April 25, 2008

Self-Determination and Enterprise Architecture

There is an age old question whether we make our own fate or whether it is predetermined.

For thousands of years, people have turned to prophets, fortune tellers, mystics, and star gazing to try and divine their futures. Yet, at the same time, we are taught that every child has the opportunity to become the President of the United States or an astronaut, or whatever their hearts desire; that laser-like focus, discipline, repetition and determination breeds success. Haven’t we always been taught to always try our best?

Surely, this is one of the irresolvable conflicts that philosophically can never be truly resolved: If the future is already predetermined, then how can we affect it? Further, if our actions can impact the future, then how the future be predetermined?

The way ahead is to work to influence our future, knowing full well that many things are indeed beyond our control.

From an organization perspective, there are no guarantees for the future, so we must take the reins of change, plan and manage it: one way we do this is through enterprise architecture.

In Fortune Magazine, 5 May 2008, in an article entitled, “The Secret of Enduring Greatness,” it states that “the best corporate leaders never point out the window to blame external conditions; they look in the mirror and say, ‘We are responsible for the results.’”

The future of our organizations are not static and so our leadership cannot rest on its laurels, rather we must continually plan for and execute innovation and transformation.

If we look at the largest corporations in America, the Fortune 500, we see that companies rise and fall to/from prominence with almost unbelievable speed. Here are some examples:

  • “The vast majority of those on the list 50 years ago are nowhere to be found on the current list” (only 71 of the original 500 companies from 1955 are still on the list today).
  • “Nearly 2000 companies have appeared on the list since its inception.”
  • “Some of the most powerful companies on today’s list—businesses like Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Dell, and Google” didn’t even exist in 1955 and conversely, “some of the most celebrated companies in history no longer even appear on the 500, having fallen from great to good to gone.”

So if the tides start to turn down for a company, what are they to do—simply accept their fate, and perish like so many of those that came before them or do they fight to survive, knowing full well that they may not or will likely not succeed?

I say we fight to survive—we plan and execute change—we transform, and we live to fight another day.

“Just because a company stumbles—or gets smacked upside the head by an unexpected event or a new challenge—does not mean that it must continue to decline. Companies do not fall primarily because of what the world does to them or because of how the world changes around them; they fall first and foremost because of what they do to themselves.”

One example is IBM that stumbled in the late 1980’s in relying on what was becoming commoditized hardware, but transformed themselves in the early 1990’s to a software and services juggernaut. Similarly, Apple transformed from a niche computer manufacturer to a consumer electronics dynamo with their innovations such as the iPod and iPhone.

Essentially it comes down to the ability of the organization to manage change and complexity (as John Zachman stated) to adapt and transform, and we do this through enterprise architecture


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