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« Enterprise Architecture Governance is a business function | Main | Technical Mastery is not a goal for Enterprise Architects... »
Monday
Aug272007

Don’t push it…

Until a few days ago, I had never been in a kayak. My family were having lessons in the summer holidays and I joined them on a weekend. The instructor showed me how to move about, I could go forwards, backwards, sideways, I could turn left and right. I thought I could make the kayak do what I wanted.

The instructor warned me to take things slowly and steadily. He told me that kayaking was a relaxing sport; I should pace myself and let the water and the kayak do the work. He warned me about the wind. I was confident, I went faster, I turned quicker.

Then it happened, I was upside down, my leg was stuck, my head was under water. I wrenched my leg free, tearing muscles in my back and leg. But I could breathe, I swam back to shore. Was the physical damage or the ego hurt more painful?

The instructor recovered my kayak and paddle. He got me back in, reminded me it was my first lesson, to take it easy, that I had practised avoiding a capsize. He then gave me the next lesson, how to recover from a capsize, without panic and without damaging myself. My kids then demonstrated how to do it.

Do I blame the instructor for teaching me recovery too late? No. I had to know some basics first, and if I had taken notice of my teacher then I would not be in pain right now. This is an illustration of “a little knowledge is dangerous” and “there is no substitute for experience”.

The IT architect may become very experienced in a technology but in a limited context, it becomes the “hammer” where every problem is a “nail”. They become the arrogant technical guru that gives advice, writes a book, and moves on. They leave a trail of project failures behind them like the motorist who has seen plenty of accidents but never been involved in one. The technical guru has a lot of depth but little breadth and consequently little understanding of how, where and when to apply their expertise.

An enterprise architect has the breadth but will have lost the depth. Sometimes they try to compete with the technical guru. They gain a little knowledge about a new technology and try to apply it. Sometimes this is due to pride, the enterprise architect wants and hopes to be as good as they once were. Other times, the enterprise architect is responding to the pressure from managers, project managers and the business – “you are the highly paid expert, you should know”. It is hard to admit you don’t know enough, that you need some help or you need do to some research. You just need to identify the risks, explain the potential business damage, and do some mitigation planning.

If you are in a position where the challenge greater than your expertise then you will capsize, you will get hurt, your business will get damaged and need to be recovered.

The difference with my kayaking lesson – there may not be an instructor there to help you if you can’t extract yourself.

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