Relativistic Elevator Speech
Let’s assume that you are in the office of a CEO in Earth’s gravitational field. Or, what is equivalent to this according to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity you are accelerating in a space elevator along with the CEO.
You have very little time to pitch your IT message and re-wire the CEO’s mind before the doors open and he leaves. Our dynamic CEO will leave the space elevator on floor Mach 3 (the speed of the fastest rifle bullet), giving you about 110 seconds (3*343m/s/9.81m/s²).
There are several internal and external factors making your mission difficult.
First, you do not routinely speak to CEOs and that makes you apprehensive. That is easy: visualizing him naked will solve the problem. More importantly, you spent decades mastering your craft and re-wiring your own brain, so you can have a comprehensive and sophisticated understanding of your subject matter. You have lost the ability to look at your own world from an outsider’s perspective. In addition you could talk about your area for days, so which 110 second segment should you pick?
The CEO already has an opinion and research shows that he will be looking for reasons to strengthen these existing preconceptions (Confirmation Bias). The CEO’s mind is also preoccupied with explanations he needs to come up with for next week’s investor’s call. His kid’s birthday party is coming up and the neighbor just got a new Bugatti Veyron, so his Porsche looks ridiculous now.
Let’s make your job even more difficult by selecting to pitch an IT area that is obscure and even the experts who practice it disagree with each other on the fundamental frameworks and principles. Let’s choose Enterprise Architecture.
So how sould you go about it?
If you take a systematic approach by defining “architecture”, “enterprise”, outline the elements of a framework and describe the benefits of a methodical approach through abstraction and decomposition, by the time you are done, the CEO will be gone and you will be speeding at Mach 100. The bad news is that he would think that you are incompetent. Since he is a CEO he is competent, and since he does not understand you, you are incompetent. The good news is that time dilation, according to Einstein’s Special Relativity would make him age faster than you.
If you start with the usual slogans like “Enterprise Architecture expresses the future value of today’s IT investments” or “Enterprise Architecture is a set of decisions that cannot be delegated without compromising overall system objectives” or “Enterprise Architecture aligns the IT investments with the Business strategy” you will lose the CEO. These slogans have nothing concrete, actionable and meaningful for him. This will be just another wasted 2 minutes of his life. You are not going to get another 2 minutes again.
What you could do is to tap into his existing knowledge and needs, use examples and the Availability Heuristics.
You could say:
“Imagine that you are building new headquarters for our company (all CEOs are dreaming about that). Fitting the building in the cityscape is Enterprise Architecture. Making sure that the building supports the company growth for the next 10 years is Enterprise Architecture. Ensuring that all key occupants can express their requirements and the important ones are incorporated in the design is Enterprise Architecture. Using comprehensive blueprints for the design and construction is Enterprise Architecture. Setting rules like “the building’s function is more important than its aesthetics” is an Enterprise Architecture Principle. Ensuring that the building is not optimized for one particular group of occupants and all floors have bathrooms is Enterprise Architecture Governance. Building inspections checking compliance with city regulations and codes are Architecture Reviews. Using standard easy-to-replace components are Technology Standards. Using the latest building technologies and materials to reduce the cost during the construction and the following operation is Enterprise Architecture.
May I schedule a meeting through your admin to continue this conversation on how similar practices in our IT could save and even generate money, make our life easier and the competition’s life more difficult?”
“Sure. Have to run. I have a meeting in Mach 3 with some class A shareholders…”