Thursday, October 2, 2008

imposing structure; discovering structure

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on enterprise social software and was taken by an idea, which I think is actually a philosophy- my philosophy.  

"In contrast to traditional enterprise software, which imposes structure prior to use, this generation of software tends to encourage use prior to providing structure."
Use prior to structure... 

People always tell you this when you buy a house-- before putting in furniture, use it, walk around, figure out the traffic patterns, see which areas you and others naturally gravitate toward. Then, structure accordingly - make the furniture fit your lifestyle. 

This is my precise philosophy on how to approach new research constructs (e.g. Influence, Engagement, Authenticity), and data analysis in general. Map it out. Use your data and then divine structure. Down with Field of Dreams, 'If they come, it will build (grow)' seems a bit more apt today.

Surely I'm naive. When is it good to impose structure prior to use? People tell me schedules and plans work well in life. Is there anything in the enterprise that clearly calls for structure prior to use or can everything evolve to a place where structure emerges organically?


Peter Kim said...

Let's assume for a minute that there are two types of people in the world: leaders and followers.

Leaders aren't afraid of jumping into the unknown. They take ambiguity and make order out of their own experience, resulting in a framework that fits well.

Followers prefer to live with an existing structure. They poke holes and throw rocks until it breaks. Frameworks rarely fit or always exist with exceptions.

It's easier to follow than lead. Everyone starts with structure - I think leaders start with flexible ideas, followers start with rigid instances.

kate said...

interesting insight, Pete... biggest question being what type of data would you want to gather to arrive at the assumption that there are indeed two types of people?

You also touch on the classic problem in innovation that I find myself referring to more and more: transforming vs. enhancing. It's far more difficult to invent a product, process, concept anew than it is to add incremental value.

Neurologically, it's more challenging to abandon current standards.

Tim Walker said...

Interesting post, Kate. If memory serves, Christopher Alexander talks about something along these lines in "The Timeless Way of Building" - i.e. that you initially create buildings or other structures provisionally, with materials that can be moved and reshaped, and then only over time do you make them permanent.

I don't think he uses this particular example, but you could think of the homesteaders who moved to the American West in the 1800s -- first they lived in tents or lean-tos, then sod houses dug into the earth, and only later in permanent wood or brick houses.

kate said...

interesting, Tim. Thanks. Your example has interesting implications for the timeframe within which one might expect to see as transformative structural changes in software or the communication it facilitates. I especially like the analogy as tents and modern-day skyscrapers have such little physical resemblance; modern day architectural structures also offer such unanticipated benefits (as compared to their traditional use).