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The Importance of Thinking Regularly April 21, 2009

Posted by wrivkin in General Creative Thinking.
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About three to four thousands years ago my very distant ancestor Avram Ivri, who lived then in the Kingdom of Babylon and whose name meant  ‘a man from the other side of the Euphrates’  started experiencing a deep spiritual crisis. He suddenly felt that he cannot consider clay-made figures to be mighty gods anymore.  He had seen enough of them cracked in the oven or broken by an unlucky movement or a gust of wind. Everybody else had seen this as well, but somehow it did not bother them. These totems had been a part of their religion and culture for so long that nobody seemed (or everybody was afraid) to be bothered by their obvious insignificance.

So, where is the force that rules everything, thought Avram?  Is it the wind? However it seems to change depending on the season and the time of the day. Then, is it the Sun, which defines both the former and the latter?  That answer was good enough for the people of the whole neighboring empire, Egypt, but Avram rejected it after some consideration. After all didn’t the Sun, the Moon, and the stars regularly and predictably move across the sky, definitely obeying some higher order?

As Avram says in Thomas Mann’s novel ‘Josef and His Brothers’, “I, Avram, being a Human, must strive for the very highest”. Thus, the false idols preventing humankind from moral and intellectual advancement were destroyed, and the enormous idea of the single, almighty, invisible and eternal God was born.

This is an extreme example of independent and dissident thinking. We obviously do not need to put such an intellectual effort into trying to disprove every idea. After all, we are standing on the shoulders of giants like Avram, who we know now as Abraham; we can and should rely on some proven moral and intellectual truths, upon which our very civilization is based. It does not even matter whether we believe in Avram’s God or not, because it is this objective moral law that He put into our souls that makes Avram’s intellectual leap the irrefutable basis for our very existence.

If we thoroughly understand the validity of certain truths and their boundaries, we can stop spending our time trying to doubt them and concentrate on the new challenges that progress poses us every day. This is why, for example, we have stopped researching Newton’s mechanics, the boundaries of which we know, but not those of Einstein, the boundaries of which we do not know. Otherwise, we can never progress in our knowledge.

However, the opposite is even worse. If we stop investigating a field that is not deeply understood and well-defined yet, if we are satisfied with half-baked guesses and stop searching for real, profound knowledge and understanding, then all our efforts are worth as much as a prayer to clay idols. In this case we have the illusion of progress when in fact we are just wandering in twilight.

When our culture rewarded profound, unorthodox, and innovative thinking, we invented the car and the airplane.  When our culture started rewarding clichés and loyal intellectual numbness, we lost our ability to make the best cars or airplanes in the world.

We live now in a country where the previous, half-witted government wishfully thought that it is enough to give a mortgage to anyone who asks for it, and we would have a whole nation of home-owners gratefully voting for them forever; where half-witted citizens wishfully thought that it is OK to pile up debts without ever considering how to pay them back; where half-witted managers of financial institutions didn’t even think of such an improbable possibility as low-income clients ceasing to pay their bills; and where the new half-witted government wishfully thinks that every problem can be solved by printing enough green paper with presidents on it and telling everybody what to do.

We live in a country where CIOs think that CEOs value them very highly and consider their I.T. departments as the company’s best asset.

We live in a country where creators of the movie ‘Idiocracy’ wishfully thought that they fantasize about very improbable future.

We must stop this. We must stop letting these salesmen from TV or IT magazines think for us. We must stop considering the very process of thinking as a dirty, hard physical job we would prefer to ousource to a third-world country. We must start trying to think for ourselves again, first once or twice a week, then more often. We can do it. Yes, we can!

Then we must start trying to think deeply, innovatively, unorthodoxically. We can do it, we still have these genes! Then one day one of us will say:

“I, Avram, being a Human, must strive for the very highest”.

And then we can discuss Enterprise Architecture…


Is Our Corporate Culture Going to Kill Us? April 12, 2009

Posted by wrivkin in Enterprise Architecture & Business Transformation.
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One might ask: “Is he going for the sacrosanct?” The answer is:”Yes, because it is not.”  The next question would be: “Why talk about ‘it’ in an Enterprise Architecture blog?” The answer: “Because ‘it’ is where all problems start.

Ten years ago Japan fell into one of the deepest recessions in its history. Its economic growth stopped, the government, corporate, and private finances lay in ruins. Everybody was in overwhelming debt. Interest rates declined to zero, then became negative, but nothing could revive the stagnating economy. Does this resemble anything?

After several years of struggling, the most respectable corporate leaders in Japan had the courage to say that the main reason for this depression was Japanese corporate culture. One should understand the overall Japanese culture, with its admiration for tradition to completely comprehend the bravery and effect of that statement. It was especially astonishing, because before the depression the Japanese corporate culture was considered the model for the rest of the world, the main driver behind Japanese economical success.

These economic leaders (note, that they were not economists but CEOs and Presidents of the largest corporations) named the main disadvantage of their corporate culture as “suppressing innovation”. Any employee in a big corporation, they said, is afraid to come up with new, innovative, but risky idea because he is afraid to “lose face”. So, he prefers to ‘play by the book’ even if it is evident to him that the ‘book’ is obsolete and wrong. Ironically, they proposed the ‘Americanization’ of their corporate culture as the cure.

This is ironic, because during the same time American corporate culture has become more ‘Japanized’ than the Japanese one itself.

The author of this blog has spent more than 25 years in the corporate cultures of three countries from three continents from the junior to the D-level. So, he has enough experience to compare and weigh them.

