Nick Gall

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Nicholas Gall
VP Distinguished Analyst
14 years at Gartner
35 years IT industry

Nick Gall is a vice president in Gartner Research. As a founding member of Gartner’s Enterprise Planning and Architecture Strategies, Mr. Gall advises clients on enterprise strategies for interoperability, innovation and execution. Mr. Gall is a leading authority on middleware… Read Full Bio

Collapsonomics of IT

by Nick Gall  |  September 12, 2011  |  1 Comment

[This is a response to an excellent post by JP Rangaswami entitled Wond’ring Aloud. I’m posting it here because the comment system on JP’s blog so mangled my HTML reply that it is almost unreadable. Please read JP’s post before attempting to read my comments below. Enjoy both of them! -NG]

JP, Gartner is embracing Stewart Brand’s pace layering concept and his related shearing layer concept in several ways. One way we are using it is to apply pace layers to application portfolio management. This is the work referenced by Sukumar in his post. Here is a blog post on the subject that gives a bit more detail on how we’re applying it: Is It Time to Rethink Your Enterprise Application Portfolio Strategy? (The rest is behind the Gartner paywall.)

But we’re also applying pace layers, shearing layers, and what I call generally “temporal frameworks” in combination with enterprise architecture to create what we call panarchitecture. This is more in line with your thinking on Trainter and the cyclical collapse of complex systems. It turns out that there is a fairly well developed framework for analyzing the cyclical nature of such collapses. It’s called Panarchy, and it’s been developed by the ecologist “Buzz” Holling and others over the past twenty years or so.

Panarchy models ecosystems as complex networks of adaptive cycles of various sizes and speeds. One of the key insights of Panarchy is that larger systems cycle through periods of sustained growth (called the front loop) and collapse/reorganization (called the back loop) more slowly than smaller systems. It is the interactions between the small fast loops and the big slow ones–called revolt and remembrance–that actually drives evolution.

So in response to your questions:

Which makes me wonder. What Tainter wrote about societies,  what Shirky wrote about companies, are we about to witness something analogous in the systems world? A collapse of a monolith, consumed by its own growth and complexity? As against the simpler, fractal approach of ecosystems?

Yes, we are already witnessing something analogous in the (IT) systems world. Many of our most complex hw/sw systems are collapsing due to the growth in their complexity over the past several decades. And yes, simpler architectures will emerge from the collapse. But what Panarchy teaches us is that every ecosystem, both natural and metaphorical, starts out simple–composed of fragments of the previous ecosytem–and inexorably accretes greater and greater complexity until some release is triggered, and it too collapses.

And the biggest paradox of all is that these interconnected cycles of growth, collapse, and renewal are what make natural ecosystems so resilient! There is no escaping collapse, for it is essential to evolution. Accordingly, to make human-made systems more resilient, we must embrace collapse and renewal, not suppress it.

If you’d like to read more about Gartner’s Panarchitecture (an outgrowth of our work in design thinking), here is a blog post on the subject (Panarchitecture: Architecting a Network of Resilient Renewal) and a research note that is not behind the paywall (From Hierarchy to Panarchy: Hybrid Thinking’s Resilient Network of Renewal).

If you’d like to read some work integrating Tainter’s thinking with Holling’s thinking, check out Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Upside of Down and his concept of catagenesis (roughly analogous to Panarchy). Several others, like Noah Raford, are working in this area. I’m delighted to hear you’ll be looking more deeply into this area. We’d love to have you join us!

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Category: enterprise architecture hybrid thinking panarchitecture Uncategorized     Tags:

Motivating people is more important than modeling them

by Nick Gall  |  January 31, 2011  |  16 Comments

There’s a lot of great material to digest in Tom Graves recent post, Modelling people in enterprise-architecture, but I feel it gets off on the wrong foot in two regards. First, the title, "modelling people" [sic], suggests that the crux of the problem is that our models of people need to be greatly improved. But is that really the root of the problem? Isn’t the more fundamental problem one of motivating people?

