Thinking aboutA Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

November 2012

  11/04/12Oh hi! ;-)

What's a Trace?

Well, sadly, a malicious hacker hijacked the Bredemeyer site, and I had to take the site down. I could take it back to a stable version, but I took the whole shenanigan as impetus to migrate the site fully over to Dreamweaver where I will have much better design control over the site. The inertia of the "legacy" system was too painful to face head-on, but now that I'm thrust into it, it's a good thing. Right now, I'm just madly migrating content, but lots of ideas (on the design and content side) that have been percolating will be implemented there. At any rate, the migration and then redesign will consume a lot of the next few weeks. I expect there will be spillover from the Bredemeyer redesign/research that will want its impromptu/informal outlet, so this Trace may stay somewhat active... One of the early implications is a new Requisite Variety blog on the Bredemeyer site, and I am going to need your help to implement what I envision there. See next post.

For those new to my Trace... this is how I introduced it in March (and, thieving from myself, again in October): To be sure we only have the most well-qualified persons reading here, my Trace is like this:

  • This is where I prototype/mock-up my thinking, so stopping by here is like... coming into my garage-shop and seeing what I'm working on in all it's stages of experimentation and incompletion...
  • This is the journal of my exploration, as I scout out interesting features of the architects architecting architecture landscape and territories beyond. I chart these features, but also try to make sense of them, reflecting on what they mean for our field.
  • This is a conversation, where I draw in other voices, add my perspective, and explore deeper based on the (asynchronous) interactions of minds.
  • This is my "platform for change," where I develop (and share) flexible variety / requisite flexibility necessary for designing and enacting complex systems
  • This is an open brain experiment. I'm giving you a preview of what it will be like when we advance beyond the social internet and internet of things to internet-of-directly-connected minds (no voices or hands needed to transport thoughts). Yep, overwhelming much... (talk about "big data")... Yep, messy. With ooey gooey human stuff mixed in with reason and rationality. ;-)
  • This is my personal maker space -- where what I am building through exploration, discovery and experimentation is myself, my point of view on architecture and being an architect.
  • This Trace weaves its audience into the narrative -- one where architects star in an unfolding story of our field. So... it must be awesome!

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 like to "ease" into it with one of our papers "short e-books" (which you can download free from Cutter Consortium). Please consider:


Requisite Variety Blog

My idea with the Requisite Variety blog is to convene um, for want of a better phrasing, "teaching moments." That is, to treat the blog as a crucible where I (at least to begin with, to get it going) toss a "teaching object" into the crucible, we discuss it for a while, then I'll debrief by drawing out points from the discussion and my vast (cough cough) experience. Wink. Anyway, I think it has "potential"/"possibilities" -- moving beyond "blog as podium" to a facilitated active (though asynchronous) co-learning session.

What do you think????

My plan is to post on Mondays, and debrief on Fridays. But you'll have to hold me to it by being active in conversations -- not necessarily every one, but show up! And as you gain confidence that the idea is worth investing in, tell others. ;-)

I'm going to start with the Tao story of The Master Butcher (a favorite of mine, you should know), so you can prep your observations and get into the discussion tomorrow. :-)

Why this format? Well, you know, I've long wanted to use that SNL Church Lady line: "Talk among yourselves." ;-)


Software and Architecture

Yesterday I played with the notion that designing knees, or understanding how knees are designed, is very different than designing the cells that will (know how to) become knees as a (weak, but play-with-able) metaphor to distinguish designing/writing a method (or some other local or focused piece of code) from designing architectural mechanisms.

This interview snippet from Noam Chomsky is very interesting. And the point he makes about scope and the focus of different disciplines or fields of specialization is similar or analogous to how we talk about design levels by scope of impact -- where architecture kicks in when we are designing a system, that is across architectural elements (whatever these are, including services, components, interfaces and interactions, mechanisms, etc.) to achieve system outcomes including system properties.

I liked this point enough to overcome my tweet-shyness:

"Its worth thinking whether you are aiming in the right direction" -- Noam Chomsky

More here, by way of Richard West.



Requisite Variety Blog

Best laid plans -- Earthlink is "working diligently" to resolve an issue whereby Comcast customers can't access Earthlink hosted sites.... Think it is time to change our hosting service? At any rate, I can't post to the Requisite Variety blog, and will retry at intervals. Thanks for your support and curiosity!

This is what I want to post:

Talking about Conceptual Architecture, several years ago, Dana Bredemeyer relayed the story of the Master Butcher. It struck me forcibly as a story that speaks to mastery, and architecting. The imagery is rather gruesome, but we can take that in our stride, hopefully.

There are several translations of the story of the Master Butcher from Chaung Tzu. Here is one version:

'Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. As every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee — zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now — now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and following things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year — because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month — because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room — more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until — flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”'

Translated by Burton Watson
(Chuang Tzu: The Basic Writings, 1964)

Another ends:

Duke Wen Hui said: "Excellent!
I listen to your words,
And learn a principle of life."
-- from Carving Up an Ox

What might we learn, as it relates to being an architect?

Back chat:

Does that give enough context, set the thing up well enough for discussion to be convened? Of course, those who follow my Trace know the trick of googling "master butcher" to get some idea of what the hill-of-beans I'm going for here. ;-) [So, hey, if you do that, aren't you just stunned that my Trace entry from yesterday already shows up as the top result on that search? I know it's site specific. I mean it's already been trawled and indexed! Impressive!]

