinct organisms within a shared-ecosystem
  • ironick:  +1 BTW I’m simply pushing back a bit because I find many misuse/misunderstand ecosystems, see early Gaia theory
  • tetradian: pushback fully understood/accepted – hence why distinction here b/w ‘ecosystem’ vs ‘ecosystem-like w shared-purpose’
  • ironick: by “they”, are u referring to enterprises? If so, then ur making my point: enterprise=org & market=ecosys
  • tetradian: ‘they’=all players in the context. re market=ecosys etc, see ‘Market as organisation, market as enterprise
  • ironick: lumping organization, market, enterprise, organism, ecosystem, etc is 1st step to the madness known as GST 🙂
  • tetradian: GST = General Systems Theory? or Goods & Services Tax? 🙂 (latter is Australia sales-tax, btw)
  • tetradian: I don’t ‘lump together’ all those items: I use v.careful defns/distinctions b/w them! 🙂 I’m not mad!! bwah-hah-hah! //  (okay, I’ve just proved I’m mad, by talking at all systems-theory at all – but you get the point…? 🙂 )
  • ironick: tax system thinking is much more coherent than general system thinking. that shows how incoherent general system thinking is 🙂 // but it’s hard to get across such distinctions in 140 chars. Better to discuss by blog 🙂
  • tetradian: incoherent? me? ag blurp general thingking grep systems entarch babble babble why would you say that?? 🙂 // “Better to discuss by blog :)” – I get plenty of complaints that I blog too much already, with too-long posts… 🙁
  • ironick: I’m crazy cuz I published this: “biodynamically coordinated hyperconnected networks operating holistically across scales emerge”
  • tetradian: “biodynamically coordinated hyperconnected networks operating holistically across scales emerge” – nice one, Nick! 🙂 (true, too)

Nick’s ‘pushback’ is interesting because of that initial idea of enterprise as ‘ecosystem with purpose‘. What went wrong with many people’s interpretations of the Gaia Hypothesis is that the whole point was that all it described was a self-regulating ecosystem, without any inherent purpose – it’s just an ecosystem. (No religion needed: ‘Gaia’ as an abstract label, not as some kind of implicit deity.) An enterprise, by contrast, should have some kind of intent, or at least some sense of a direction towards which it’s moving or aligning itself – there’s intentionality there, even if only in an implicit, largely-subconscious way. So in the same sense that we shouldn’t confuse an ecosystem with a purposeful enterprise, we also shouldn’t confuse an enterprise with a purposeless ecosystem: that sense of purpose is fundamental to its definition – and hence, for enterprise-architects, a fundamental node in its architecture.

[Update, about an hour later: some really useful additional notes, from Nick Gall again:

  • ironick: @tetradian great summary. Got me thinking more. Maybe an enterprise is more like a species than an organism OR an ecosystem… // …easier 2 c w/ a franchise enterprise like starbucks. each shop has same DNA and plays a role in an ecosystem (eg a city)… 
  • ironick: …the role of a species in an ecosystem is similar to the purpose of an enterprise ur looking for… // …it’s a variation on @richardveryard ‘s #POSIWID: the purpose of a system (eg species, ent) is role it plays #POSIRIP … //  IMO #POSIRIP (POSI Role It Plays) is a more outside-in version of #POSIWID . Thks for triggering this insight 4!

Many thanks for that, Nick!]

35 Comments on “Enterprise and ecosystem

  1. I have dealt with this question, and the equally important question of the relationships between the concepts of “enterprise”, “organization”, “business” and “corporation”, at some length in a three part post on The Open Group Blog on 4, 6 and 7 December 2012:




    Note that there’s a typo in the title of the third part; it should be “mean”, not “meant”.

    I suggested to Tom that he read this material in early January, when we were engaged in a back and forth about the meaning of conflation, specifically the conflation of the notion of “business” with the concept of “enterprise”:


    and again a few weeks later in


    These discussions may be the answer to Tom’s implied question in

    “Anyway, for some reason – and I’ve actually forgotten why – I put up the following yesterday on Twitter:”

    I am not likely to have the time to pursue this discussion further over the next few weeks, but I expect I would just be further explaining and elaborating the ideas in my Open Group Blog post.

