January 5, 2008

Immortality and Enterprise Architecture

In the book The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, the author states: “Among all the animals, we alone are conscious of the fact that we will die, and we are obliged to spend our lives with knowledge of the paradox that while we may be capable of G-d-like spiritual transcendence beyond our bodies, our existence is dependent on a finite structure of flesh and bone that will ultimately wither away and disappear.” Becker believes that we deny the reality of death by pushing the fear of it into our deep unconscious.

Gareth Morgan, in the book Images of Organization, explains how the denial of death manifests itself not only in the individual, but also in the organization’s “quest for immortality.” “In creating organizations, we create structures of activity that are larger than life and that often survive for generations. And in becoming identified with such organizations, we ourselves find meaning and permanence.”

People and organizations want to “preserve the myth of immortality” by “creating a world that can be perceived as objective and real.” “This illusion of realness helps to disguise our unconscious fear that everything is highly vulnerable and transitory.”

How does EA deal with the “myth of immortality” of the organization?

Enterprise architecture is a forward looking discipline. EA takes the current state of the organization and develops a target and transition plan. However, when EA looks forward, does it acknowledge the ultimate mortality of the organization or does it seek to perpetuate the organization indefinitely?

Of course, as employees of the organization, our job is to do the best for the organization we work for: to plan and work for its survival, and more so, its growth, maturation, and ultimate competitiveness.

However, if as architects, we see that the organization will not be competitive and survive in its current form, then we need to acknowledge that reality. As architects, we are in a somewhat unique position to help remake and transform the organization so that it can live on and prosper. We can do this by envisioning a new state and planning for changes in what the organization does and/or how they do it. We can do this through process reengineering, new technologies, or a more drastic “organization makeover” in terms of a new/revised mission, strategy, leadership, and so on. Unlike a human being, whose life is fleeting, an organization can either die or be reborn again to live and compete another day.


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