Peter Bakker hopped in with a kind showing of enthusiasm and suggested checklists as an early topic. Other suggestions? I was thinking about focusing the first few/several on setting the scene, indicating the scope and challenges of the architect role and in the process also demonstrating how we bring our varied encounters to bear to shape our understanding of systems, and the system -- in all its contexts. Etc. But the very first tool oriented one will be checklists, promise! ;-) Peter has prompted me to investigate and rethink and reconceive much, but most notably the relationship between infrastructure and ecosystems and he is a generous and highly respected friend. So his suggestions hold a lot of weight with me. In addition, in parallel with fighting this boogeyman that is threatening the Bredemeyer site and hence our very livelihood, I am committed to scooping up and classifying Peter's checklist links -- I agree with him that checklists have an important role to play in architecting, and a "resources" page much like the Visualization Resources would be useful, I think. Of course, such things get out-of-date... alasly. I really need to do a refresh on the Visualization Resources. And Daniel Stroe has very kindly agreed to help me do something similar with resources on API design. Of course you'll know where all this is headed. Yeah. It sounds like we'll finally get the book done.... But no! We have a system to develop! ;-)



Do Good!

The Master Butcher post is up. Please lead by example, and add your thoughts in the comments.

11/7/12: Yesterday Peter Bakker commented on the Mastery post -- Yay Peter! Moderated comments are essential. Sorry that the nasties of this world cost us so much bother, time, and economic and social impact. But good people rock, and Peter's support is valued indeed. I also liked his tweet hint that when the going gets complicated, checklists are valuable. :-) (Let's not be too picky about the complicated-complex distinction -- we're in the space where escalation of complicated in contexts of uncertainty shade into complex before we even notice; besides, we're talking Tao here. Dance a little with ambiguity, paradox, and harmony!)

Interesting that Peter thinks of the Requisite Variety blog being a place to discuss my traces... I think my traces are a place for me to gather up courage to do the Requisite Variety blog. ;-) Hopefully the Requisite Variety blog will be much more about what everybody tosses in. That is my hope with the "crucible" format (though I realize it is a hack with the duct tape of WordPress. :-) Nice duct tape though. ;-)

Ok, architects, you must have something to say! The story, and Peter's wonderful questions, surely loose thunks in you? Well, get them out there, so we can all learn from the mix we throw into that blog crucible .. thing.

The first is so important, isn't it? First ever comment on a blog. A memorable moment -- when this shy woman stepped out there, Peter got my back and didn't leave me hanging with no comments to the blog!

And oh -- I see Gene responded with characteristic insight! Thanks Gene -- I've approved your message. ;-)

Seriously, comments are a burden and a blessing. How about this:

"My bro bookmarked this webpage for me and I have been reading through it for the past couple hrs. This is really going to benefit me and my friends for our class project. By the way, I enjoy the way you write."

by fashionbags?? Yeah, I'm buying that! Not. Still, at least a spammer said "I enjoy the way you write." ;-)


"Thanks – Enjoyed this blog post, can you make it so I receive an email sent to me every time you make a new update? "

by some shops thing? There should be severe penalties for behavior that is a public menace and has high cost to society. [Paying Akismet to reduce that processing load is a must, but it is like that beast of war thing... the emergent beast from the intention and necessity to protect... escalates the creation of the beast, for incentives, capabilities and unintended consequences go haywire...]

Thank you Gene and Peter. Sincerely, thank you. Collegial camaraderie is important to me -- it is what makes this field vibrant and satisfying. Not to suggest that the content of your observations aren't important, but my Trace is as much about changing the nature of our field, talking about our values and behaviors, as it is about other content. The Requisite Variety blog is where we will talk content on mastery. :-) [I'm going to try to not jump in to the comments unless I'm needed, so that I don't cut off conversation. :-) ]

But, I thought before the blog got "out there" I'd change the permalinks to use the post name rather than the default which is an ugly and useless page number. Wordpress, I love you but sigh... That crashed navigation on the blog. It wouldn't reset gracefully either. So even though all the content and the comments are back after a manual reset, we lost the photo of Peter and Gene on the comments. Sorry gentlemen! I guess we'll have to go with the yucky default page number thing. Either that, or I need to rebuild it from scratch before blogs, etc., get linked to it (as if!)... Digging around, I think I know why -- legacy issue. Now I have to decide if I go find out more than I want to know (and spend more time than I "have"), to fix the skeleton, before I use symbolic links on the blog, and do this righter. Bother. :-)

Ok, so Gene Hughson has a wonderful blog -- insightful, compellingly written, and connecting in the voice of others in a way that is both useful and generous.

11/10/12: Thank you Leo de Sousa for adding to the discussion, and Tom Graves for RTing Peter's pointer. I love that people are addressing each other in the comments. When I'm facilitating in "incubators", reviews, workshops, etc., often people address their points to me, even when they're responding to each other, and I have to, with body language, gently redirect the attention back into the crucible the group of us makes. I work with very smart people and think a lot about this stuff, so I'm not nothing. But we all own how valuable we make the experience for ourselves and each other.


Requisite Variety and the Clue Bucket

This is an awesome story, as clue buckets go:

Sounds like Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Address? Connected dots. And a bucketful of clues!

I love how Chris Potts put it, pointing to a post that points to that article: "'angel in the architecture'?" You know, Serendipity, the perhaps-name of angels.

