Enterprise architecture is a marvelous discipline that I practiced formally for various federal government agencies for many years, and something I still practice when managing broader IT systems and operations. But even more so, it’s something I do in my own life.

You see, enterprise architecture is, in very simple terms, about where you are today (your baseline or current state), where you want to be in the future (your target) and how you plan to get there (your transition strategy or road map).

Unless you have blinders on, in managing IT, or for that matter virtually anything, it’s critical to develop and maintain an architecture. Without a solid inventory of what you have and where you are, a vision of where you need to be and a good plan for how to get there, you may as well declare a perpetual status quo and defeat in a forever-changing environment and marketplace.

In fact, as a leader, one of your primary jobs is to bring a coherent, rousing vision and strategy to the organization and execute it to keep the organization relevant — that is enterprise architecture.

Similarly, on a personal level, one of your most important venues for learning and growth is to have a personal architecture to recognize your deficiencies and opportunities, and to chart a path of self-development.

Enterprise and personal architecture is about choice, which is why some have referred to it as “choice architecture.” First, you have the choice of whether you even want to have a plan or would rather just fly by the seat of your pants. Second, if you choose to have a plan — with goals, objectives and strategies — you have many options of what you want to do, where you want to go and how you would like to navigate your way there.

Obviously, having a plan doesn’t mean that life will just lay out the red carpet for you and cooperate. There are plenty of trials, tribulations and tests along the way; life throws us some real curve balls. So even though we may have charted a path forward, it’s important that we remain agile, try to keep our hands on the steering wheel and stand ready to course-correct many times along the way.

While many self-help books, such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, end up as best-sellers, the starting point is generally establishing, monitoring and maintaining your own personal architecture. You have to bravely recognize areas for improvement, work to fill gaps and deficiencies, seek opportunities and ward off potential threats.

Finally, in between enterprise and personal architecture, there’s social architecture — this is where how we live and interact as a community can be improved by planning and modifying behaviors of groups of individuals.

In an article on social engineering in India, Bloomberg Businessweek described how “behavior architects” were working to modify social behavior to address “empathy gaps,” where because of generations of scarcity, people may behave inconsiderately or even dangerously, such as not using toilets, not taking their medicine, or were even taking shortcuts across railroad tracks. However, by identifying these behaviors and shaping change, architects were able to modify behavior in whole neighborhoods and communities.

In short, whether you are planning constructive change for your organization, your community or yourself, architecture is needed. Start by knowing where you’re coming from, choose a clear set of goals and concrete steps you can take, and hopefully with determination and good fortune, you’ll make real progress and be glad you did.

Andy Blumenthal  |  Contributing Writer

Andy Blumenthal is a division chief at the U.S. State Department. He was previously chief technology officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A regular speaker and published author, Blumenthal blogs at User-Centric Enterprise Architecture and The Total CIO. These are his personal views and do not represent those of his agency.