Most enterprise architecture (EA) initiatives remain trapped in the IT department, and a new approach – hybrid thinking – is required to break EA out and into the wider organisation, according to Gartner. Adopting hybrid thinking is an excellent way to meld design thinking, IT thinking and business thinking, and achieve transformative, innovative and strategic changes.

“Leading organisations that are driving change during times of rapid upheaval are showing the ability to combine new techniques for thinking critically, creatively and innovatively about complex problems with more traditional, engineering-based analytical methods,” says Nicholas Gall, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “We are seeing several leading companies combining design thinking and other thinking methods, including more traditional approaches, to drive transformative, innovative and strategic change.”
Hybrid thinking combines the analytical mastery of architects with the intuitive originality of designers. Hybrid thinking drives change via the co-creative exploration of meaningful human-centred experiences when confronting complex, intractable issues, also known as “wicked problems.”
Exploiting the attributes of hybrid thinking in EA can help enterprise architects drive change. For example, this can be done by directly involving users in testing and prototyping ideas early to get immediate feedback, challenging a product or service’s perceived value from the perspective of those who must use it, or architecting the enterprise from the “outside-in.” Gartner predicts that, by 2013, more than 20% of organisations will explicitly design their businesses from the outside in – up from less than 5% in 2009.
“By integrating design thinking, which is already very popular in business circles but is virtually unknown in IT circles, enterprise architects can focus on the right tempo of operations, enabling them to centre their outcomes on influencing people, rather than systems. It applies richer ethnographic methods for developing closer connections with all departments in the organisation and foster harmonisation and collaboration,” says Gall. “The focus is on designing an ecosystem where variations abound, rather than an organisation, which is often monolithic.”
Among early adopters of hybrid thinking are Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and Kaiser Permanente. P&G’s CIO reorganised teams to work on a project-by-project basis rather than on a permanent basis. It transformed the IT organisation into a “flow to work” design shop focusing on the most meaningful work. This flow-to-work approach helped P&G to integrate Gillette in just 15 months. Another example includes Kaiser Permanente. It redesigned shift changes for nurses and the result was higher-quality knowledge transfer and reduced prep-time, permitting earlier and better-informed contact with patients.
“The outcome of a hybrid thinking approach is a meaningful business strategy that is both technologically feasible and economically sustainable,” says Gall. “Applying hybrid thinking to EA initiatives will help refocus on the central issue – ensuring that outcomes are human centred, and are meaningful to those who create and use them.”