“You’re constantly finding these interconnections,” Emigh says. “If you squint your eyes and turn your head sideways to this problem, some experience you thought was likely completely irrelevant turns out to be really applicable and useful.” -- Aaron Emigh: Rewarding Shoppers With a Silent Signal,

11/12/12: Another great quote on connections:

"Origami helped me think outside the box. Just as features that are close to each other are sometimes folded from disparate parts of a square, I needed to connect with other disciplines to solve this problem." -- Bernie Peyton

And what does this remind you of:

"I like to tell little stories in paper. First I describe in words and drawings the elements that most say what the story is about. If it is a single animal, I research what features most say “this is a polar bear or a kangaroo rat”. Often this discussion revolves around what I can leave out. I then fold a square or rectangle with the fewest folds to achieve this basic body plan. I rarely use recognizable bases. Once the basic features are present, I see how I can alter the design to add features and make the piece more permanent." -- Bernie Peyton


Art and Architecture

I see that a book with the title of The Art of Enterprise Architecture is in the works... I've been wanting to write an essay of that title (perhaps more focused on software or systems architecture), but my vision for that piece of work is much more a matter of exploring where and how it is art. And when I go there, given that "requisite variety" (or sufficient variety or requisite flexibility) of the architect is top of mind these days, I think again also of the notion of the architect as a work-in-progress. So this struck me:

"Man’s task is to make of himself a work of art." -- Henry Miller, Sunday After the War

Which of course raises the question -- what is a work of art? And my stab at that was it is a fine work of creation that is imbued with meaning. Imbued by the creator with meaning and with the possibility of meaning -- invites new meaning to be made of it, because it invites, even compels, attention. Compels because it is exemplary in its way, which is to say technique or craftsmanship are great, but that is not all. We are drawn to want to encounter it and discover its meaning. Perhaps that meaning is a bigger truth that gives us purpose, some insight that illuminates our inner lives, plugging us in to an inter-coursing of minds, more. Sure, there is an individual and a social element -- taste, and exposure. Social, in that we rely much on seers -- often, in professional terms these are "critics" or "curators" or "publishers" (and such, who act as gatekeepers lending a credance filter to the glut of work clamoring for attention), but increasinly we rely on others in our personal influence circle(s) -- to bring not just the art, but how it compels, to our attention.

How does this relate to the architect? Yes, there's the stuff of filling the clue bucket. We can focus on filling it with just the most servicable stuff. Learn another programming language. Read another book on programming idioms. Write more of the system we're building (oh that). Stuff that makes us better engineers, but also with more design tricks to draw on. But as we move out, take in more of what we're about, what the system is about, how it fits and serves and shapes its contexts, we start to move into the territory not just of creating some thing, but creating a meaningful (valuable) and meaning-full (imbued with meaning, and imbuable with meaning/prompting or compelling us to seek out its meaning) thing.

Henry Miller goes on to say:

"The creations which man makes manifest have no validity in themselves; they serve to awaken, that is all."

He is speaking of art. But the line struck me as illuminating what we do with architecture (as design expression at any rate) too. We don't just inform and facilitate reasoning about the system, but we also awaken -- aspiration, desire, understanding, ... and more that compounds in the creating to impassioning and aligning the team, and in the realized system, vesting it with more the "quality without a name" and meaning and suchnesses.

Uh, I'm getting a little self-conscious at this point... Just trying to feel a glimpse I had of an insight into a shape in words, so I can see and understand the point I'm trying to make!

Well, there's also this trace from last year:

Art and architecture both seek to expose, to surface and express, what is significant, meaningful, important. Through architecture, we seek to make the system more the way we want it to be. Humans are intentional creatures, seeking and making meaning. Often we frame this meaning in terms of value creation, and more ambitious value creation takes more concert of minds. Architecture is in good part about enabling this concert of minds so that something with aesthetic integrity and functional utility is built. Through both art and architecture we seek to clear away the obfuscation of the real world plethora of detail, to create something that is meaningful and, in the case of architecture at least, meaningfully better than it would be unguided by reflection on how to make it so.

-- moi, 6/19/11

See also:

Grok check: Follow your Bliss -- even when it doesn't seem to be "business critical" it will turn out to be, because what you are creating is a uniquely capable you, and that will have application in the creativity -- and meaning -- you bring to architecting.

Well, I say that caveatedly. We can't just ignore chores to make this marvel that is us, now can we? Oh my goodness. Work chores! And home chores. See ya!


11/9/12: This image tweeted by Michael Feathers fits well with:

"The way to create art is to burn and destroy ordinary concepts and to substitute them with new truths." Bukowski

This, also via Maria Popova:

"That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they did’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all." -- Ted Hughs, Letters of Ted Hughes

It is a colorfully written reminder that crashing allows the next incarnation of our phoenix self, and struggling with challenges keeps us growing.

And this, via Tony DaSilva:

“We can’t be creative or discover new capacities unless we are in a relationship with something outside our self—another person, an idea, a place or situation. We are not self-made individuals. We are creations of entanglement, becoming and changing through relationships." -- Margaret J. Wheatley, So Far from Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World

"We are not self-made individuals" -- I wrote this on Thanksgiving in 2010, in celebration of you, my friends:

... Socrates. Vitruvius. Da Vinci. ..., Shakespeare, ... von Neuman, Feynman, ... Rechtin, ... Heaney... I shudder to attempt even another name on the list of influences on our thinking, for it is endless... Indeed, I can't find a beginning nor a middle nor an end to it, and your name should be prominent on it! Such a network of minds that leads to the unique set of knowledge and connections that make our own internal mental maps and inner constructions, uniquely orienting us to the world! So the river of humanity, of what it is to be human, flows between and through us, not simply by. We interact with history, community, destiny, and each with us. But our friends are prominent in that parade of minds that influence and make us, for they share with us what their own bliss-following questing-growing has produced in them, and their sparkle brightness casts light for us in which we see and become more our best selves. At times like these, I remember Yeats striking words: "Think where mans glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends."