Tom mentions Dan Pink’s Drive, which I think is absolutely targeted at the right issues. But AFAICT, Drive does not posit better models of people as an important goal! The primary goal is to find ways to give people enough autonomy, mastery, and purpose to enable them to do great things. While better models of people may help achieve this goal (eg by establishing what really motivates people), I think that good old fashioned traits like trust, respect, patience, leadership, listening, etc. are far more important than better models of people and their relationships.

I would argue that the great examples of organizations that do empower their people with autonomy, mastery, and purpose, do so with very little in the way of formal models of human behavior and relationships (whether they be personality profiles or RACI diagrams). They do it mostly with "gut feelings" about motivating people. That may be the fundamental problem with so much of enterprise architecture thinking: that the primary key to success is better models. I say, stop modeling people and start motivating them!

This leads me to my second concern: using building architecture as a metaphor for how to architect human organizations. In my presentation on hybrid thinking, I lead off with a slide contrasting a picture the US Capitol Building with a picture of the members of the US government attending the State of the Union.Capitol vs Congress I make the point that the architectural models and practices for organizing chunks of inanimate matter into useful structures have virtually nothing to do with the models and practices for organizing people into useful groups (eg the US Contitution, Roberts Rules of Order).

I think Tom is making the same point as I am in his post. But if that is the case, why then proceed to start from scratch in building up a set of models for organizing people? Why start from an interesting but, with all due respect, sui generis list of four themes? Why not start from concrete examples of governmental, academic, and business organizational models and practices that are working better than others. In other words, why don’t enterprise architects draw their insights and examples from and base their practices on fields like organizational studies? Wouldn’t a chief architect with a degree in organizational studies make a lot more sense than one with a degree in computer science, or even one with an MBA? Yet how many descriptions of the skills and attributes of a Chief Enterprise Architect even mention organizational studies?

I think one of the reasons that enterprise architecture almost completely ignores organizational studies is that the origin of enterprise architecture really was rooted in computer system architecture, ie the architecture of computer hardware and software. And the architecture of inanimate hardware and software is a lot more like building architecture than it is organizational studies. But the architecture of hardware and software gives almost as little insight into the architecture of human organizations as building architecture does.

I would claim that modern organizations (whether governmental, academic, or commercial) are shaped far more by the insights from and the practitioners of organizational studies than by those of enterprise architecture. That’s why I am pursuing the approach of hybrid thinking. Rather than continue to try to build up enterprise architecture thinking from first principles, why not embrace other disciplines, and other ways of thinking, that are already grappling with (with some measure of success), the issues EA wants to take on. Build upon organizational studies, build upon design thinking, etc. I know I am preaching to a member of the choir when I say this to Tom. But I get the feeling that many in enterprise architecture feel that they already have what they need to take on architecting our human organizations, just like they architected our data centers. All that’s needed are the right models. FAIL!

Referring to Tom’s prior post on crossing the chasm, one of the major reasons a new innovation fails to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption is that an existing approach is already serving the mainstream well enough. Perhaps the existing approach of organizational studies, which is already well entrenched in academia, especially business schools, is better suited to mainstream needs for architecting human organizations. What innovation does enterprise architecture bring to the table that makes it a better alternative to the models and practices currently generated by organizational studies? Or those generated by design thinking for that matter? When enterprise architects can answer that question, then perhaps business leaders will listen to them.

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Category: enterprise architecture hybrid thinking     Tags:

Panarchitecture: Architecting a Network of Resilient Renewal

by Nick Gall  |  January 24, 2011  |  5 Comments

Just before the holidays, we published our second major note set on hybrid thinking, which I’ll post about in more detail soon. But what I’m really excited about, and wanted to post about first, was our inaugural note on panarchitecture, a very different kind of architecture.

Panarchitecture is a kind of hybrid thinking that combines insights and practices from architectural thinking with those from ecological thinking—specifically the ecological thinking known as panarchy. C.S. “Buzz” Holling coined panarchy as the name of his framework for understanding the dynamics of ecosystems. The pan- in panarchy is meant to connote the Greek god Pan, who is associated with both nature and disruption.