    For now, I’ll just say that I am suspicious of defining an enterprise as an ecosystem. I have no problem describing an enterprise as a kind of ecosystem, but I believe a definition ought to clearly distinguish one instance (“enterprise”) of a class (“ecosystem”) from other members of the class. Also, both words, as does “organization”, represent concepts that are recursive: i.e., an enterprise may comprise constituent enterprises, and be part of a larger enterprise; an ecosystem may comprise constituent ecosystems, and be part of a larger ecosystem; and an organization may comprise constituent organizations, and be part of a larger organization. This property of these concepts, at least as I understand them, and I acknowledge that this understanding may be idiosyncratic, means that is is only likely to lead to confusion and ultimately logical contradiction if we try to nail them down as absolutes.


    • Len

      As with the reply to Peter above, my apologies for the delay in replying on this one. And thanks for your response itself, of course. 🙂

      On the “Anyway, for some reason – and I’ve actually forgotten why”, all I do know for certain is that it wasn’t in relation to this conversation. I think it was something that came up in a back-and-forth with Henry Peyret and his CustomersValues group, but it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters was that it led to that Tweet, which triggered off that nice back-and-forth, much of which didn’t involve me much at all. That was what was so nice about it! 🙂

      On our difference re the interpretation of ‘enterprise’, yes, I’ve re-read your material yet again, and I still can’t shift that difference in opinion. I don’t disagree with your summary, and I strongly agree with you on all of these points:

      “Implicit in this concept of enterprise is the intentional action of one of more people. It is intentional in the sense that the action is intended to achieve some outcome. The role of people is important; we do not generally consider machines, regardless of their purpose, to exhibit “enterprise” in this sense. For me, the essential properties of an enterprise are people and their activity in pursuit of explicit intent.”

      Where I don’t agree with you is that you seem to assign the entirety of ‘the enterprise’ solely to the selected agent. To use your first example, you imply (to my reading, anyway – it actually isn’t all that clear) that the people running the lemonade-stand are the sole agency of that respective ‘the enterprise’. That’s what I would describe as a ‘business-centric’ or ‘organisation-centric’ view, because that notion of ‘enterprise’ makes no sense at all when divorced from its context. To me ‘the enterprise’ is not just the lemonade-stand, but all of the context, and transactions and transactors, interactions and interactors – the customers, suppliers, the market, the notion of ‘supply’, the notion of ‘sale’, and much, much more.

      So to me, whilst, yes, you’ve distinguished between the organisation-component (‘the business’) and the emotive-component (‘the enterprise’), you’ve then conflated the agency of ‘the business’ together with that of ‘the enterprise’, to give a view of ‘the enterprise’ that all but excludes the enterprise of everyone other than ‘the business’. That’s what I’ve been complaining about all along: I just hope this time I’ve phrased it in a way that does make sense…

      On “I am suspicious of defining an enterprise as an ecosystem”, so am I – as I hope my comments within and following the post have made clear. As you’ll have seen elsewhere, I’d also strongly agree with you about the inherent recursion of both ‘organization’ and ‘enterprise’ – in fact one of our persistent problems is where the respective recursions lead to the special-case situation where the respective boundaries coincide, such that in that one special-case ‘the organization’ and ‘the enterprise’ can be (mis)interpreted as seeming to be the same.

      I don’t think we’re that far apart on any of this: but where we do still differ is in our interpretation of the real scope of ‘the enterprise’. I’m adamant that I won’t shift on this, because I’ve seen the damage that the narrow interpretation causes – for example, it makes it all but impossible to understand or resolve anticlient-problems – hence unfortunately I will have to continue to hammer away on that point. Perhaps help me to find a better way to phrase this?

      Thanks again, anyway.

  2. Nick Gall’s observation re: an organism as an ecosystem is an interesting one. I think your inclusion of suppliers, customers, etc. is important, but the shared purpose or direction for those participants seems less comprehensive than for the internal ones. For example, supplier A and supplier B may both share purpose and direction with organization X, but have diverging purposes toward each other. There’s obviously a symbiotic relationship there between the organization and its partner, but there’s a separation as well.

    • Gene – thanks, and yes, those are good points about divergent drivers for enterprise, especially across the whole of a value-web. It’s probable (more than just probable?) that I’ve over-simplified it, and that, as you say:

      “There’s obviously a symbiotic relationship there between the organization and its partner, but there’s a separation as well.”

