December 14, 2007

The Dialectic and Enterprise Architecture

Hegel [a German philosopher (1770-1831)] stresses the paradoxical nature of consciousness; he knows that the mind wants to know the whole truth, but that it cannot think without drawing a distinction. Unfortunately, every distinction has two terms, every argument has a counter-argument, and consciousness can only focus on one of these at a time. So it fixes first on the one, then under pressure fixes second on the other, until it finally comes to rest on the distinction itself. Hegel refers to this process of alternation and rest as dialectic. Dialectical motion has three stages: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.”

Here is an example of how the dialectic works:

  • Thesis: Starting point—the glass is half full
  • Antithesis: Negation of the thesis—the glass is half empty
  • Synthesis: Negation of the opposition between thesis and antithesis—the glass is half full and half empty

The mind generally moves from one side of an opposition to another, finally discovering a deeper unity from which the two sides are derived.”


In common man’s terms, I believe this is like the metaphor of the swinging pendulum. The pendulum swings from one side to the opposite (like one’s thinking or behavior), until finally settling somewhere in the middle. The dialectic is little deeper in that it has the added dimension of not just a middle position, but actually a synthesis of the two extremes.

In Judaism, there is a principle similar to the “synthesis” in the dialectic, advocated by the Rambam, called the Shvil Hazahav, the golden path. The golden path is also sometimes referred to as the middle of the road approach. This is the concept of the importance of maintaining a balance in one’s thinking, behavior, and in life, in general. Extremes on either side (to the right or to the left) are viewed as negative and possibly even dangerous. But by following the path in the middle, a person is on “safe ground” and will thrive.

In User-centric EA, the dialectic is central to the EA practitioner and EA is a major synthesizing agent in the organization, in the following ways:

  • EA practitioners take two dialectical opposites (business and technology) and bring synthesis to them. EA practitioners integrates the two realities of the organization, business and IT: business drives technology and technology enables business. EA is a communication channel and mechanism for bridging the needs of the business with the capabilities and solutions of technology.
  • EA synthesizes the architectures of all the distinct lines of business, users, and developers. EA is not focused on the individual segments (lines of business) or on solutions (users and developers), but on the synthesis of these—the overall enterprise itself.
  • EA develops the target and transition plan for the organization; in doing this, it hears positions and requirements from many different leaders, subject matter experts, and stakeholders, and must synthesize these into a viable and effective strategy for the organization.
EA, like the dialectic, synthesizes various extremes to derive deeper meaning from the distinct elements (such as business and technology, segment and solutions architecture, leaders and subject matter experts). By synthesizing various types of information, EA perspectives, stakeholders, and architectural views, EA brings out a richer, deeper meaning of IT planning and governance for the organization.


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