The fundamental insight of panarchy is that all systems that evolve (and not all do), do so through a alternating cycle of sustained growth and disruptive renewal. Holling calls this the adaptive cycle and it looks like this:


As you can see, the sustained growth phase (which Holling calls the front loop) is the traditional S-curve, which has been at the heart of thinking about innovation for decades. What Holling and others investigate more deeply is what happens between the time one S-curve peaks and flattens and the emergence of a subsequent S-curve. What happens is a phase of disruptive renewal, a sort of on inverse S-curve, which Holling calls the back loop. More importantly, Holling analyzes what triggers the transitions from front loop to back loop and vice versa. The answer? Other adaptive cycles!

In other words, what traditional architectural thinking (and dare I say systems thinking) views as hierarchies of static, containing structures, Holling views as panarchies of networked, dynamic cycles:


While panarchy thinking has begun to spread beyond ecological science, it has done so slowly, and indirectly. For example, it turns out that both Stewart Brand’s concepts of shearing layers and pace layering were influenced by Holling’s work. While Brand visually shows such layers as cycles, his use of the term layer unfortunately undercuts his message that layers are best thought of as dynamic cycles of influence, not static structures of containment.

Accordingly, panarchitecture is a line of research we will be developing at Gartner to help enterprise architects better understand and architect for the dynamic back loops in their systems, their enterprises, their industries. and even their cultures.

For more on panarchy and panarchitecture, see From Hierarchy to Panarchy: Hybrid Thinking’s Resilient Network of Renewal. It is posted on the Gartner Enterprise Architecture “free research” page, so you can read it even if you are not a Gartner client. Please give it a read and let me know what you think!

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Category: hybrid thinking panarchitecture     Tags:

Why Public Cloud Will Be Vastly Better Than Private Cloud

by Nick Gall  |  December 1, 2010  |  4 Comments

General Electric

Image via Wikipedia

It’s not just about size. Public cloud is someone’s front office, but private cloud is someone’s back office. I’ve seen only a relative few good back offices, even fewer great back offices. I’ve never seen a back office that was world class, Type A, game changer, best of breed, etc.

Your back room is somebody else’s front room. Back rooms by definition will never be able to attract YOUR BEST. We converted ours into someone else’s front room and insisted on getting THEIR BEST. This is what outsourcing is all about.
Jack Welch, former CEO of GE
From Jack: Straight from the Gut

The economics of back office clouds will never come close to front office clouds.

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Presenting Hybrid Thinking at Symposium

by Nick Gall  |  October 20, 2010  |  1 Comment

I’ll be presenting on hybrid thinking this afternoon at Gartner Symposium. There’s lots of links to different resources associated with the presentation that I want to share with those attending the talk (or viewing the replay). Hence this post.

First, please tweet during the session. The hashtag for Symposium is #GartnerSym. The hashtag for hybrid thinking is #hybridthinking. And if you want to make sure the the vast design thinking community on twitter sees you scintillating tweets, you should use the #designthinking hashtag. Oh, and I’m @ironick on twitter. (That’s irony + nick, not iron + nick; I’m no ironman.)

Second, if you’re interested in some of the books and articles I mention in my talk, here’s the list:

If you’d like to read the research note behind this presentation, you can read it here: Introducing Hybrid Thinking.

And last but not least, here is a great series of seven short videos explaining the various facets of design thinking/hybrid thinking: .

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Activism Worthy of the Name

by Nick Gall  |  October 4, 2010  |  8 Comments

What I find most disappointing, irritating, and dismissive about Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted is that it sets the activism bar so high. He’s dismissive of any form of activism except “high-risk activism”: “Activism that challenges the status quo—that attacks deeply rooted problems—is not for the faint of heart.” And since “weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism”, he’s dismissive of such ties as well.

Gladwell dismisses (or at least denigrates) less risky forms of activism and the weak ties that can enable it. Weak ties (and the social media that supports and enables them) can lead to low-risk activism (say a donation to the Haiti relief fund, or voting for one candidate instead of another) or even medium-risk activism (submitting something to wiki-leaks).

Why in the world shouldn’t we celebrate and encourage such lower-risk activism? And it’s not just social media activities that fail the “high risk” test. Most marches and demonstrations in Washington are pretty low risk, so are they unworthy of our efforts? Are silent vigils? Are fund raising events like “walks for <fill in the blank>”?

Gladwell comes off as implying that only high-risk activism makes a difference and that any other form of activism is some sort of cop-out: “It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.” So if I’m not willing to risk my life in my activism, I shouldn’t even bother? Or I shouldn’t call it activism?