      What is clear to me, though, is that each service-pairing requires a shared-enterprise, because that commonality becomes the reason for any subsequent sharing and transactions; and that there’s some identifiable commonality that stretches across an entire enterprise-space. It also seems clear that it’s useful for the organisation to view the enterprise as having a single vision/values set, because that then provides a unifying theme for all services within the organisation itself – “a totem-pole to unify the tribes”, as one of my clients once put it. But beyond that? – well, I think you’re probably right there, it’s a lot more nuanced in reality than I’ve implied to date, and I do need to acknowledge that. Thanks!

  3. The “ecosystem” metaphor works within any organizational function, whether it is the entire enterprise or a business unit I have found consists of smaller subsystems: sociosystem (people centric), technosystem (tool centric), biosystem (process execution centric), and econosystem (value centric). What gets interesting is when the enterprise as an ecosystem works with other ecosystems (supply partners, cloud providers, social networks, integrated value chains, etc.)

    To the other commentators, this does require a bit more thinking for these concepts to crystalize.

    • Hi Alan

      Yep, that recursion of the ‘ecosystem’ metaphor can indeed apply at every level, from the entire shared-enterprise all the way down to a single line of code.

      “What gets interesting is when the enterprise as an ecosystem works with other ecosystems (supply partners, cloud providers, social networks, integrated value chains, etc.)”

      There’s a ‘Yep.’ to that one too – in fact I think it’s also specifically mentioned in that form in the FEAF specification?

      The one point I’d add to that is that – as per my part of this post – I don’t think the ‘ecosystem’ metaphor is enough on its own: it really does need that additional rider about purpose. It does need to be ‘enterprise’ as ‘ecosystem with purpose‘, otherwise (as Len reminds us elsewhere) we lose the human aspect that makes it enterprise.

      And yeah, I’d agree that we still have some ways to go before this will fully crystallise. I just hope this conversation helps somewhat towards that, that’s all. 🙂

  4. Thanks to Christopher Alexander’s classic “A city is not a tree” I like to compare enterprises to cities, because cities are ecosystems too. And it is good for enterprise architects to be humble and acknowledge that you can’t design ecosystems:

    The planner, like the architect and the engineer, has assumed that similar functions serving similar needs can be grouped, and that these groupings and arrangements reflect generally agreed forms of social organisation and social objectives. But can there be generally agreed forms of social organisation or social objectives except at the most abstract level? It is really possible to list the people’s requirements except at the most minimum or basic level? Is it valid to assume that the agencies who provide for the multiplicity of people’s requirements can be expected to conform to some overall pattern based on assumed optimum standards of provision, which once achieved will hold good for the foreseeable future?

    This quote is from John Minnet’s “As the City is not a Tree… it should not be designed as a System” at http://www.rudi.net/books/202

    • Minnet seems to assume that design needs to be rigid and coercive, which in my opinion is a flawed assumption. A sculptor who refuses to obey the constraints of his media can turn it into a pile of dust – that’s a problem with the practitioner, not the practice.

      • Gene,

        John Minnet, educated as an architect and city planner, describes himself on LinkedIn as: “Inspired by architect/artists Gordon Cullen and Hugh Casson, I like sketching ideas of solutions proposed as result of public involvement.”

        Which part from the quote or the “As the City is not a Tree… it should not be designed as a System” article brought you to the conclusion that he “seems to assume that design needs to be rigid and coercive”?

        BTW his summary of the design process matches my long-time experience with enterprise architects and how enterprise architecture is defined by its practitioners:

        Summarising, the design process would seem to rest on four assumptions:

        1. That the problem can be defined, in terms of agreeable objectives.
        2. That the components can be isolated and their requirements analysed.
        3. That there is a ‘best-fit’ relationship.
        4. That the end product can be achieved in reality, because design takes account of the variables in the control of the designer and client.

        • “Here then is the nub of the criticism. Because the city planner adopted the operational style of the engineer and architect, he was forced to work on similar assumptions; that he was producing an artifact representing the known requirements of ‘the people’, that these could be identified and once identified would remain relatively stable, and that there was some rational arrangement of the city which would be satisfactory not only for the present but also for the future.”


          The above passage for one. Characterizing these assumptions as “the operational style of the engineer and architect” is an overbroad generalization.

          • The article is written in the 1970’s when construction architects and engineers worked that way. Yes, since the introduction of BIM/IPD things are changing in the construction world but the operational style of enterprise architects is still the same as the construction architects and engineers in the 1970’s. This is the day-to-day reality for the business users/builders/business users who have to deal with the rigidness of enterprise architects.

        • 1) A solution rather than the problem would be defined in terms of objectives. These objectives would vary from stakeholder to stakeholder and would most likely be contradictory.

