Enterprise architecture as organisational Zen

The way I have learned to understand Zen, is that it is about concentration and focus. By means of meditation, Zen teaches us to focus on the things you really want to focus on, meanwhile allowing us to obtain insight into our inner drives as well as our imprinted reflexes. Whenever we, as average beings, are put under stress, our imprinted reflexes tend take over, taking us away from the things that really matter to us. Instead, we start worrying about how good we are in our jobs, whether our boss likes us, threats to our status in society, et cetera.

Zen helps us in focusing on what is important. It does so by improving our mental discipline by way of meditation. This improved discipline allows us, in our daily live, to be more aware of situations where our mind starts wondering off. Especially when we are put under stress, and the mental reflexes that are imprinted in our mind (based on past experiences and shadow beliefs) take over. Once we have learned to observe such behaviour, we can chose (not) to act upon it, and regain our focus. In doing so, it is also important not to judge ourselves. It's a process of learning and forgiving.

So what does Zen have to do with enterprise architecture? Well, a lot in my opinion. An enterprise architecture, as in, the architecture of the enterprise and not just enterprise-wide IT architecture, is an elaboration of the enterprise's strategy. As such, it can be regarded as an operationalisation of what the enterprise wants to focus on. Using models such as collections of architecture principles, specific design models in e.g. ArchiMate, et cetera, the enterprise's strategy is made more operational. The desired focus is elaborated, and possibly translated into a sequence of intermediary stages offering a short-term to long-term perspective.

This all sounds very nice, you might say, but in practice transformation projects are hard to keep on track with regards to the architecture. More often than not, projects are not in compliance with the focus as articulated in the enterprise architecture. There always seems to be a business driver that allows a project not to comply to the architecture. Usually due to a clash between short-term and long-term interests. Architecture governance is a difficult task indeed.

Interestingly enough tough, there is a strong parallel to the goals of Zen meditation. What does it mean if parts of an organisation allow a transformation project to produce results which are non-compliant to the enterprise architecture? Isn't the wise thing to do in such a case, to identify the discrepancy and then use it to grow as an enterprise? No blame-game, but a trigger to improve the governance needed to execute the enterprise's strategy. Does the architecture really focus on what is essential to the enterprise's strategy? Isn't the architecture too elaborate/restrictive? Is the non-compliance of projects based on a 'reflex' of the sponsors/stakeholders or are they the indication of a shift in strategy/focus? Or is it 'simply' due to a lack of discipline, and is more 'training' necessary (e.g. by means of stricter governance)?

Needless to say that the current economic crises brings about a multitude of organisational 'reflexes' leading to several responses that are not in compliance to the architecture (and strategy). Does this imply a stronger focus of the architecture on the enterprise's strategy, a shift in the enterprise's strategy, or .. is it just a panic-driven reflex? There is a lot to learn at a time of crises!

Traditionally I've viewed enterprise architecture as a means to direct enterprise transformations. I still do, but I now propose to treat non-compliance of projects not as a problem but as a way for the organisation to better understand its focus and improve its ability to stay focused on the things that matter. Enterprise architecture as organisational Zen.


  1. nice post...what do you say to the Buddhist precept of 'life is suffering' - what of transformation..? ;-)

  2. A useful reminder that I need to regain my meditation practice - I've let it lapse for far too long, and it's definitely relevant in an enterprise-architecture context as much as in 'normal' outside-of-work life. Many thanks!

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  4. very nice insight Erik!
    interestingly enough, there are very simple priciple of our existence, applicable in every sphere of our lives. Just many people find it "religious, freaky or spiritual" when looking at business issues from other than strictly business point of view. Regarding meditation, there is very nice book by Micheal Caroll called Thoughtful Leadership, I highly recommend to watch his video on youtube (leading@google). @ stress: there is no stressfull situation, only stressfull thinking...let's step back from out preprogramed thoughts, and there will be nothing we can't go.
    have a super cool day!

  5. If I've read this correctly you identify an organisation with the mind and all it's strange and twisted thoughts? Modelling comes along and tries to make sense of it all, putting things to paper so you have a proper plan to stick to. To point out the good spots and the places where things go wrong.

    But then the mind changes it's mind again or decides simply that it doesn't want to conform with what is written. (For whatever reason the mind has of doing so as if otfen the case.) Or the modeller lost something in the translation that the organisation was doing all along.

    Trying to look at the what is going on without preconceptions is what I would call a first attempt to define Zen.
    Would you call enterprise architecture trying to look at an organisation without preconceptions in this same way?

    Looking forward to the next course lecture in a few weeks.

    gr, Christiaan


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