In that parade of minds I just randomly picked an icon from a variety of different fields, over time. I especially didn't go beyond von Neuman in computing or one gets into why this person and not that... But just look at the parade of minds Carl Sagan took in!

ah yes, requisite variety :-)

#scna? The Software Craftsmanship conference in Chicago today/tomorrow.


Them Tricksy Words

Richard Veryard created a storify-d collection of tweets related to whether or not enterprise architects make a business case. If I think of Chris Potts as saying that justifying the costs ultimately has to be the responsibility of the "investor" (the business decision maker fronting the resources), I'm there. But I agree with others who hopped in, that often the enterprise architect is developing, or partnering in developing, the cost-benefit framing or justification. Sometimes this is in support of a decision being assessed, and at others to advocate a change to that decision maker. Enterprise architects are functioning agents -- stakeholders -- in the enterprise too, and they have a unique opportunity to identify innovation opportunities, or to identify threats and need for investments in resilience, for example, given their unique organizational vantage point. This is, really, going after the matter of who "owns" strategy (at different, fractal, levels of scope). While the (lead) enterprise architect ideally is a trusted, valued participant in enterprise strategy exploration and decision making, the enterprise architect (lead or team) does not "own" (responsible and ultimately accountable for) business strategy formulation.


Pebble-Keepers from the Stream


We Believe!

In bikes. :-) This Nike video is good -- not just for cyclists. And it recalls to mind my Modularity and What We Can Learn from Trek blog post. :-)



Just Picture It!

Oh look, Ole Qvist-Sørensen illustrated "the art of drawing people in" and "fractal and emergent" and "getting past 'but'" with just 4 pictures down the left side of his tweet stream :-)

How I draw it:

How I draw it

Some of what it looked like this week in Eindhoven (no people; respecting privacy):

Architecture on the walls -- Software Architecture Workshop in The Netherlands this week

The software architecture diagrams may be obscured a bit there, because the post-its are clusters of responsibilities onto architectural elements (or architectural components). But you'll also see other dynamic views, as well as system context diagrams, challenges and strategies, and system propoerties and so forth.

Oh, alright, here's one of the people:

Yep, that's Dana

Yes, that's Dana Bredemeyer.

Drawing it out, draws people in. See also:


Debriefing the Story of the Master Butcher

Gathering up some pieces in preparation for the debrief (suddenly self-conscious I am), I was reminded of this:

"The word architecture derives from the Greek αρχιτεκτονική – arkhetaektoneke, which etymologically stems from αρχή – arkhe (principle) and τέχνη/τεκτονική – taekhne/taektonike (construction/creation). A common misconception is that architecture derives from the Greek αρχιτέκτων – arkhitaekton, (architect) which etymologically derives from αρχι – arkhe (master) and τέκτων – taekton (builder)."

-- Vasilis Boucharas, Marlies van Steenbergen, Slinger Jansen and Sjaak Brinkkemper, The Contribution of Enterprise Architecture to the Achievement of Organizational Goals: Establishing the Enterprise Architecture Benefits Framework, 2010

Then there is this, from a trace in July:Christopher Alexander, as quoated by Alan Shalloway

7/29/12: Alan Shalloway's "Can Patterns Be Harmful" reminds me (not that Alan says this, but it is what it recalls to mind) of the points we make using the Tao story of The Master Butcher (along the lines of, but preceding, points Grady Booch makes in his On Architecture IEEE column on (audio) the professional architect). The master doesn't have to follow the process or pattern step-by-step because "feeling the forces" and resolving them elegantly has become natural. But the Checklist Manifesto reminds us that in complex situations even masters can "forget to wash their hands" or otherwise overlook something important. Further, as the Master Butcher reminds us, not all butchers attain the same level of mastery... but patterns can be part of the "tide that lifts all boats." As Alan Shalloway points out, in good part by creating more awareness of the issues and design considerations, or forces, we need to consider or weigh and address and balance and make tradeoffs among.

Here's another reference to the story, this time from a trace in October, 2010::

We separate concerns so that we can deal with a tractable space that we can hold on paper and in mind, and manipulate, reason about, test and intercompare, synthesize, analyze*. We cope with our bounded rationality by simplifying what we have to deal with along various dimensions: we divide and conquer, carving the system into elements; we focus on a thread of concern, and let other concerns drop out of view. And as we work our way to a better understanding of the problem -- that is, a better characterization of the dream -- and as we design how we will realize that dream, we have to think across the views, resolving implications, synthesizing, analyzing, making tradeoffs. We accept that we generally have to ripple our thinking across various views -- explicitly where we need to "go more slowly" (a reference to the Master butcher Taoist story), and implicitly where our past experience has honed our judgment to the point where we can afford to rely on blink intuition and insight built on experience and careful observation and pattern/theory building.

And this from a trace in 2008, when Dana got me excited about the story, in that translation, and Dana's use, called "How to Govern":

The title to this section hints at my interpretation in the context of architects. It takes experience and artistry to find the right lines of cleavage in a system, but if we pay attention, we do, and it is satisfying to stand back and know we did right. When we find the natural abstractions that lend themselves to defining cohesive components (services, subsystem, modules), and the natural mechanisms that provide the interstitial matter that makes the system fluid, flexible, yet resilient, then, why gee, we have the bullocks that come apart without dulling the butchers knife... I don't know... maybe we should just let this one rest in the kitchen, as a lesson on how to cut up chicken and ducks (since we prefer not to eat mammals)?