For the last 15 years, right before my eyes, the American corporate culture turned from ‘somewhat innovation-supportive’ to ‘absolutely loyalty-supportive’. Any innovative (especially managerial or methodological, and to a lesser extent business) idea, even obvious and risk-free, but not coming from the top of a corporation, has begun to be considered as disloyalty and almost as ‘dangerous libertinism’. Once, the author of this blog, serving as a C-level consultant, took some open numbers from his company’s website, made some second-grade arithmetical calculations, and came to some surprising conclusions regarding the company’s business model efficiency. Despite the fact that investigating this efficiency was his declared role and goal, after reporting these conclusions, which would be obvious to any person with two-digit IQ, to his C-level boss, the author was told that he was completely wrong. He asked: How and why? The answer was absolutely Kafkaesque: “because it contradicts to the ideas of the CEO” (!?W.R.) This C-level officer was ready to turn a blind eye to an obvious fault in his Enterprise Business Model just to stay loyal to the CEO. And he put it absolutely frankly, he wasn’t ashamed of it. He was proud like a good soldier, loyal to his general without doubt and against common sense.

At the time, I was stunned.  I never imagined then that this type of ‘good soldier’, so popular in Germany some 80 years ago, exists and shamelessly prospers in corporate America, the citadel of the free thinking! I remember myself thinking: “What is this guy so afraid of? He won’t be sent to a concentration camp or gulag. His life and freedom are not in danger. Is he ready to make a complete imbecile out of himself just to keep his chair? And why is his chair in any danger if what he says is right, important for the company, and lies within his area of responsibility? ”

In the former Soviet Union, during time of state holidays there was a state-imposed tradition of bringing flowers to state monuments. However, if any individual bought flowers and brought them to the same monuments independently, without proper authorization he would be arrested by the KGB and put away. It was because the main principle of the totalitarian regime is: “Every independent, free initiative, even a loyal one, must be suppressed”. This is why they seemed to be so impregnable and this is why one day they just disintegrated into dust.

Once again, the author is far from comparing the totalitarian Soviet social regime with the modern US corporate one. Although, after all, the author is just mortal, he can be mistaken.

It is hard to be mistaken, though, looking at the modern US corporate cemetery. Does anybody still believe that their CXOs are not even ‘divine’ but merely competent? Does anybody agree with this social situation where capitalism has been replaced with ‘corporate socialism’, where upper managers assigned to themselves all the rights of the owners without their obligations? With a situation, where the pilots jump with ‘golden’ parachutes, while the plane with the passengers is about to crash? If one does, then he deserves his fate.

The Soviet Union,  by far the richest country on Earth 90 years ago, fell, unable to withstand the weight of its totalitarian social regime. The US, currently the richest country on Earth, is failing before our eyes, being unable to withstand the weight of its totalitarian ‘corporate socialistic’ regime.

To stay within the proclaimed boundaries of this blog, let us call what we desperately need a Business Transformation.

Have We Outsourced Our Minds? April 3, 2009

Posted by wrivkin in Enterprise Architecture & Business Transformation.
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Most of us probably already know about the scandal that is going on in India around the multi-year fraud scheme at the Satyam® Corporation. Those, who still do not know, may be referred to an editorial in CIO Magazine[i].  The author of that article discusses mostly the reaction of US partners of Satyam to this scandal, differentiating those, like State Farm®, who took the ethics issues very seriously and dropped relations with Satyam, from those, like GE®, who showed astonishing indifference to the ethics, the indifference to which the author refers as “…as long as I get the benefit that was promised to me, then nothing else matters”

The last thing I want to do is teach anybody, especially the leadership of GE, what is ethically wrong or right or how to conduct their business. I just want to point out that being immoral has very practical consequences. I am not even talking about the image of the company. After all, Yahoo® has helped to put people into political prisons in China and …nothing happened, as if anybody cared.

No, I am talking about much more inevitable consequences. As a proverb says, a fish rots from the head. But the process rarely stops there. The culture of fraud, once started at the upper management level, usually spreads throughout the whole organization. Are GE leaders sure that the services they receive from Satyam are free of fraud? Don’t they need to re-check the solutions obtained from such an organization? I would, if I were them.

Here is another, more personal experience. Recently, I have been contacted regarding a position in the newly created Enterprise Architecture practice of one of the companies from the BRIC region. The practice was advertised as thriving on the US market. I have had a phone conversation with the Director of the practice. What can I say…?

Six years ago, I had a conversation like that with the brilliant Director of the IBM GS EAI practice Marti Marut. I was absolutely astonished by the level, breadth, and depth of this man’s thinking. My subsequent job with the practice showed that not everybody there is like their Director. However, they at least had the highest standard of professionalism in him and some of his subordinates.

Now, returning to my recent conversation… I cannot say that there was a big difference in the level of understanding between this man and Mr. Marut. No, there was an abyss!

However, it is not about this specific BRIC company or its manager that I want to talk, but about their US clients, because of whom this practice is growing while that of IBM GS one is shrinking. These companies have decided to outsource not a piece of code, not a project, but the whole Enterprise Architecture. I know the short-term cost of such outsourcing is undoubtedly lower. Still, would anybody who decided to build or re-build their house consider hiring somebody from an Amazonian or African (sorry, no offense meant) tribe, who is regarded there as an architect because he can build shacks from tree brunches or (sorry again) from animal poop?  Sounds ridiculous? Not to me, not after the aforementioned conversation.

These US companies outsource their core, their future to low-professional people based solely on costs!

Have we lost our minds?

[i] M. Friedenberg. Partners and Ethics. CIO Magazine, March 1 2009.