Not playing this game any more

When does a fair question about business become unfair? One answer: when the questioner expects to make money from an answer that they won’t pay for…

I hate the money-economy with a passion, and I try to help others as much as I can – so this issue around ‘not-so-fair questions’ has been a relentless problem for me throughout the entirety of my time with the mainstream ‘enterprise’-architecture profession. To put it bluntly, far too many people in this trade misuse our generosity towards others – and it’s not a game I’m going to play any more.

A few people definitely play dirty on this one, and deliberately so, too. A few years back there was a particularly egregious example of this over on LinkedIn. He was a well-known member of one of the big consultancies, billed (in both senses) as a VP-level consultant and professional. Every few days, he would turn up on LinkedIn, and post a new question about some current concern in enterprise-architecture and the like. Being well-known, he often garnered a lot of replies from experienced practitioners. Which he then collated, edited a bit, removed all mention of the people who’d provided that information, and sold onward to the big-consultancy’s clients as ‘all his own work’. Unfortunately it did take a while for people to catch to what he was doing – but once they did, it came to a halt in a hurry, along with his LinkedIn account and his job with that consultancy.

In most cases, though, it’s much more innocuous – more that that person doesn’t recognise just how unfair in that sense that their question actually is. For example, take a look at this request (slightly edited for confidentiality) that someone sent to me on LinkedIn a couple of days back via in-person message:

What is your take on Enterprise Architect within a [specific industrial context]? Also what is your take on Systems Engineering in this kind of environment? I am having some difficulty describing Enterprise Architecture value in [further detail about this specific context, including its technology and data-sources]. I would love to hear your thoughts.

In other words, a classic game of “a penny for your thoughts, professor?”, but without even a penny on offer…

There are several points that make this request definitely an unfair one:

  • it’s about a specific context (industry, technology, data etc) – hence any valid answer will require context-specific experience and/or research
  • the requester is employed in a professional role – i.e. not a student or apprentice who is still learning the basics of the trade
  • the requester is employed as a paid professional – i.e. the answer will be used directly within work for which the requester will be paid
  • the request is made to one person – i.e. not a general peer-group in the same industry
  • the request is made to a person who is not employed in that industry – i.e. answering the request will require research and/or adaptation of existing material
  • despite all of the above, there is not even the slightest hint of an offer to pay for any of that work

And it’s not a small amount of work that this person is actually asking for. A quick guesstimate suggests that it’d be at least a week’s worth, in turn saving that person at least a month of effort, probably more, with the savings maybe earning them a big bonus, too. If they were to engage a conventional EA consultancy to do the work, they’d be looking at the low end of five figures for a fee; the big-consultancies wouldn’t even look at it for less than a six-figure sum. But somehow they expect someone like me to do it all ‘for free’. Hmm… Some expectations a bit skewed there, perhaps?

And no, this isn’t the first time this has happened: there’ve been dozens of these, if not hundreds, over the past decade or so. In the early days, yes, the intellectual challenge of yet another industry gave some small element of compensation in itself – though it wasn’t a form of compensation that I could actually live off. But by the time it got to the level of that example a few months back, where me someone asked to work with their entire executive-board, providing a full customised training-course and the rest, to rebuild their bank’s entire strategy (after one of the big-consultancies had just failed at it), and yet expected to pay for a maximum of two days’ work to do it all? – well, that’s just getting silly…

Okay, yes, I do understand at least some of the reasons why people still make that kind of mistake – in fact it’s often a direct converse of this:

Those us who work in futures and similar domains are painfully accustomed to the assumption that only front-line ‘solutions’ are real work that needs to be paid for. Somehow there’s a lack of awareness that creating ‘solutions’ at an abstract level – anything at the ‘logical’ level and above, in Zachman terms – is likewise equally real work, and hence that in this dysfunctional mess of an ‘economics’, it does need to be paid for somehow. The unfortunate corollary of that infuriating absence of awareness is that too many people assume that the work that we do is obviously going to be ‘free’, “because it’s not real work”. Even though people use that work every day, in their own work – yet somehow fail to notice that fact. Or that it does need to be paid for somehow, if that work is going to be able to continue to be created for others to then use in all of that everyday paid-for work.

So let’s stop playing that game, okay? Let’s stop pretending that it’s ‘fair’ to treat my decades’-worth of work as if it’s worth nothing, when you’re already using that work in a commercial context? I am one of the very few in the world who has undertaken intensive research and development on how to make enterprise-architecture actually useful in whole-of-enterprise contexts; I am probably the only one in the world who has developed and published a full set of consistent, tools for whole-enterprise architectures and more that work the same way for every type of content or context, every scope and scale, every stage of implementation, and more. If you want your enterprise to work as an enterprise, right now it’s probable that the only person in the world from whom you can get the information you’ll need on that is me.

