A Trace in the Sand
by Ruth Malan
What's a Trace?
For those new to my Trace, be warned, this is "different"... Something like:
Well, you might not be impressed at how I positioned my Trace in terms of all the vectors of trendiness du jour, but I am. Oh, I am mean to myself, but only so that you don't need to be. ;-)
In short, it is a good sort of place for those with a sense of whimsy and fun, and a distinct appreciation for what diversity of perspective will add to their IQ [remember, Alan Kay promises 80 IQ points for perspective ;-)].
If you have no prior encounter with my work, you might prefer to read something more topically organized than this Trace, which is a longitudinal view of evolving thinking. If so, please consider one of our
Image by Sara B.
I've launched a Requisite Variety blog with an experimental format. Essentially the idea is to create an architect's learning lab of sorts, where (to use a learning-as-making-new-connections and hence a learning chemistry analogy) we create new insight compounds by tossing a starter into the learning crucible and adding various insights into the mix. I launched with a scene-setting set of stories that explore the topic of mastery, elaborating some on the system development/learning loop with an observe, orient, decide, act theme.
Of course, such things depend enormously on goodwill, and it is very encouraging to see who engaged in these first discussions. Goodwill includes positive expectations and trust. Whether you're doing a ropes course or this, you need to trust that you will learn something valuable about yourself and leadership -- and other architecting skills. So if you're wondering what the fish does a kid fixing radios have to do with architecting, then just think "ropes course" and go with flow. :-)
If you would like to encourage the blog as place to interact with other architects in a guided learning lab kind of space, please engage. I need to debrief the Feynman story in the "By Thinking" post, but I was interested to see if anyone was going to take up the challenge to jiggle more insights loose, share related observations or draw on the set of three stories to make new points looking across the three in conjunction.
Should I adapt the format? So far I have refrained from hopping in to the discussion to allow others the chance to add ideas, insights, questions, experiences, etc. But I have been debriefing the discussion not because I want to stop it there, but to add my perspective before too much time passes. Does this seem like a good approach, or do you have suggestions to adapt/tune it up/serve you better?
12/2/12: Hm. Given Peter Bakker's thoughtful feedback, I see that the notion of a debrief may be problematic...
Whether I call it a debrief or not (does "discussion" sound better?), and whether I share my observations in the comments, at the end of the post (so they are easier to find), or in a follow-up post, there may be an air of formality... I imagine there'd be some people who would wonder why I tossed a particular story or other learning object into the crucible, and want to see what I have to say... But maybe that is just a delusion. Maybe what I have to say should simply be among the comments, so as to give all contributions to the discussion a fair airing? Anyway, the question is, is it helpful for me to summarize and fill out coverage of the learning points and, if so, where should that go and how do we demark that for findability?
As collegial as my workshops are, I am still ultimately in the "driver's seat" so I can pull a discussion together, draw points out, make new points to fill in gaps left open by the discussion in areas where I really need points to be made to enhance the learning, and so forth. But if that is not a good idea in this forum, I am open to dropping that part of the role of facilitator of this online "learning lab." :-)
Let me know what you think -- my "debrief" (by whatever name, in whatever format -- or not) of the "by thinking" post is (over)due. :-) You can add your suggestions in a comment on the introduction to the blog, or send me email. I can be reached at
Peter also wondered if a framing post would be useful to set the scene for a theme. I have tried not to set expectations or hint at how I see each of the stories yielding lessons for architects. Why? I recognize that novices can feel uncertain and vulnerable to being "wrong," but in my experience, architects have a lot of experience/insight/cognitive resources to draw on. Further, the stories don't have a right or a wrong translation into lessons for architects, and I don't want to block off insights you may have by framing the stories with a theme I have in mind. That doesn't mean the theme isn't valuable. It just means that I want to allow other kinds of value and insight to emerge too. So at least this time round we are building up the themes, rather than having them presented in advance. Besides, each story has standalone merit.
If there are no other suggestions, I'm going to run the experiment of debriefing the "By Thinking" post in a follow-up post. If that still feels uncomfortable, I can experiment with putting my 2c in the comments for the next "learning object." (Which isn't a story.)
These are early days for the blog, so your support and encouragement (entering the discussions, giving feedback on format, letting others know, etc.) is all the more significant and very much appreciated!
Software Architecture Workshop
I will be teaching our Software Architecture Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 10-13.
12/26/12:What a wonderful group of architects! All working in some way in financial services. They remind me that very smart, intellectually inquisitive, fun people busy themselves doing good work on systems that are not in the spotlight, yet impact our daily lives in all sorts of important ways.
A Break from Tracing
Two months away from 7 years of this Trace. It's a hard habit to break. :-) Still...
While I'm taking a break from Tracing/reassessing the merits of doing so, you could catch up on some of the previous months of traces using the sidebar on the right. I indexed a couple of the years of traces in a Journal Map. Even though it is incomplete, you might like to look it over, if only to get a sense of the scope of topics and my organizing framework for architects architecting architecture. Both of those things (the conceptual model/organizing framework) and the topic elaborations within the framework are major contributions to the field in their own right. Note that it is a different use of the 6 interrogatives than that used in the Zachman framework -- in this case, focused on the discipline of architecture (as opposed an architecture). Caveat: Since it is a (partial) map of traces, it is not, and doesn't try to be, a comprehensive map of topics. But it is illustrative of both the topics and the scope of this Trace.
