What is ‘Why?’ And why, anyway?
“Oh no, not again“, do I hear you cry? Actually, it’s not as bad as that: it’s not going to be yet another of those long tedious technical posts – honest!
(It is a sort-of technical question, I’ll admit. And, in the event, quite long. But interesting to just about everyone, I hope.)
What do we mean by ‘Why’? It’s a question that’s been puzzling me for quite a while – not least because enterprise-architecture is in some ways all about the shared ‘why‘ of an enterprise, and how we express that ‘Why’ in practice.
That kind of ‘Why’ is energising, and engaging. “Start with Why“, says Simon Sinek – and in terms of how things really happen in enterprise, he’s right. If we start with why, things do indeed happen, and usually happen well.
But then I look at the ‘Why’ column in Zachman: ‘Why’ is business-rules, it says. Gosh. Wow. Exciting… (To be honest, my heart just sinks. Doesn’t yours?) Business-rules? – seriously, where’s the fun in that? Kind of the exact opposite of engaging, really. Something’s gone missing there, clearly…
That’s not quite fair, of course. Up at the top, Zachman describes ‘Why’ as a list of Goals. Not quite as unexciting as business-rules. (But close…) Yet there’s something kinda odd here… kinda like a sudden sideways jump… different things all mixed up together in the same space…?
And I hit up against the same problem when working on the Enterprise Canvas concept, a year or so ago. The same Start with Why: the ‘vision’ for the extended-enterprise is the core ‘Why’ from which everything else flows. That ‘Why’ is emotive, it means something: for the right kind of ‘Why’, people are willing, even eager, to get out of bed way too early on a cold dark dreary workday morning. It matters. It sits above everything else. And yet, to make sense of the content and activities of the service that we’d represent on an Enterprise Canvas module, there’s that same dull boring ‘Why’ again: decisions, principles, rules and regulations, all that kind of stuff. Where’s the fun gone? How come we’ve lost the why from the Why?
I’ve been bouncing up against an answer on this in several previous posts over the past while, such as one about principles in enterprise-architecture, and another on the relationship between architecture, design and implementation. But perhaps a better answer came up over the past couple of days, when trying to unravel the anatomy of Archimate and, in particular, struggling to make sense of the split between what in Archimate they call Intentional Concepts versus Extensional Concepts.
Intentional Concepts are, as the name suggests, about intent. Extensional Concepts are about what we do with that intent – about how we extend that intent out into real-world practice. In Archimate, Intentional Concepts are entities such as Value, Meaning and Reason. And the important point is that these are viewed as separate from ‘the action’. Yet down in the details of that ‘the action’, we again come across another kind of ‘reasons’ – all those business-rules and so on. (Archimate doesn’t model any of that as yet, but that’s another story.) So again we’ve got this kind of sideways jump: ‘Why’ is above everything, as Intent; yet it’s also just another part of that ‘everything’, as Extension, the ways things work together.
The obvious answer: we’re dealing with two different kinds of ‘Why’. Or two different sides of the same ‘Why’, perhaps.
One side of Why creates a question: literally, it starts a ’quest’. For most of us, that’s the exciting bit.
The other side of Why is the answer to the question, the end of the quest. That was the question, here’s the answer: The Decision. End of story. For most of us, that’s when the fun ends: a sense of relief, perhaps, that there’s no more need to quest, but also, well, no more need to quest… Final. That’s it. Full Stop. (or Period, if you speak the US version of English). An ending, that somehow ends up in a bunch of rules, with No Questions Allowed any more. A Why To End All Whys.
Kind of like the braces round a mathematical function: a=func(x,y) and all that. The opening-brace ( begins the question: what’s x? what’s y? what do we do with them? – exciting, new, gosh, wow! And then we hit the closing-brace ) that ends the question: its kind of ‘nothing more to say’, really. We have the answer, the decision. Nothing more to do. Oh. Oh well. (Except that in much of maths, and in computing too, we have parentheses within parentheses within parentheses: q=some(func(x,y), also(y,z, andalso(b,c))) – quests within quests! Fun within more fun – hooray! )
So we do have two different kinds of ‘Why’ – and they go into different places in our architecture.
One kind of ‘Why’ – the question, the ‘(‘ – goes above the Zachman space, goes above the Enterprise Canvas, goes into Archimate as intention. Think of it as a row above everything, or a backplane, or something like that: whichever way we view it, it pervades everything.
The other kind of ‘Why’ – the ‘)’, the decision – goes into the Zachman space as just another column, goes into Archimate as extension. Each decision is specific, explicit: it literally cuts off other choices in that context. We can connect it to things, show how it affects other things, but it doesn’t pervade everything in the way that the question does.
In that sense, it does make sense to put them in different places. (And also – very important – not to forget the intention. Zachman ignores it, or loses it somehow in its strange sideways jump; Archimate all but abandons it, when it squeezes all of its Intentional Concepts into the literal meaninglessness of Passive Structure; and Business Model Canvas doesn’t even bother, but seemingly assumes that the only ‘Why’ that matters is ‘How do we make money?’ The ‘questing Why’ is literally emotive, the source of all motivation: if we don’t explicitly include it in our enterprise models, we’ve just shut out any reason for anyone to be engaged in our whatever-it-is. Perhaps not a wise mistake…?)
In another sense, though, it’s still the same ‘Why’. Just different faces – or phases – of the same quest. That’s where so much of the confusion comes, because often where we place it is more about how we choose to look at it than anything else. Looking ‘downward’, we see a stream of decisions: “because so-and-so… therefore… therefore… therefore…”. Looking upward, we see a stream of reasons: “because… because… because…” – ultimately ending up in the the unquestionable ‘Because!’ of the enterprise-vision or whatever. (I tend to place only that ultimate ‘Because!’ and its immediate implied-values as that uppermost layer of the enterprise-model; everything else ends up at various levels of that Extensional side-column of ‘Why’.) The Knowledge Genes structure also describes this Janus-faced relationship well, though in a different way: move leftward towards the question of Why, rightwards towards the decisions of How. The same ‘Why’, and yet different; a different ‘Why’, and yet the same.
Two kinds of ‘Why’.
That are also the same ‘Why’.
Now why is that, I wonder…?