          2) Synthesis is as important as analysis. Fixating on parts in isolation is insufficient and shortsighted.

          3) Any ‘best fit’ is transient. Ability to change is more important than attempting to hit a target that most likely has already been superseded.

          4) For any non-trivial system, there will be more variables than can be reliably predicted and controlled for. Attempting to force a solution will lead to unintended consequences.

          In short, the architect is surfing the problem space, not shaping a solution via force of will.

          • So how is your operational style different from what John Minnet (as you say) over-broadly generalizes? How do you shape the solution and how do you guide the implementation?

            Or are you just surfing 🙂

  5. Tom

    Whilst I think it is healthy to maintain some degree of skepticism about the appropriateness of the similarity and applicability of our modeling of ecosystems and enterprises, I feel reasonably comfortable for the following reasons:

    a) The long term view of an enterprise incorporates the possibility of changing purpose, as it adjusts to market pressures and opportunities. In that context, virtually the only acceptable single purpose is to sustain existence. Whether that is a designed in purpose or an emergent purpose is a question that others may wish to pursue, but probably too abstract for me to worry about (at present!).

    b) An inherent interest of enterprise architects, or at least of mine (assuming I am a legitimate instance of this class of thinker and worker), it that we hold interests in identifying patterns, and comparing patterns, for the benefit of better understanding and then for intentional change of patterns to achieve better enterprise performance. In that context, considering an enterprise as an ecosystem is a natural part of our discipline / profession, and can hardly do any harm, as long as we don’t assume that all patterns of thinking from one area of study (eg. biological ecosystems) are automatically applicable to another area of study (eg. social ecosystems).

    I would like to add, though, that I am not at all enamoured by the suggestion that “enterprise” be limited to “commercial businesses”. The techniques and practices that we apply are most adequately suited to consideration of enterprises in public, private and community sectors, as well as to multiple levels such as markets, industries, states, nations (as I have experience in many of these areas). I can think of no conceivable reason why we would restrict such a useful concept as “enterprise” to consideration of commercial businesses only!!

    • Many thanks for this, Peter.

      @Peter: “virtually the only acceptable single purpose is to sustain existence”

      Not actually true in all cases: for some organisations – particularly in the non-profit space – the whole point is that they have an explicit goal, and that when they achieve that goal, they should eventually cease to exist. A simple example is an organisation set up to manage a one-off event, such as the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG). In fact there’s a huge trap there, sometimes called the Shirky Principle ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_Shirky#The_Shirky_Principle ), that “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution” – a trap which is made more likely whenever the organisation presents itself as ‘the enterprise’.

      @Peter: “(assuming I am a legitimate instance of this class of thinker and worker)”

      The fact that you doubt it indicates that you are? 🙂

      @Peter: “I can think of no conceivable reason why we would restrict such a useful concept as ‘enterprise. to consideration of commercial businesses only!!”

      Very, very strongly agree.

      Thanks again, anyway.

  6. Hmmm…

    I should have qualified my statement about purpose. Normally, it is me who is citing community sector examples when people are only considering commercial businesses!!

    My point was that there are enterprises whose only longer term purpose becomes to provide an acceptable return to the shareholders, noting that the shareholder community changes over time, and the leadership changes over time, such that intent and purpose in the sense of key products and services can change significantly. Hence, the purpose primarily becomes survival in the broader commercial ecosystem.

    If we take a single purpose community sector enterprise, I think we can still learn from ecosystem thinking about how it operates – because it remains the case that it is a composite of autonomous entities who choose the degree to which they cooperate and collaborate around a stated purpose. So it is equally unamenable to engineering as a commercial enterprise.

    The essence here, in my view, is that in physical engineering, the main materials (concrete, steel, etc) have known characteristics. 1m of reinforcing rod is 1m (plus or minus a bit for expansion). But in engineering an enterprise, the main ingredient is “people” and their behaviours are far less constant and predictable. It is this factor that, for me, is the critical weakness of John Zachman’s rationale for the value of EA and the EA ontology he has developed. He seems, to me, to assume that a constancy in output and performance can be achieved and relied upon as the rate of change increases and demands higher performance and quicker adaptability in an environment of accelerating change. I am not convinced that this is or can be the case. Happy to add more if this is an area of exploration of interest.

    • @Peter: “I think we can still learn from ecosystem thinking about how it operates”

      Yep, definitely.