I headed that trace Coupling and Decomposition, and we were talking about Conceptual Architecture at the time. I often say (forgive the repetition) "what we are paying attention to, shapes what we perceive and pay attention to." So when I was focused on Conceptual Architecture it was all about finding the natural structure of the system. Dominant designs emerge, to some extent out of the capabilities at hand and the fashion/taste and tools and more of the day. But also because they are a good fit for the capabilities of the system, and of the system to its context. As new capabilities are made possible and become desirable, the architecture may have to change to create a better fit to context and purpose, and internal fit among elements. But there is mastery in finding the natural structure that provides design integrity (encompassing structural integrity but also design fit to purpose and contexts of use, evolution, delivery, etc.).

I got 4 hours of sleep last night. I'm not feeling up to a formal debrief so I'm going to slip my self-imposed deadline until... later today (it being past midnight yet again. I'm incorrigible! I need a remote controlled off button! Remote? So I don't have to make that decision; clearly I'm not very into that "take care of ruth thing" at least in so far as sleep goes. I'm too busy taking care of pouring content into my mind and flowing thoughts back out through my ever so thought-leaky fingers!)


Getting Past "But" -- Again

Ok, so if you like this:

"design thinking; at the intersection of people, tech and business" - Tom Kelley (via Maria Ogneva)

then you might like to read this:

Right, back in 2010 I traced:

I can see why no-one was intrepid enough to get any residue of Getting Past ‘But’ on them by recommending it... I mean, imagine using a children's story to make points about innovation, architecture and agility? Even if, when one actually reads it, the story is to innovation what Gulliver's Travels was to social change. Hmmm... Do you think it is worth asking why no-one has said "it is a delight to read, and important as we reconcile agile and architecture"?

Reconcile agile and architecture? That sounds very today. Of course the paper was written in 2008... There's a bunch I'd change in it if I was to revise it now, but it is still worthwhile, no?

Oh, you have read it? Why didn't you say so?!



Er... Sorry?

Slipped the deadline again... sorry about that, but my hubby got home from a week in The Netherlands... We did chat about the debrief over coffee this morning, and together with what various folk have tossed into the mix, my biggest reaction is this debrief could be a book! :-) So I'll have to restrict myself to covering some points and outlining some themes that we'll take up as the Requisite Variety blog unfolds. :-)

11/12/12: The comments are great -- all of them. Thank you so much Peter, Gene and Leo! Every time I thought about the debrief it produced such a crescendo of "and and and" ideas that in the end I just backed off to what appears in the post. Perhaps I should try to address Peter's question more full on, but it seems premature. Does it suffice to say that there is a mastery in systems thinking-designing (and much much more that is involved in architecting in social contexts to create socio-technical systems) that translates even as the details of this technology or that differ? I think that is what Gene was going after, when he said "work with the material." I think I captured that by implication in the debrief, but let me know if you need more at this time. :-)

Well, hopefully you will come back to the story from time to time, and other people will read it and think about what it reveals to them (about life and about mastery and architecting). I think this point is important:

"And when you read a story, see yourself reflected in the story and make your own interpretations rather than relying on others to tell you the meaning of the story. In this way, you will learn for yourself and the usefulness of the story's teaching will be deeper." -- wikipedia

but it is also useful to hear various interpretations, for that gives us ideas and insights but also helps develop a flexibility in ourselves so we look for multiple meanings and from multiple perspectives.

As for paying attention, this is interesting:


Helpmatch Twitter-Style

HelpMatch Twitter-Syyle

Yep. Would-ya believe, we still need HelpMatch! But in the meantime, Superman is on the job. ;-) I so love that we live in a Cory Booker world. And I'm excited to see what happens in these next four years. This presidency is historic, and we all need to pitch in to make this confluence of rivers of history be epically awesome! For ourselves and our children, but also for all who suffered that we might reach this point of possibility in history. Think about it! This is Lincoln's heir apparent -- a man born of Africa and America and a world in a leadership crisis! This is the second time in weeks that I've mistyped America as Amercia. A country without mercy? No! No, I say! This is a country that is battling with how to be disciplined and yet compassionate, and people will fall with weight more on one or other side of that. And as it becomes about one or the other, it can become fractious. But really the intent is find the right weighting and it is non-trivial. It is, after all, much what we deal with all over -- forces that can be tough to identify, let alone balance. Behave too opportunistically and we suffer the loading of debt; behave too cautiously and we suffer the loading of lost opportunity and shrinking resources. But leaders need to be led, and leaders need to be followed. And we need to lead in creating an era of investment in innovation to create the world we want this to be! One where we work with, not against nature -- in the natural ecosystems and our human-social systems and created world. The other morning when I dropped Sara off, there was a dense mist and it was so beautiful my heart burst with joy. And afterwards when I considered what hung with those mists in my mind I saw what I didn't see -- mankind's clutter! The mist created that classic negative space, the soft white etched as skeletal trees emerged and receded, and a pale yellowed orb of sun hung sometimes among them. All of the built world was elided not in a harsh way, but soft. Still there, but with the possibility of bringing what is important to the fore, and building more what we want the world to be. Finding ways to be in harmony with nature, working with its nourishing and restorative powers, not against them!