Just a quick note to thank everyone who has looked in on me through the window of this Trace -- your assessment of my willpower is ... touching. ;-) Thank you, sincerely! Your collegial cameraderie -- and for those most dear, your friendship -- means a lot to me. I wish you much joy over the Holidays.
12/31/12: It is humbling that the visitor count and, perhaps even more significantly, the average number of return visits for December was higher than for November. If I do nothing, people come back more? The Tom Sawyer Scarcity Principle?
The Power of (Self-) Rationalization
Janus comes to a head, or two, at this time of the year. Ouch, ouch! ;-) But 'tis the time for either getting all self-helpy and motivational, or wringing our hands at everyone else doing so. Now I'm in the camp that believes it is a good thing to revisit priorities on a certain rhythm. And the calendar provides a good one, what with the New Year coming so close on the heels of Holiday materialism... er, I mean, the necessary duty of keeping the wheels of commerce turning... er, I mean time with family and gratitude and joy. And Joy. And... the panic induced by another year passing... And Despair. The human condition. Sublime. And Corrupt. And the constant struggle to lead a good life, figuring out what the Dickens that means. Anyway.
Tim O'Reilly got a flurry of attention with the "I don’t really give a shit if literary novels go away" soundbite lifted from an interview he did. I don't know if that has anything to do with Why Poetry Is Necessary doing its tweet-rounds yesterday, but regardless the timing is good:
As contemplations of being go, last night's workout was set to The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which followed on the heel of My Left Foot, another Daniel Day Lewis classic, a few nights before.
Relevant to the architect? Impossible!? A stretch? Definitely!?
Well, architect. Litmus test time. What was your answer? "It depends!"? Really?
Ok. Try this:
Gregory Buck is explaining the process of abstraction in math:
Art uses one thing to enhance our understanding of another thing:
We use analogy and metaphor in software too. Michael Feathers mentioned Broken Windows in a discussion thread, reminding me of Jeff Atwood's post. We use analogies to explore and guide the process of creating software. And in the process of creating software, for very often we name abstractions with the analogies we are leveraging.
er.... need to finish this... maybe... Or not... Meh?
1/3/13: What I was working my way toward is the insight flash that we are so absorbed in the concerns of our moment, that our circle of view can become very close to our metaphorical feet (or next step). Art gets us to look around inside ourselves to know our values, and without, to test and expose our values, but also to see greater opportunity to make a meaningful difference. Art, then, we can see as a lever that hefts us to new views. Views that give us a better sense of ourselves, and more self conscious (in the best way, conscious of self) sense of our values, and where we want to get to. We imagine, empathize, quest more if we (from time to time) lift our eyes from the immediate, from the pragmatics of now, and see the larger scope of pain, and striving, and magnificence in the world. We need to also be strategic about our lives (not just our organizations), for time rushes through us so fast. Art fosters imagination and questioning questing for meaning and truth, insight, and wisdom. The artists we consider great*, tantalize us with insights we can reach in communion with their art and within our own conceptions and values -- not with the hammer of didactic postulates, prescripts and pronouncements that tend to focus us on a narrow view. The latter may be useful, but more so in a context where we can select such tools using our evolving moral compass as we do what is meaningful with our life.
Another insight flash -- the sparks lit by Tim O'Reilly's controversial statement -- is that from exploring outside the focus of our here-and-now concerns, we gain ideas and insights, knowledge, capabilities. That broader encounter changes our capacity to see and frame problems and create solutions. (Where I use "problem" and "solution" loosely.) Seeing new problems, or problems with fresh perspective or greater acuity, gives us ideas for innovation, and comes of gaining insight into our own or others frustrations, aspirations, etc., from direct and indirect encounter, from expanding our capacity for empathy, from serendipity, and more.
Moreover, there is art at the technical heart of architecting -- for example, we use visual thinking and design, analogy, intuition and experience honed in patterns and heuristics to achieve "the creation of resilient abstractions, a good separation of concerns, a balanced distribution of responsibilities, and simplicity" (Grady Booch).
* That others consider them great, lends us confidence that their art will so yield to considered encounter. Those first to, with some level of credibility, notice and draw attention to the greatness of the artist, are therefore very important to society!)
Over lunch yesterday, I was explaining my (latest) system, system-in-context, context and strategy-architecture distinctions to Dana, and finding ourselves still in the restaurant at 3pm... we took our conversation on the road. So it was that driving home Dana said something like "strategy is deciding how we want the world to be different because we are in it, and deciding how we will make that impact." I set context that way to excuse my not having a pen to write down exactly what Dana said, but what I have captured is the sense I made of it, and I like it. A lot! So for emphasis:
Anyway, I was struck this morning when I read:
Again, for emphasis: strategy is about deciding. Deciding on the difference we want to make. And how to make it. The destination, in visionary terms. And the route, in strategic terms, not in the details -- except where the details are strategically significant.
I also write at:
- Bredemeyer Resources for Architects
Architects and Architecture
- Todd Hoff (highly recommended)
- Anna Liu
- JD Meier
Architect Professional Organizations
Agile and Lean
Agile and Testing
Other Software Thought Leaders
- CapGeminini's CTOblog
CTOs and CIOs
CEOs (Web 2.0)
- Don MacAskill (SmugMug)
- Wired's monkey_bites
Social Networking/Web 2.0+ Watch
- Dan Roam
- David Sibbet (The Grove)
Strategy, BI and Competitive Intelligence
- Freakonomics blog
Um... and these
- CNN Money Business of Green videos