      @Peter: “The essence here, in my view…”

      You’m singin’ mah song, sah! 🙂 (In person, John Zachman is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but I absolutely disagree with his notion of ‘engineering the enterprise’ – it’s a fundamentally wrong metaphor to apply to a human enterprise, for all the reasons you cite, and more…)

  7. I’ve been away on vacation the past two weeks and am traveling again this week. Tom, we need to talk face to face about this. I don’t know why you’re interpreting what I’ve written the way you are, but your interpertation is not at all what I’m trying to say. You seem to be reading into my words many things that I do not intend to imply, and as far as I can tell, have not said in a way that implies them.


    • Ouch – my apologies, yet that is how I’m interpreting it at present, and I can’t see what I’m missing from what you’ve said.

      So yes, you’re right, we do need to do this in person, because it’s going to need whiteboards and suchlike that we don’t have online – also it’s much harder to read intent and expression in the online space.

      When you’re next in London, perhaps? Or, probably better, if we can get that session going in San Francisco?

      One thing I trust you do know here is that I do very much respect your opinion and experience. Let’s at least build outward from that? – and thanks again, for taking me seriously about this, too.

  8. Tom replies to me:

    “I can’t see what I’m missing from what you’ve said.”

    It’s not what you’re missing, it’s what you’re adding, or rather interpolating, by inference.

    Again, our respect is mutual, and I do want to sort this out.

    More later, when I can give this the attention it deserves.


    • @Len: “Again, our respect is mutual, and I do want to sort this out.”

      Many thanks indeed for that – that does mean a lot to me…

      More to follow in reply to your follow-on post below.

  9. Tom replies to me:

    “Where I don’t agree with you is that you seem to assign the entirety of ‘the enterprise’ solely to the selected agent. To use your first example, you imply (to my reading, anyway – it actually isn’t all that clear) that the people running the lemonade-stand are the sole agency of that respective ‘the enterprise’.”

    No, not at all. “The people running the lemonade stand” are an organization (albeit a perhaps very loosely and informally structured organization — they are a set of people and resources working toward some common goal), possibly one of many that are what you call “agents”. Nowhere have I said or implied that there is a one to one correspondence of enterprises and organizations, though I did not say or imply otherwise. This identification, or one to one correspondence, is exactly what I am arguing against in the blog post distinguishing enterprise from organization. This was so “obvious” to me in making this distinction that I failed to say it explicitly.

    A single organization may play a role in multiple enterprises, and multiple organizations may play roles in a single enterprise.

    Now, I am not disallowing a one to one correspondence; I am simply saying it cannot be assumed to always be the case. Among multiple organizations acting as “agents” of an enterprise, some will play more significant roles than others, and often one will play a role that is something like “leader”. This “leader” organization will often be identified with the enterprise, but this is a (sloppy) habit attribubtable to the widespread failure to distinguish organization and enterprise, and consequent failure to acknoweledge the many to many relationship between organizations and enterprises.

    Enterprises themselves may comprise multiple constituent enterprises, just as organizations may comprise multiple constituent organizations. It is in this sense that I earlier said that the concepts of enterprise and organization that I an arguing for are recursive in nature.

    Conceptualizing enterprise and organization this way makes the concept of “extended enterprise” unnecessary. It is not actually the enterprise that is “extended”; it is the set of organizations that contribute to the enterprise, which includes organizations that may (note that I deliberately say “may” rather than “do”) not share the purpose of the enterprise but are nonetheless necessary for its success.

    I’ll stop here for the moment to give you a chance to consider this explanation.


    • Hi Len,

      I’m very interested to know how you think infrastructures fit in your view on businesses & enterprises. Or what do you think that the relationship is or should be between architecture and infrastructure.
      Perhaps you can write a post about that someday?

      @Tom: sorry (mis)using this thread to ask this question to Len but I was triggered by Len’s explanation:

      “Enterprises themselves may comprise multiple constituent enterprises, just as organizations may comprise multiple constituent organizations. It is in this sense that I earlier said that the concepts of enterprise and organization that I an arguing for are recursive in nature.”

      • Peter asks me:

        “how you think infrastructures fit in your view on businesses & enterprises”

        I think this is probably a good question, but I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “infrastructure”.

        In general, infrastructure is subsumed by the “resources” part of the definition of an organization as a set of people and resources. Organizations may use these resources for their own purposes or make them available to other organizations, typically as products or services. I need to think more about this to better wordsmith this description, but I think the concept works.

