The plowshare and the harrow

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We can characterize the current situation in most of the complex and large organizations in terms of:

  • Failure of imagination (for example, software design has dramatically regressed over the last few decades);
  • Lack of willingness (the complication and weight of our systems discourage initiative).

In addition, we are facing an imbalance in the dichotomy: relations versus content. Globalization has led to huge capitalistic empires. As a result, the main job and focus of top-management consists in keeping the pieces together. This means they act solely on relations, relegating content to second place. This directly translates into the manager’s profile. After a while, the phenomenon generalizes and amplifies due to the mimetic factor: managers tend to favor people that look like them and disregard competencies and topics that they can no longer handle. I will let you be the judge of whether or not this theory applies to Enterprise Architecture.

We can see proof of this tendency in the vocabulary and behaviors. For example, the overuse and abuse of terms such as “strategy” and “governance” are meaningful clues.

Here, let me use a metaphor. The relation-oriented manager (or function) is like a harrow: it’s wide and shallow; it scratches the surface. It is not without its use, as it brings homogeneity. But, if the soil has not been correctly plowed, the harvest will not be good. It also requires the soil to be properly prepared. This is where the plowshare is necessary. It digs in-depth. This is the role of the content-oriented resources. Of course, their role can be tedious and unrewarding: they work deeply, thus slowly. Sometimes, they hit the rocks underneath and have to remove them.

For the sake of the harvest, both tools – the plowshare and the harrow – are equally necessary. Similarly, for a proper transformation of the enterprise, both dimensions have to be handled: content and relations (plowing and harrowing). Nevertheless, we observe an imbalance and a potential conflict between these attitudes and abilities (or moments).

A symptom of the imbalance (and a sign of the decline of civilization) is the ratio of PowerPoint presentations we produce against documents and serious models. We can compare this ratio through the decades. This thought can be related to the studies that lead to the conclusion: the more complex the enterprise, the more simplistic the decision-making process tends to be.


The text above is borrowed from a commented presentation used in the Thought Leader Global conference, in Amsterdam on October 6, 2011.

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