Dead Fish

What I want to do next in the Requisite Variety blog is a story I like to pair with that of the Master Butcher. When I've told the story in workshops, I really do the "this is getting old" thing, with lots of dead space in the telling, sitting down and letting quiet time lapse, and telling the next bits really slowly, so people feel some of the pain of Agassiz' students. Which of course is me being really wicked but hey, ... ;-) (In workshops I collapse the stories into one I tell in my own words, but I just love the charming telling in "How Agassiz Taught Professor Scudder" in Louis Agassiz as a Teacher by Lane Cooper so I have quoted that in the blog post. (And hehe, it is long. Wink.)

I'm looking forward to seeing what you make of it. ;-)

Just so that you are forewarned, in a workshop a month or so ago, one of the architects said at the end of the story, and again at the end of the workshop, that he didn't get why I told the fish story. So if you get it, you have to persuade those who don't. ;-) And I should hasten to add, it is when people say that they don't understand that we have an opportunity to clarify for them -- and very often for ourselves -- something; often something meaningful because it helps us resolve what is important to us, that we glimpsed and need to catch hold of and articulate.

As we go through the Requisite Variety series, there will no doubt be stories and techniques and points that you will just need to kind of "hang with." Perhaps I am an idiot, but generally I'm an idiot in ways that at least get conversations going that move us in a good direction. I traced this observation last month:

Last week I told the architects about Google's innovation principle; you know, throw lots of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. And declared that I throw lots of stories at the wall of their selves, to see what sticks. (You remember, we do that inspire with story, set up a learn-by-doing session with just enough lecture, enact with exercises, debrief, and reflect style of workshop. So, stories launch modules, and often also come up in the reflection at the end.) Anyway, in this Trace I throw lots of perhaps-insights at the wall of myself and you, and we see what sticks. Feeling pretty mucky round about now? Oops. ;-)

So, what stories do you like to use to explore mastery?

It will be interesting to see who this format for mutual collegial learning appeals to. We will start to cycle through other "learning objects" not just stories. But please do go ahead and add more story and illustration clues to my cluebucket (aka email me or comment on the first post introducing the Requisite Variety blog). I am trying to organize posts into clusters of related topics, so if I don't get to your suggestions right off, please bear with me. I would at least like to create some coherence within "modules" of exploration. We'll navigate around, we'll cycle/iterate, but I have to have a roadmap broadly in mind, so that we make a bigger thing happen than just some cozy fireside chats. Ok?

Thank you to Peter Bakker, Gene Hughson and Leo da Sousa for commenting and tweeting, and Emeric Nectoux for tweeting, the Mastery post, and to Tom Graves for RTing.

I think this "mutual learning crucible" thing can be fun -- I certainly learned from and valued the interaction on the Mastery post (and fully expect more comments on that, as time goes by, because it is an interesting story with many interpretations in different contexts and foci). But it really depends on the community to invest in creating this as a useful shared good. It occurred to me tonight that it might end up making an awesome book, so keep that in mind too.

This is a wonderful start. Let's make it a worthwhile thing! One of those things that grows the ecosystem, where the common good expands to serve more and more, rather than simply being extracted from.

As I write that, I realize that perhaps I shouldn't have used the Bredemeyer site to host the blog... But I think there is value to the community to have me "architect" and facilitate the learning space since it is what I have been doing since something like 1995 (it is hard to say where Team Fusion left off and architecture began, since I was the architecture lead in the Team Fusion team). Besides, someone is going to have to pay that Akismet fee. Good gravy but spam is a curse and a scourge on this planet! Bless all those who need to get their kicks or make a living that way, because they sure need something to shield them from the radiant irritation they vector their way! ;-)

Anyway, thanks for your enthusiasm; it really encourages me and is much appreciated.

Flexibility takes practiced stretching -- work on it!


Requisite Variety, Sufficient Variety and Requisite Flexibility

Ok. First. A big thank you to Gene Hughson for being the first -- and so far only -- to (intrepidly, I gather) venture a comment on the How to See Requisite Variety post. I admire the scope of wisdom Gene manages to condense into just a few sentences! Gene's comment alone opens up whole realms of discussion possibility, and in the context of the story is wonderful.

I do hope people aren't doing that tldr thing. In fact, I'm going to declare that story a litmus test for architects, and those that tldr it should hang a "kick me" sign up in the back of their minds, and challenge their inner critics to get to work on themselves!

Dana Bredemeyer says that "there is a silver bullet and it is goodwill -- goodwill, and a commitment to objectivity." Of course we know we are fickle, fallible creatures, prone to perceptual, cognitive and decision biases, so part of that commitment involves finding ourselves in traps and building scaffolding (checklists go here) to get out of them. ;-)

So express a little of that goodwill towards this ruthian creature and read the anecdote -- with high expectations, engaged cognitive gears, and a willingness to find things out. Submit to the charm of a story told by a professor who attributes his career success to the drawn-out lesson he learned from Agassiz, feel the slow pace of your minutes as a simulation of the slow pace of his hours. And learn his lesson, by placing yourself in that situation in your imagination and in your reading. If at first nothing comes to you, pat yourself on the back for the simulation is working! If at first one idea comes to you, do likewise. Hang with your dead fish. Tell us what you see. And hang with it some more.

How under the name of this heading, is this relevant? A little flexibility goes a long way? We're getting there.