        In some other material I have developed, I’ve generalized the traditional IT-centric four or five layer architecture “stack” (typically expressed as business / information / application / technology) to a five layer stack comprising vision, mission, strategy and goals; capabilities; collateral flows; systems and services; and physical and intangible assets. What most people seem to mean by infrastructure is distributed across the lower three layers of this model.

        If you’re thinking of infrastructure in the macro-sense (e.g., roads, bridges, canals, water distribution, sewers, electicity and gas distribution, etc.) these fit into this model. The organizations in my model need not be formally recognized as such, and individuals may belong to many organizations. So a household is an organization, and a city or town is an organization, and the city or town provides and manages (as part of its mission) this macro level infrastructure to households and other organizations.

        As I said, this needs further thought, but I think the idea works.


      • Peter – perfectly happy for you (and others) to post questions to others here! (though thanks for thinking about that – much appreciated!)

    • Okay, I think I’ve got it now, though I suspect you’ll still disagree with me. 🙂

      Let’s take your definition of ‘enterprise’, from http://blog.opengroup.org/2012/12/04/different-words-mean-different-things-part-1/ :

      — “So, enterprise means “undertaking” or “endeavor,” especially one that is relatively ambitious. Implicit in this concept of enterprise is the intentional action of one of more people. It is intentional in the sense that the action is intended to achieve some outcome.”

      You then give the following as examples of ‘enterprises’: a child’s lemonade stand; a club; a professional society; a committee or working group; a town, state or country government; an international/multinational coalition; a military unit; a department or ministry of defense; a for-profit, non-profit or not-for-profit corporation; a partnership; a consortium; a church; a university or college; a hospital.

      To me, though, we have two fundamentally different things going on here:
      — the desire that ‘things should be different’
      — the (self)-organisation in response to that desire

      Your definition of ‘enterprise’ aligns fairly well with the desire (‘enterprising‘ or ‘endeavouring‘; yet all of your examples align with the organising-in-response-to (‘organising‘) – a form of agent in relation to the desire, not the desire itself.

      At first glance that may seem a trivial distinction, but it’s actually exactly the same trap that you point out elsewhere, about a ‘leader’ within an enterprise purporting to be the enterprise itself.

      To avoid that trap, I draw explicit distinctions between the ‘desire’, and the ‘organising’:
      — enterprise is bounded by emotion, vision, values, commitment
      — organisation is bounded by structure, roles, responsibilities (and also identified mutual-relationships)

      In that sense, your examples are all ‘organisation-in-response-to-enterprise’ – not enterprise itself.

      The key reason why this distinction is important is that, without it, the organisation automatically presumes that it is itself ‘the enterprise’ – which leads us straight into the trap of the Shirky Principle, that “institutions seek to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”.

      Without that distinction, it becomes impossible to describe why a customer would want to do business with an organisation.

      So to me, in your ‘Different words’ series, you’ve tackled some of the essentials about resolving the mess around ‘enterprise’, but you hadn’t resolved the most important one: that ‘enterprise’ isn’t in what people do (‘organising’ etc) but in who they are, what drives them to act (the literally-emotive aspect of ‘enterprising’ or ‘endeavouring’).

      And that’s what I think you’re still conflating, even now. But I fully agree that it’s going to be difficult to explain this one, or our differences in views on this one, without a chunk of face-to-face time dedicated to working it through, preferably in a room with a very large whiteboard. 🙂 So let’s line up for doing that somewhen soon?

      On ‘extended-enterprise’, I only use the term because in many languages – Portuguese and Spanish, for example, we haven’t as yet been able to find any term at all that conveys that human meaning of ‘enterprise’: instead, ‘enterprise’ is always used to mean ‘some kind of large commercial business’ – exactly the kind of trap that you warn about in the later parts of your ‘Different words’ series. Hence the term ‘extended-enterprise’, or ‘shared-enterprise’, to try to convey that broader human sense, as the driver for enterprise. I’ll fully admit it’s a kludge, but it’s probably the best we’ve got for now: I’d hope that one of the outcomes from our meeting is that we’ll be able to come up with some better way to describe it.

      Leave it there for now, perhaps? – and thanks again.