Sorry. I don’t buy it. I think every little bit helps change the world. Small is beautiful…even small change.

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The Battle Between the Two Gods of Hypermedia: The Reader and The Writer

by Nick Gall  |  September 17, 2010  |  2 Comments

[This is a continuation of a discussion of the “shape of the web” that started in Twitter and then moved to Richard Veryard’s blog: What shape is the Internet.]

Glad we agree on the 1st point. On the 2nd point, I’m not sure Tim’s vision of hypermedia was all that "innocent".

I think both Tim Berners-Lee, and Ted Nelson before him, understood that "hypermedia" implied not only following links to go from media to media, but also that such media would be (mis)interpreted, copied, rearranged, (mis)used, mashed up, etc.

In a speech from 2005, Tim presents a slide entitled "The two gods of literature", which goes as follows:

[begin slide]

according to Ted Nelson

* The Writer

* The Reader

A common benefit, overlap of need.–but a battle.

[end slide]

A bit cryptic, so I searched(!) for any discussion of the two gods by Ted. The only discussion that I could find is in this BBC interview: “I think of it as a form of writing – and writing is essentially what I would call a two-God system, because God the author proposes and God the reader disposes. The author is completely free to do anything on the page that he likes.” (I would have said “to the page”.)

I can’t be sure, but I think Ted (and Tim perhaps to a lesser degree) WERE plugged into the more general concept of intertextuality: “the shaping of texts’ meanings by other texts. It can refer to an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text or to a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another.” ( ). For a good discussion of intertextuality (if you like semiotics and literary theory), see this article.

What I think both are alluding to with the metaphor of “two gods”, the reader and the writer, is the idea that “hypertextuality increases intertextuality”: hypertext increases the (mis)use of text (really all media) by users (readers) in ways unforeseen (and often unapproved) by producers (authors). So I think both Tim and Ted are completely unsurprised (but not unconcerned) with how the web of hypermedia is (mis)used in ever more sophisticated ways. It is not just any battle, it is a Red Queen arms race among readers and writers!

The web of linked media enables easier exploration and exploitation of that media.

[The very movement of this discussion from twitter to blog to blog is a perfect example of the intertextual battle. As is my use of a link shortening service…]

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Category: information architecture semantics WOA     Tags:

Tim Berners-Lee Doesn’t Seem to Think “Linked Data” Requires RDF

by Nick Gall  |  July 21, 2010  |  21 Comments

I just plunged back into the linked data scene after having been more focused on other topics, like design thinking/hybrid thinking. I was surprised to find that the controversy about whether linked data requires RDF is still raging: When is Linked Data not Linked Data? – A summary of the debate. I assumed this would have been settled by Tim Berners-Lee’s two TED talks on linked data: one last year (Tim Berners-Lee on the next Web) and an update this year (Tim Berners-Lee: The year open data went worldwide).

Tim does not mention RDF at all in either of them. Here is how he defines linked data in his 2009 TED talk:

So I want us now to think about not just two pieces of data being connected, or six like he did, but I want to think about a world where everybody has put data on the web and so virtually everything you can imagine is on the web. and then calling that linked data. The technology is linked data, and it’s extremely simple. If you want to put something on the web there are three rules: first thing is that those HTTP names — those things that start with "http:" — we’re using them not just for documents now, we’re using them for things that the documents are about. We’re using them for people, we’re using them for places, we’re using them for your products, we’re using them for events. All kinds of conceptual things, they have names now that start with HTTP.

Second rule, if I take one of these HTTP names and I look it up and I do the web thing with it and I fetch the data using the HTTP protocol from the web, I will get back some data in a standard format which is kind of useful data that somebody might like to know about that thing, about that event. Who’s at the event? Whatever it is about that person, where they were born, things like that. So the second rule is I get important information back.

Third rule is that when I get back that information it’s not just got somebody’s height and weight and when they were born, it’s got relationships. Data is relationships. Interestingly, data is relationships. This person was born in Berlin, Berlin is Germany. And when it has relationships, whenever it expresses a relationship then the other thing that it’s related to is given one of those names that starts HTTP. So, I can go ahead and look that thing up. So I look up a person — I can look up then the city where they were born I can look up the region it’s in, and the town it’s in, and the population of it, and so on. So I can browse this stuff.

