Enterprise & Design - an uneasy alliance

Guido Stevens | Jun 20, 2013 | management · design
A classic right-brainers versus left-brainers drama playing out.

A big attraction at the Enterprise Design Retreat in Barcelona recently, was the spectacle of two worlds colliding: design thinking, and enterprise architecture.

design thinking enterprise architecture
On the one hand there's the design thinking crowd, playing with big concepts and busy thinking "out of the box". On the other hand, the enterprise architects puzzling themselves a headache trying to keep all kinds of legacy systems connected in a not-too-insane way.
new traditional
outside-in top-down
emotive transactional
meaning efficiency
people systems
exploration exploitation
play control
holistic reductionist

The difficulties in reconciling these differing paradigms present a real problem. Established enterprises are stuck in a failing paradigm as they're facing failing control and failing systems. However, trying to introduce new approaches like design thinking triggers the corporate immune system. Design thinking is great at solving problems traditional approaches are unable to get a handle on. But it doesn't give you much of a handle on keeping 40-year old Cobol banking systems running.

This leaves incumbents in a dangerous situation: change is needed but very difficult to achieve. Innovation meanwhile is concentrated in "hip" startups. But for society to benefit from these innovations, those startups need to go mainstream by either wiping out the incumbents, or else through mergers and acquisitions. Which just postpones the paradigm shift challenge to the consolidation and/or M&A stages.

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