Gartner Blog Network

Communication and Communities

by Mike Rollings  |  August 30, 2010  |  2 Comments

We think we need a community to advance an idea , but in reality it is not one community, it is many communities.  This is why communication and influence is so challenging.  If it were just one community then one way of communicating something would work and communication wouldn’t be so challenging.

Communicating one way is a mistake often made by technologists trying to express an idea.  They use technical diagrams elaborating a business solution and believe that the same illustration can work for technologists and businesspeople alike.  WRONG!  This is one of the first rules of communicating – understand your audience.  This is why methodologies are a trap.  Methodologies prescribe a certain way of thinking (context) and the user of the methodology starts to believe that the representations they understand will be understandable by others with a different context.  However, shared context is essential for shared understanding.

In this YouTube video, Physicist Richard Feynman describes the difficulty of answering a “why” question.  He explains that in order to answer the question ‘why do magnets attract?’ both parties (Feynman and the interviewer) must share the same understanding (context) for the explanation be meaningful.  If both do not share the same context then the less informed party must accept that it is true and not look further for explanation.

Yet, this is not true with respect to information technology (IT).  If the other party does not understand what you are saying, they won’t accept that it is true, and you will not get their support to proceed.  I call this the Feynman IT paradox.  For any situation where the terminology used is not shared by both parties, the more knowledgeable party (the one with the proposed solution) needs to adopt the context of the other person to be understood.  In other words, leave the terminology at the door.

So we are not communicating with a single community with a common context, we are communicating with multiple communities with multiple contexts.  Therefore, don’t get hung up on one representation, make as many representations as you require to communicate to various communities within your organization.  Strive to create common communication for a particular community, but be sure to address the needs for the variety of contexts.

Category: human-behavior  

Tags: behavior  communication  

Mike Rollings
Research VP
5 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Mike Rollings is VP of Gartner Research within the Professional Effectiveness team. His research discusses what IT professionals need to know about transformation, innovation, human behavior, contextual strategy, collaborative organizational change, communication and influence, and cross-discipline effectiveness . His research can be read by IT professionals with access to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) research. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Communication and Communities

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by blogs of the world, Greg Lambert Feed. Greg Lambert Feed said: Communication and Communities […]

  2. Jerry says:

    The Architectural Vision Is What Executives Need From Enterprise Architects

    Traditionally building architects have learned and communicated through the architectural vision. Selling this vision to clients became the method by which a building architect became recognized. In the early 20th century this consisted of examples, like Frank Lloyd Wrights mile high skyscraper, that would inspire public imagination. It would inspire professionals to become better architects. It would inspire the profession to reach for even greater heights.

    In enterprise architecture we occasionally have some of these visions. They are simple and direct, but inspire us. Different than the blueprints that are talked about within the current frameworks, the vision captures the essence of the architecture in a concise manner that is understood by enterprise architects and their clients. It includes the reasoning for design choices. It is framed within the context of business through and understanding of its link through the operational model.

    Businessmen are experts in seeing value. They will always talk about their return on investment, cost control, and revenue. Only those in business understand that this is just the metrics for the game. What businessmen really thrive on is perception. A businessman will spend little on chairs if comfort is the only issue. They will spend a fortune if it increases the company’s image or his/her image. This is why business is so interested in enterprise architecture. The metrics they will justify and figure out. The architectural vision is what they need enterprise architects for!

    We as professional enterprise architects seek to create understanding, develop a common thought space and, change hearts and minds. To that end, lets not talk about collecting design diagrams but rather those architectural visions, stakeholder communication, and decision support artifacts that not only enable enterprise architects to be successful but will change the way people think about enterprise architecture.

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