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What is a sustainable architecture? (part 2: vitality)

Hans Nouwens
Feb 16, 2024

In the current calendar year, Sogeti Netherlands has added a new motto: Vitality. Consequently, the updated and combined motto now reads: Sustainable impact and vitality.

Various online dictionaries provide different facets of the term Vitality, including:

  • The state of being strong and active; energy.
  • The power giving continuance of life, present in all living things.
  • The power or ability to continue in existence, live, or grow; the vitality of a movement.
  • A vital person is described as energetic, enthusiastic, inspired, spontaneous, and living with purpose and excitement.
  • Organizational vitality, in the broader context, refers to the overall health, resilience, and ability of an organization to adapt, innovate, and thrive in a dynamic and competitive environment.

While these definitions frequently emphasize personal vitality, there is undoubtedly a relevant organizational context. However, in this context, a more commonly used attribute or goal is viability. It leads to the question of whether there is a distinction between vitality and viability.

Exploring the concept of viability, which involves the ability to survive in a changing and challenging environment, extensive organizational research and literature are available. Stafford Beer[1] argued that viable social systems should be regarded as living systems. Humberto Maturana introduced the term autopoiesis (self-production) to elucidate biological living systems, but was hesitant to apply the same term to social systems. In the biological context, viability and vitality of yeast cells exhibit a clear difference: the former refers to survival, while the latter pertains to being effective and productive. Therefore, while vitality and viability appear closely related, they seem to encompass different aspects.

Potentially controversial

A controversial vitality model[2] is attributed to former General Electric chairman and CEO Jack Welch. It has been described as a “20-70-10” system. In this model, the top 20% of the workforce is considered the most productive, the “vital 70%” work adequately, and the remaining 10% (the “bottom 10”) are viewed as nonproducers and should be terminated.
Nowadays, employers do not introduce the vitality concept with the intention of implementing such a employee-unfriendly approach. Vitality is introduced to ensure the well-being of a team, fostering a culture where we take care of ourselves and each other.


Returning to enterprise architecture and considering the role of vitality, the element of human-centricity often receives insufficient attention from many architects. This perspective involves prioritizing the interests of individuals both within and outside the organization. Placing humans at the center of decision-making differs from the narrow viewpoint of anthropocentrism, which asserts that humans are the most crucial entities in the universe. Such a shallow belief, revolving solely around human importance, neglects other species and jeopardizes the long-term survival of the Earth. It’s crucial to recognize that the impact of human activities cannot be underestimated any longer; our current impact as humans is no longer sustainable.

Returning to the realm of enterprise architecture, the application of these concepts and ethical considerations in our thought processes becomes imperative for the engineering of organizations. How do we integrate human-centric decision-making into our reasoning in a way that is both balanced and sustainable? We must navigate this path without neglecting our own vitality, the well-being of others, and the organization’s ability to endure and prosper.

Human-centric or human-centered decision-making embodies a dialectical approach. This means acknowledging multiple viewpoints, recognizing diverse ways of thinking, and accepting the consequences that follow. This philosophy finds its roots in continental thinking, a stark contrast to the binary stance often summarized simplistically as ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ prevalent in British and American cultures. The continental approach, sometimes referred to overseas as ‘the third way,’ embraces uncomfortable compromises.


Interestingly, the Dutch, perhaps unbeknownst to them, inherently embody traditional dialectical thinking. Their ‘poldermodel’ considers multiple interests, emphasizing the quest for a common purpose. Rooted in history, this term draws from the necessity of compromise among people living in a polder to keep everyone’s feet dry. It is within this common purpose that I find the foundation for a human-centered approach.

It’s not merely about placing humans at the center; it’s about discovering a shared purpose and utilizing it as the foundation for collective decision-making. This involves two essential preconditions and subsequent effects. Firstly, the shared purpose must be explicitly defined, ensuring that every member of your organization is aware of it. Alignment with the values that bring this purpose to life is crucial. The impact should manifest in heightened motivation, effectiveness, and loyalty among your employees. The second precondition is transparency in decision-making. Without this transparency, motivation dwindles, and people tend to lose sight of the purpose behind their roles and the rationale for their existence.

Based on these reflections on biology, dialectical discussions and poldermodel, here’s my advice:

  • Cultivate a shared purpose, embody it collectively.
  • Foster transparency in decision-making.

If applied, these practices will give you a decent chance to inject vitality into your organization.


In the next edition I will try to formulate some architecture principles that may help you and your organization to append sustainability to your culture and decision-making.



About the author

Enterprise Architect | Netherlands
Hans Nouwens is an experienced enterprise architect with 20+ years of practical experience in the field of ICT, infused with rigorous academic learning. He works as an architect and trusted advisor, mainly for Higher Education institutes.

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