  10. Some thoughts arising from this engaging and ongoing interaction:

    a) enterprise and organisation

    enterprise – desire – purpose – why
    organisation – organising – how

    We always need a why and a how – a why without a how means no action, no implementation, no realisation of intent; a how without a why means latent, with capability / capacity, but no motivation, force, impetus, no action, and no test of whether how achieved purpose, outcome

    b) enterprise vs organisation

    Justifications for distinguishing these seem to me to be:

    i) organisation is physical with defined limits, enterprise allows a scope of investigation to be specified that allows for micro or macro (eg division of organisation, or multi-organisation)

    ii) abstraction – enterprise as the handle for the model, description, etc; organisation for the physical, implementation, realisation

    The recursive nature of both terms allows us the ability to consider that which we model and the context / environment in which it operates.

    Reminds me – no person is an island – this means there is always interaction, there is always a broader context within which the object of study / modeling requires to be understood.

    c) ecosystem and enterprise

    Do ecosystems have intent? Or do they simply exist as dynamic changing entities?

    At the higher levels of enterprise eg, a town, city, state, nation, a market, an industry – does it have intent? or does it just exist as …?

    • @Peter: “We always need a why and a how – a why without a how means no action … a how without a why means latent [and also] no action”

      Yep: that’s almost exactly I’m trying to make. Also the key point that ‘enterprise’ in this sense is two-way (or multi-way), or mutual ‘pull’, whereas the notion ‘organisation as the enterprise’ is a one-way ‘push’ – with huge differences in how we design business-model, customer-interaction, service-design and just about everything else.

      @Peter: “organisation is physical…” etc

      It’s sort-of like that, but not quite: after all, organisations can be virtual too. The key difference is your earlier point about ‘how’ versus ‘why’: the moment an organisation thinks that its ‘how’ is the ‘why’, we’re all in trouble..

      @Peter: “Do ecosystems have intent? Or do they simply exist as dynamic changing entities?”

      Most ecologists would answer that as ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ respectively. On its own, an ecosystem just is: it’s a meshwork of interdependencies, it doesn’t need any explicit purpose as such. Some ecosystems have something resembling a collective drive: a slime-mould community is a classic example of that. To take that one step further, an enterprise, as I understand it, is a type of ecosystem that coalesces around some kind of drive, that then permeates the entire ecosystem, creating what is in effect a set of ‘success markers’. In that sense, any reproducing-organism is a kind of enterprise, where the drive of the collective-enterprise of the organism is continuity of itself and of its species.

      @Peter: “At the higher levels of enterprise eg, a town, city, state, nation, a market, an industry – does it have intent? or does it just exist as …?”

      This one gets really tricky… To me, a valid answer lies somewhere between ‘No’ and ‘Yes’, but it’s very hard and large non-describable to try to take it much further than that. Different towns or cities or countries do often have distinctly different ‘souls’, in metaphoric terms: trying to take it anywhere beyond metaphor can be extremely fraught, to say the least. (To give just one example, look at the morass of misinterpretations of James Lovelock’s ‘Gaia’ metaphor.) My own experience is that wherever we go, there’s a kind of interaction between people and place, within which it’s as if the place has choices too: but exactly what that interaction is, and by what mechanisms the ‘choices’ by place can be enacted or expressed, is vastly complex and vastly open to misinterpretation – hence I’m very careful these days to avoid describing it any more than that! 😐

  11. Tom

    Organisation is physical – don’t forget an organisation can be virtual …

    There is a difference between physical / virtual and physical / model / representation

    I was suggesting that, in the EA context, organisation is the physical realisation of the enterprise model. (Noting that this was an act of “thinking out loud” and is open to challenge, as per usual).

  12. Tom replies to me:

    “Your definition of ‘enterprise’ aligns fairly well with the desire (‘enterprising‘ or ‘endeavouring‘; yet all of your examples align with the organising-in-response-to (‘organising‘) – a form of agent in relation to the desire, not the desire itself.”

    You are correct. My bad; old habits die hard. These are indeed examples of organizations, not enterprises, though the enterprises these organizations were instantiated to address are fairly apparant.

    You continue:

    “To avoid that trap, I draw explicit distinctions between the ‘desire’, and the ‘organising’”

    As have I — that’s the whole point of distinguishing between enterprise and organization. I would not (yet), however, characterize the distinction as “desire” vs. “organizing”, or as Peter proposes subsequently, “why” and “how”.

    I’m sorry the examples, which were meant solely to express the possible range of enterprise and specifically to counter the widespread assumption that enterprise is synonynmous with, or the only enterprises of interest are, commercial business establishments, were so carelessly expressed. Again, my apologies for my glibness leading you astray.

