Stop talking about enterprise architecture. Go solve a problem.

Many years ago, as a newly minted lead architect, I had a memorable initial 1×1 with our organization’s CIO. After reviewing my hand drawn (pencil on paper) application and information landscape, and hearing the CIO’s vision for common front-ends across retail, catalog and (burgeoning) web channel, we discussed the state of the union, and the inevitable gap from here to there.

After I listed ten or so gap items, I looked to the CIO for verification and prioritization. Instead, the CIO said, “I don’t care what you do, just do something.”

I admit. I was taken aback by the CIO’s response. Afterwards, I sat in my cube wondering why the organization created this new (enterprise architecture predecessor) position, if the big boss didn’t care what I worked on.

Then though, thankfully, I interpreted the CIO’s message differently, correctly. The CIO didn’t care which of the litany of items I picked, because tackling any item would move us closer to the ultimate, customer-centric vision.

This is the perspective I draw from as I advise architects and enterprise architecture groups who struggle in starting, or revitalizing an architecture practice. To get traction, don’t get tangled up in a framework or methodology, go solve a problem.

The problem doesn’t even need to reside in the (traditional) enterprise architecture domain. Nor does the solution have to be perfect, or in classic form. Just move your organization closer to there, from here. Repeat as required.

While this problem-solving, action-oriented approach can slow-down the generation of traditional artifacts and processes, it does accelerate value generation, and really, isn’t that the point.

Need to grow your architecture practice and credibility? Go solve a problem.

Patterns of intrapreneurs and great enterprise architects

Reading Recognize Intrapreneurs Before They Leave – Vijay Govindarajan and Jatin Desai – Harvard Business Review, I was struck by the commonality between the intrapeneurs referenced in the article, and the best enterprise architects I’ve met, worked with.

Quite possibly, it is because really great enterprise architects are forward-thinking, creative, reflective and execution-capable.

The pattern match:

“Pattern #2: Strategic Scanning. Intrapreneurs are constantly thinking about what is next, one step into the future. These passionate change agents are highly engaged, very clear, and visibly consistent in their work and interactions. They are not sitting around waiting for the world to change; they’re figuring out which part of the world is about to change, and they will arrive just in time to leverage their new insights. Learning is like oxygen to them.

Pattern #3: Greenhousing. Intrapreneurs tend to contemplate the seed of an idea for days and weeks between calls, meetings, and conversation. As they shine more light on it, the idea becomes clearer, but they don’t yet share it. They know that others may dismiss it without fully appreciating it — so they tend to ideas in their greenhouse, protecting them for a while from potential naysayers.

Pattern #4: Visual Thinking. Visual thinking is a combination of brainstorming, mind mapping, and design thinking. Only after an exciting insight do intrapreneurs seem able to formulate and visualize a series of solutions in their head—rarely do they formulate just one solution. They do not act impulsively on a solution immediately, keenly aware of the need to honor the discovery phase for the new solution, giving it time to develop and crystallize.”

On enterprise blueprinting — entrenchment

It is naive to believe one can, or should, blueprint an enterprise. An enterprise is a complex system that must continually, adapt to survive and thrive.

For any system to sustain, shift, and grow, over time, it requires energies (accelerants), efficiencies, connectors (& disconnectors), and means to remove waste.

Enterprise architecture should focus its attention on fortifying these core functions of the enterprise system, via the infusion of intellectual and digital capability.

Enterprise architecture should capacitate fluidity, not rigidity.

Reinvention Week, Prussian Officers and Smart & Lazy talent

Last Friday on Twitter, I was lamenting the compulsion of new people on existing projects to revisit and reinvent every prior decision and action, rather than focus their energy on execution. I tagged the tweets reinvention week. My opening salvos:

Wouldn’t it be cool if new people to a project focused on getting it done, rather than reinvention? #reinventionweek #EntArch

We need to value execution on par with creation. #entarch #reinventionweek

These sparked a conversation with Sally Bean and Neil Ward-Dutton on why this happens: ego, uncertainty, lack of communication and so on.

Certainly, there are instances when revisitation is required, and is the mission of the new person. However, in my experience, too frequently the need is driven by ego. Either, in placing a stamp on the project, or in moving the project to the technology, standards, patterns the new person is expert on, and therefore most likely to be seen as a star and/or become a key player.

In our twitter back and forth, Sally Bean offered: “that’s why we need to hire smart lazy people, not smart industrious ones.”

Sally was referring to Field Marshal Bernhard Graf von Moltke’s model on categorizing officers:

• Smart & Lazy: I make them my Commanders because they make the right thing happen but find the easiest way to accomplish the mission.

• Smart & Energetic: I make them my General Staff Officers because they make intelligent plans that make the right things happen.

• Dumb & Lazy: There are menial tasks that require an officer to perform that they can accomplish and they follow orders without causing much harm

• Dumb & Energetic: These are dangerous and must be eliminated. They cause thing to happen but the wrong things so cause trouble.

I hadn’t see this model before. It’s an interesting take on matching talent (or not) to positions. We always think we need “smart and energetic”. Yet, in a multitude of situations, “smart and lazy” is the better way to go.