I mentioned I have some discomfort with requisite variety applied to people, because we are responsive, adaptive, imaginative-creative, dynamic agents able to shift (caveats apply in dollops here) at least more as context shifts than compute-rich machines. If we scale the concept up with this in mind, it works just fine. But I also like sufficient variety or requisite flexibility, because we need to have enough diversity in our "clue bucket" minds and experience set (recognizing that it is not just a matter of what we have in mind, but also in the whole mind-body and mind-heart and spirit complex we are) to be able to respond effectively. Respond -- which also means anticipate, and perceive, and prioritize, and and and...

11/15/12: Well, the "archman doing stretches (with the ballet dancer) to help develop requisite flexibility" sketch is from October a year ago [that was a great month of tracing, you should read it! ;-)]. How things cycle. :-) The other day, Dana was sharing another model he's thinking about in the same space of concerns (considerable credit in what follows should be given to him; the goofy stuff not so much, except in so much as he makes it safe for me to play, so he encourages my imp). He was recounting an Ackoff observation that in a lab you keep complexity out. And when we're working on a local piece of code that must do one thing (SRP), we're likewise keeping complexity out. Which should have you going "Yessss! That Noam Chomsky point". If you think the way I do, that is. But if you do, why are you reading here? I consider myself a flexibility regime for people who can benefit from my different way of thinking about a shared field of interest. ;-) Ah, yes, I'm complexifying with my spurious observations, am I not? You're busy and she does go on... Expects you to think of her as a real person... You know, like your manager would like you to think of him, and his manager would like you to think of her? Or your supplier or customer? Requisite flexibility shows up in lots of ways. We can get impatient and want to get back to our lab, and count scales and name fins. Focus. In a narrow, simplified frame.

But I do have a more "to the point" point, really I do. I just make you pay the price of entry. ;-) When we're dealing with a local, conscribed problem, we can focus on doing that one thing -- well, even. Make trade-offs between the most brain-tinglingly compressed clever piece of logic anyone ever saw and a readable, understandable without extra help, more readily refactorable and testable and yadda-able chunklet of code. We still have alternatives to consider, smarts and experience to pour into the mix, but it is clear what to do (that is, clear what commitments this chunk makes to its context). It has a clearly bounded context -- or our simplifying assumptions make it so. And within that context it is pretty homogeneous.

As we zoom out in that "powers of ten" kind of way, taking in more and more of the system, and the interaction of the system with its context, and more broadly still to take in the ecosystem, more (unfolding) interactions under conditions of uncertainty (yielding more complexity) come into the mix. Design requires ever more judgment calls to be made, because the space is more ambiguous, heterogeneous, uncertain, shifting. We're working in a fog, to create spaces of clarity within which people can work with real ground under their feet. Spaces where they can say YAGNI with confidence because we did some of that "scouting some ways ahead of where the train tracks are being laid right in front of the train" thing. And dealt with other analogies (translate what we know in one place to learn/design in another) and metaphors (infuse with meaning, to communicate more richly) that those who want to deal with just one thing can get antsy about. ;-)

Now zoom out in another related direction, taking in the organizational complexity the designer works within. Local piece of code and clear/given requirements? A whole different ballgame in terms of homogeneity of interpersonal interactions than leading across organizational units and getting things done without formal organizational power over resources and communication channels, only informal influence through networks of circles of influence and credibility lent by authority in an expertise/contribution to strategic nature of work sense rather than the management power tree.

How does this relate to the dead fish?

Hang out with it. ;-)

I like the way Charlie riffed off the cover image for the Requisite Variety blog in his discussion. Charlie, I think of challenges falling in the "strategy row" that cuts across the three columns. We can talk about that. But all of the above, and the context, system-in-context, system, chunk of system, etc. zoom levels should provide a clue to one of the ways I think about the fishy lessons and scopes or domains of mastery.

And so nice to see Tom Graves in the crucible! Oh, yeah. Bring in a label like mastery, and everyone with any humility left or gained, gets really squirmy. At least, I do, and I'm like ever so representative!! ;-)

Aside: being connected to that ruffian mind is... messy... but dudes, that's the world we're headed into... and there'll be some McDonald's minds and some French Laundry minds and... the local Italian bistro minds... and some minds that just don't do metaphors...

Now, why was I the first to retweet this I wonder? And only 7 retweets so far? As genius tweets go, this is way up there.

Later: Michael Feathers tweeted a link to:

in which Brian Harvey writes:

"SICP is about standing back from the details to learn big-picture ways to think about the programming process. It focused attention on the central idea of abstraction -- finding general patterns from specific problems and building software tools that embody each pattern."

A bit later he adds:

'I tell my students, "the language in which you'll spend most of your working life hasn't been invented yet, so we can't teach it to you. Instead we have to give you the skills you need to learn new languages as they appear."'

That reminds me of the snippet below from The Art of Richard P. Feynman: Images by a Curious Character (p. 21, 1995):

Feynman on teaching art.

Actually, Feynman does a good job of teaching through stories how to go about solving problems! He recognized that one way to help people learn, is to create a crucible for outcomes, and that approach is especially fitting in an area that is not formulaic. And when it comes to architecture, we are working across differences not just in programming language and domain, but scope of impact (from the architecture of a system, to systems of socio-technical systems ... to enterprises and even to ecosystems). So on our journey we will work a lot on the skills and stance of the architect. And we will try, and you will need to help me, to reach for what Brian Harvey achieved. Something classic and durable.

