Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Power and the Glory

#entarch A debate on Twitter about the power of enterprise architects (enhancing? enabling? influencing?), and another debate about the relationship between architecture and knowledge (does architecture count as a form of knowledge?) led to a question from @StevenvtVeld "An architecture as influencer? Closer to view, knowledge: how can this be an influencer?"

There are several ways in which knowledge influences what goes on.
  • People and organizations perceive, interpret and evaluate the world according to their prior knowledge. The implications of this have been extensively explored by philosophers (Kant onwards), psychologists (Piaget) and systems scientists (Maturana and Varela).
  • People and organizations decide and act according to their assessment of the likely outcomes and risks of the options they are aware of, based on their prior knowledge and understanding of causes and effects. (This may include conscious rationalization as well as unconscious or unspoken patterns of thought.)
  • People and organizations learn selectively from experience. Theories and beliefs tend to be "sticky", they are not necessarily abandoned as soon as contrary evidence appears. Because present experience only slowly and imperfectly feeds into future knowledge, current behaviour is largely influenced by past knowledge.
  • Within organizations, people attempt to control flows of knowledge for political advantage. This is sometimes known as a gatekeeper function.
  • Closed systems of knowledge (sometimes called a discourse or discursive practice) may be elevated to a dominant status within an organization culture. For example, the accounting discourse has a dominant status in many commercial organizations, while the target-setting discourse has become dominant in the public sector. Arguments based on the dominant discourse typically bias the organization towards certain ways of solving problems, and make some kinds of innovation impossible. (See my post on Making Conversations Visible.)
Enterprise architects need to work with knowledge at two different logical levels - not only participating in the development and good use of relevant forms of knowledge (on architecture and related subjects) but also understanding and facilitating the structural and cultural aspects of knowledge development and use across the enterprise.

By the way, Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory was published in the USA as The Labyrinthine Ways. It is said to be one of President Obama's favourite books. Perhaps there is a hidden message in it for enterprise architects: I'd better read it sometime.

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