If you’re asking my opinion about whole-enterprise architecture in some commercial context, you already know that my opinion is of monetary value to you – otherwise you wouldn’t have asked me the question, right? In which case, do not assume that my opinion can, will or should be ‘free’. Let’s stop playing that game, okay?

So here’s the new policy:

General materials and tools: From now on, any new materials that I consider to be of commercial value will only be available through paid-services:

  • the existing weblog and the new ‘Small Changes’ newsletter on Substack will be used primarily for opinion-pieces, commentary and materials for non-commercial contexts
  • new materials for commercial contexts will only be available through my Tetradian Patreon-account account and/or other subscription-based services
  • published materials may later be collated into book-format on Leanpub and elsewhere

— Requests for opinion: From now on, all requests for opinion and/or advice will be addressed as follows:

  • any requests for opinion or research for general contexts – both non-commercial and commercial – will be addressed at my discretion only, and, if developed, published on the weblog, the Patreon or elsewhere as described above for ‘General materials and tools’
  • any requests for opinion or research for specific commercial contexts – as in that example earlier above – will be treated as a request for paid business-consultancy, and responded to accordingly; expect to pay full commercial rates for any such consultancy

— Liability and responsibility: From now on, the following terms will apply to all research, materials, tools and requests for opinion or advice:

  • all materials are provided as opinion only, developed to the best of our ability under the conditions and information available to us at the time
  • provision of materials and/or opinions should not and must not be construed as provision of commercial advice
  • no absolute guarantees can or will be offered as to applicability for any specific context
  • no liability will be offered or accepted in relation to use of any materials or opinions in any specific context
  • given that I can have no control over how my materials, tools, opinions and suchlike are used by others, all liability and responsibility for assessing appropriateness and applicability of any materials or opinions in any specific context must be accepted by the person requesting those materials and/or opinions

The above policy is likely to change quite a bit over the next few months, as the new principles start to apply in practice, and new channels and suchlike get added. But overall, the quick one-line summary here is that the days of ‘everything free’ are over. Yes, for most non-commercial contexts, much of this will stay the same as before; but if you expect to use my work in a commercial context, then it’s only fair to ask you to pay for it, too.


4 Comments on “Not playing this game any more

  1. Your Intellectual property should always remain your own, and any person who is guilty of IP theft should be taken to task. Your research and time devoted to insights should definately be reimbursed at an appropriate level. Maybe restricted access to your papers until a fee has been forthcoming which in turn will give the requestor password restricted access to the document may be a way to approach this nonsense. Hope this can be resolved as your years of experience would be sadly missed.

    • Many thanks as always, Robert!

      On ‘intellectual property’, that’s a lot more complicated for me, because I publicly reject the whole concept as inherently-absurd (trying to treat information as if it’s physical) and inherently-dishonest (because all idea-development is in part social, hence problematic if an individual or organisation-as-person claims that it’s “all my own work” when it actually isn’t). And the work I’ve done only has a chance to become something of a standard if it’s freely available. The only way I can make an income from the work is via means-of-presentation, such as books (done, but with very low return – e.g. less than 1% of cost for the Change-mapping books) or training-courses (various iterations, likewise very low return). In practice, the only remaining option is themes such as the Patreon, which sort-of-works, but at present returns less than a quarter of what I’m spending on Book 3 in the Change-mapping series, with less than nothing left over to live off. Oh well.

      Yes, people in the EA-community do value my work in terms of the sharing-economy (which is what I really do want) but not in terms of the money-economy (which unfortunately I do need in order to have the time to do the work). Hence the bleak reality is that I really do have no choice but to walk away. What I’m walking to, though, is the related field of economics and RBPEA (Really-Big-Picture Enterprise-Architecture) – which just might provide just provide enough to live on, but also a useful testbed for the EA-relevant tools. We’ll see anyway. More on that shift coming soon, and wish me luck, perhaps? 😮

  2. A simple ‘no’ would have been sufficient, or just ignore them. It would also keep things simple. Situations vary and rules will require interpretation each time. I don’t think you will stick to your rule book

  3. We, the content creators and advisors, definitely cannot give away everything for free.

    I try to make some things free, including the sharing of hundreds of articles every year, but I also have to charge for some things to keep my site going and justify donating all the time and intellectual property I do donate.

    As more things go behind paywalls, perhaps Tom these trends will change and people will start to value advice and tools more…

    Keep fighting!

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