Now one might argue that Tim was simply avoiding using geek-speak to a general interest audience. But what’s telling is his choice of examples of linked data successes. In particular, he highlights Open Street Maps (OSM) in both talks. AFAICT, the OSM data format is linked, and it is XML, but it’s not RDF.

So if Tim is going to use OSM as a prime example of linked data (actually an example of linked open data), then he’s going to have to open the linked data tent to formats other than RDF. BTW, in the update video this year he also cites examples from both the UK and US open data efforts, many of which I’m sure are not in RDF.

And for those looking for a name data that does require RDF, SPARQL, et al? How about Semantic Web Data? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the full blown Semantic Web standards per se. I just feel that they fail critical test of the simplest thing that could possibly work or as Tim describes it, the Principle of Least Power.

Remember, linked data is all about the links and the relationships—not the format.

So for me at least, linked data refers to any machine-readable data with URLs pointing to it and URLs pointing out of it. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. I think Tim would agree.

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Category: semantics WOA     Tags:

Design Thinking Comes to the US Army

by Nick Gall  |  May 4, 2010  |  1 Comment

Great review by Roger Martin of the US Army Field Manual 5-0: The Operations Process and its embrace of design thinking. His review was published yesterday on the Design Observer website. Martin gives a GREAT backgrounder on how the field manual came to be revised to emphasize design thinking (lots of great links to earlier Army thinking and debate on the topic). I just left a comment on the article that will hopefully show up on the page soon. Here’s what I said (partially in response to a comment by "Jason"):

For me, this is one of the most important passages in FM 5-0:

The introduction of design into Army doctrine seeks to secure the lessons of eight years of war and provide a cognitive tool to commanders who will encounter complex, ill-structured problems in future operational environments…. As learned in recent conflicts, challenges facing the commander in operations often can be understood only in the context of other factors influencing the population. These other factors often include but are not limited to economic development, governance, information, tribal influence, religion, history and culture. Full spectrum operations conducted among the population are effective only when commanders understand the issues in the context of the complex issues facing the population. Understanding context and then deciding how, if, and when to act is both a product of design and integral to the art of command. (paras. 3-16 & 3-17, emphasis added.)

For me, the key word "if" (as in "deciding if to act") speaks directly to Jason’s legitimate concern that design thinking might merely be used to inflict pain, suffering, and death (one of the explicit objectives of warfighting) more efficiently. Design thinking will only be a success in influencing Army doctrine if it sometimes leads to decisions NOT to engage in armed combat; to try a different, less lethal approach to achieving an objective.

I think if you read FM 5-0 more closely Jason, you’ll see that this is one of the primary reasons for introducing design thinking into battlefield operations doctrine: to better understand when force of arms is NOT the right approach.

That said, I am somewhat disappointed that one needs to read FM 5-0 so closely to see this message. The concept of "human centeredness", which I feel is essential to design thinking is not highlighted in the field manual. I hope that in discussions of FM 5-0 and eventually in revisions to it, that the concept of "human centered experiences" and meaningfulness take center stage.

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Category: hybrid thinking     Tags:

Twitter and I Both Own My Content

by Nick Gall  |  September 14, 2009  |  Comments Off

I just took a look at twitter’s revised terms of service. I posted the my feedback using the feedback link, but I’d thought I’d also post it in my blog for all to see (and respond to):

We both own my content

Given your legal language below, twitter effectively jointly "owns" my content. In other words, anything I can do with my content, twitter can too. You might want to change your "tip" to reflect this.

Currently the tip says: "This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. But what’s yours is yours – you own your content." When told they own something, most non-lawyers assume that have EXCLUSIVE rights of ownership. That is NOT the case with twitter content. Twitter effectively has ALL the ownership rights to my content that I have. Twitter can use or sell (license) my content any way I can.

I think your "tip" should make that clearer. How about: "This license is you authorizing us to have all the same rights to the content that you have. Your content is twitter’s content — we both effectively own it."

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

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Category: intellectual property law social networks     Tags: