Small worlds – Splintered thoughts

Filed in Episode 3 by on December 28, 2016 0 Comments

Oliver’s Question

My friend Oliver Baier (@OliverBaier) recently tweeted: “Has #RBPEA just become bigger and more urgent in 2016? People seeking (and buying) ever simpler answers to ever bigger problems”.

The hashtag RBPEA was coined by Tom Graves (@Tetradian) and means Really Big Picture Enterprise Architecture. It says that to understand an enterprise one increasingly has to understand what’s going on in the wider environment in which it operates – not just those parts with which it has some direct contact. It also says that enterprise architecture as a discipline can be applied to wider societal questions (assuming one’s idea of EA is not mechanistic/reductionist).

Oliver was, I think, asking whether “we”, as enterprise architects can bring our skills to bear in a world increasingly in trouble.

My answer to Oliver’s question is, unsurprisingly, an unqualified yes. What prompted this blog, however, was seeing that hashtag, realizing what a small world would understand it and connecting that to something else I’d been brooding on.

Splintered Thoughts

Thanks to other Twitter contacts, I’d been reading articles on Cognition, on Communication, Dialogics and Epistemology and on AI. All these articles have considerable overlap – not just as topics but in their actual content. But they don’t seem to be aware of it. Each article seems to be addressed to a specialist audience with its own background sources. The overlap in referenced sources across these articles is minimal. I was also struck by the apparent absence of awareness of (relevant) work by Gregory Bateson or Fritjof Capra, or Maturana and Varela or Paulo Freire – even though some of the conclusions of the articles fitted quite well with that work. To be honest, my own acquaintance with that list comes via a specific school, which is itself (apparently) largely unaware of those that reached me via Twitter. And I suspect none of these schools has the slightest idea what EA is. So adding #RBPEA to the mix is individually valid but only increases the problem as a whole.

I’m sure these various schools of thought are merely typical. Each has its own (legitimate) specialist focus. If you think about it, it’s pure chance that one reader (in this case me) spotted considerable overlap in some articles he happened to read. And probably chance (or maybe serendipity) that the overlap was exactly in the domain of things that I think matter in the world. I believe that bringing these ideas together is going to make a difference to the future of this planet. Bringing at least some of the people associated with those ideas together is going to make even more of a difference.

Coincidentally one of the aforementioned Twitter contacts, Abeba Birhane (@Abebab) today introduced me to a hashtag she may have made up but which suits my purposes perfectly: #Interdisciplinarity. The context made it even more relevant, because the other addressees, Paul Harland (@PabloRedux) and Ruth Malan (@ruthmalan), were sources of the articles I read and are also people who do share across disciplines – as are Oliver and Tom. In fact I realize now that most of the people I follow on Twitter fit that pattern. I guess that’s why I follow them.

An Answer for Oliver

Back to Oliver’s question. “Yes” on its own is a pretty useless answer. The point is rather how we can do that. And I think the answer is Interdisciplinarity. It’s not within our fields of specialism that we can deliver the value Oliver seeks but across all of them and by showing each other (and whoever’s listening) where, how and why all those perspectives emerging from the various specialisms complement each other and add value, meaning and perspective – and therefore agency – to the whole. It doesn’t even matter if some points of view are contradictory. The point is not to achieve a consensus view on everything but rather to make available the different elements that are relevant and important in their own way. We pick and mix based on the situation(s) in which we act. All this gives us a basis for more discussion and learning – and, more importantly, for action – an emergent, agile approach to change rather than an “ism”.

So, fellow princes and princesses of Serendip, let us pick up our interdisciplinary ploughshares and turn some sods.



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