    Finally you ask:

    “Do ecosystems have intent? Or do they simply exist as dynamic changing entities?”

    An excellent question.

    My current thinking is that for an ecosystem to have intent, it would have to be sentient. I think there may be some sentient systems that can be modeled as ecosystems, but I’m pretty sure most ecosystems simply exist.

    At the fringes of my thinking is the idea that architecture can be
    an expression of identity, rather than intent. This derives from the observation that an architecture is very much like a class definition. We often think of the class defining its members by what they must “do”, i.e., as an expression of intent, but it’s also possible for the class to define its members by what they must “be”; in this case the “intent” can be thought of as simply to “be” a member of the class.

    So, I think the idea of intent is useful for thinking about the kinds of artifacts to which we are mostly concerned about applying architectural thinking, but this intent seems to me to be external to the “thing the architecture is of”. That is, the thing does not itself have an intent but is a manifestation of something else’s intent. We tend to assume that an organization has intent, or an enterprise reflects intent, because they are human endeavours in which we play the roles of both designer and actor. These roles are distinct. We may, as designers, try to transfer our design intent to actors who are part of the realization, because doing so enormously simplifies the design problem, but the near univeral disconnect between “strategy and execution” is an example of how this short cut can go awry.

    At the beginning you wrote:

    “though I suspect you’ll still disagree with me”

    No, we are very much in agreement about the basic ideas here, now that I understand what I said that you keyed off of.


    • Hi Len

      Great! – apologies that it’s taken so much of an ‘around-the-houses’ (on my part every bit as much as yours), but I feel comfortable now that we have got there. Many thanks indeed for sticking with me on this one.

      One slight sidestep: the question about “Do ecosystems have intent?” was actually Peter Murchland’s: I was quoting him as a prelude to working on that answer to him above. And yes, I agree, it’s a good question – but the credit for it belongs to Peter, not me. 🙂

      I’d agree with your point about the requirement for sentience: yet I think that applies to every enterprise? – especially at the collective level, and whether or not the ‘purpose’ or ‘desire’ is explicit or conscious.

      More to discuss when we meet, anyway – but really glad that we’ve managed to resolve this terminology-tangle between us. Many thanks again for your help and persistence in that – very much appreciated!

  13. I think we need to recognise and understand the background to ecosystem, borne out ecology.

    Ecology is the scientific study of the relationships that living organisms have with each other and with their abiotic environment. Topics of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount (biomass), number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems. Ecosystems are composed of dynamically interacting parts including organisms, the communities they make up, and the non-living components of their environment.

    From this we can see that the descriptor, of interest to biologists, is applicable to systems other than biological systems. Hence, the applicability to organisations and enterprises. It helps reinforce a key point of Tom’s – that relationships and interactions are the key point of interest.

    The common point, I suggest, is that our studies are interested in a common feature / outcome – the sustainability of the system of interest – hence, the appropriateness of the study and the possibility that our understanding of biological systems offer insights into organisational systems.

    I am not sure that sentience is required of an ecosystem – it is more that ecosystems with sentient organisms / entities – are more dynamic and therefore change by one entity impacts others – leading to the importance of co-evolution in progressing and ensuring ongoing sustainability – until such time as an external condition over which we have no control causes our extinction (eg. rising temperatures).

    • @Peter: “I think we need to recognise and understand the background to ecosystem, borne out ecology.”

      Yep. That’s discussed briefly in the post itself, of course, and in several of the comments above; but you’re right, we probably need to emphasise more the ecology connection here.

      @Peter: “I am not sure that sentience is required of an ecosystem”

      Again, that’s discussed in both the post and the comments – but the second person who’s specifically brought up that point, so I obviously didn’t clarify it well enough.

      The one-liner is that an ecosystem can have a kind of sentience, but it isn’t an inherent or defining characteristic of ecosystems per se. For example, a bunch of asteroids in related orbits in effect form an ecosystem of a kind, with very complex gravitational, impact and other relationships. It’s perhaps arguable that ecosystems themselves embody a kind of implicit ‘sentience’, as expressed in their interactions – or at least the appearance of sentience, which isn’t the same thing – but again, I wouldn’t assert it as a defining characteristic.

      From my understanding at present, I’d suggest that an enterprise probably does always sort-of imply a kind of sentience – or at least a form of overall intent – which is a defining-characteristic. In that sense, an enterprise forms an ecosystem with some sense of sentience. But that relates to the special-case of enterprises-as-ecosystems, not for all ecosystems.

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