As things classic and durable go, there is a lot of wisdom on the c2 wiki, like this, which is very salient to our fishy discussion:

"Some of the best modelers I have met have an extreme tolerance for ambiguity coupled with the ability to rapidly unlearn as new information becomes available. The tolerance for ambiguity is key. Many people can't hear a problem without forming a solution in mind, and they marry that first solution. It is better to have the skill to be able to hold many different partial representations of the same problem in mind, be able to rapidly compare and contrast them, and rollback when necessary"

-- MichaelFeathers, Whole Sort Of General Mish Mash,

I do hope that Ward Cunningham has thought about the future of the "father of all wikis" at c2 and that it will be transferred into some kind of trust or to the Computer History Museum to keep up, or something.


Process as scaffoldingScaffolding

I refer to scaffolding from time to time, and it might be worth collecting some of those traces together (so that I have a re-use for my image; wink):

Going through posts where scaffolding occurs, I came upon this (12/10), which well fits this moment:

I said "inspire action" and it occurs to me to explain. I think that a perfectly valid form of action is to work on oneself -- to craft oneself as actively and intentionally as we craft a piece of code. To do the work of improving one's own capacity for living and working effectively. And that includes reading and thinking actively, engaging with what the world and its great teachers teach us. Reflection and action. Work in the world and within oneself. It only goes wrong when we get unbalanced. I, for example, do too much reflection. But I earnestly, diligently seek to distill the essence of meaning to create helpful conceptual models and actionable insight. I build the (process) scaffolding. You use it to build the system. And so forth. There's more I do around building skills. etc. But that's headed off point.



Conceptual Architecture

Interestingly, my Conceptual Architecture page is pretty close to this JournalCurrent page in terms of number of views this month. Referenced in a homework assignment? Given that more eyes are falling on it, I would value ideas or suggestions or questions.


Negative About Being Positive About Being Negative!

What clueless folk think being positive is easy and always on? Garr! I'm winking and smiling here. I mean really, sometimes these pop psyche things can treat us like imbeciles though. I know. The positive thinking camp overdoes the rah rah cheerleader thing, leaving room for the negative thinking folk to make hay. In the middle, though, we carry on. Different moments call for different stances. Flexibility anyone? Oh. Right. I'm not ranting. Nooooo. ;-) Being positive is work. It is seeing what is real, projecting to assess risks and challenges, and acting audaciously and with positive expectations nonetheless. Enthusiasm is not being cluelessly optimistic. But big things aren't done without some measure of audacity. You don't leap chasms thinking you won't make it across. And you don't take on chasms you can't leap.



Debriefing the Fishy Story

I'm working my way towards the promised debrief. This, from the notes I took when I first encountered the Agasizz stories:

Um, actually, I have no idea why I quoted those stories. I suppose it just seemed smart. No, no, that's not it! ;-) Goodness the things you are willing to believe about me! Ok, the first story: by seriously hanging out with, and intimately observing, we discover structure. This takes a kind of patience we only develop through the reward of practicing it. As we get better practiced, though, the rewards of keen observation come faster until it seems no patience is required after all!


The third ("That is right,' said he; 'a pencil is one of the best of eyes."): another illustration of the power of pictures. ...

Returning to the first paragraph I quoted, let me highlight this:

"the object in either case is to discover the relation between form or structure and function or essential effect"

As we get better at observation, we start to see the relationships, and the distinctions, getting better at classifying and resolving structure by understanding key relationships among structures, and among structure and effect or function. Of course, as designers we are looking at a system that is itself being designed, as we look for the parts and relationships whose form and function creates a natural fit between the system and its purpose and context.

-- Architects and Observation, 1/5/2010

If you were intrigued enough by the story to go read the original (hopefully you were) in full, you will surely have noted this key point:

"Facts are stupid things," he would say, "until brought into connection with some general law." -- "In the Laboratory With Agassiz," by Samuel H. Scudder

We are so action-oriented. We want to "solve problems" and we jump so quickly in. With the best intentions in the world, of course. F. David Peat, author of Gentle Action, advocates "creative suspension":

"Gentle Action(c), therefore, suggests that the first step towards transformation lies in an act of "creative suspension" and "alert watchfulness". This is an action that has the effect of relevating and making manifest the internal dynamics, rigidities, fixed positions, unexamined paradigms, interconnections and lines and levels of communication within the organization and the individual.

The nature of this creative suspension is related to other approaches and techniques whereby unexamined assumptions and rigidities are brought into conscious awareness. For example, Sigmund Freud's notion of "non-judgmental listening" is discussed, as are various meditative practices. Illustrations are also taken from the life and work of artists, composers, scientists and other creative people who describe how their work unfolds from a form of "listening". It is shown that these acts of listening and watchfulness have the effect of dissolving rigidities and rendering a system more flexible.

Gentle Action(c) explores images of new organizations and institutions that would be able to sustain this watchfulness. In place of relatively mechanical, hierarchical and rule-bound organizations there would exist something more organic in nature. To illustrate this point the book draws upon ideas and concepts in systems theory, Prigogine's dissipative structures, cooperative and coherent structures in biology, neural networks, quantum interconnectedness and non-locality. It is suggested that organizations will be able to reach a condition in which they are as sensitive, subtle and as intelligent as the systems and situations that surround them."

-- F. David Peat, Gentle Action(c)(c): Surviving Chaos and Change

Agasizz asks us to hang with that smelly fish until we see more than the number of fins or think in despair to count the scales more as a matter of just doing something, anything, than observing. ObserveBut as we hang out with the fish, and get beyond noticing a this, and a that, we begin to see connections among structures and muse about them, ask ourselves why, what purpose they serve and how so. And we begin to see the fish, not just a fin and a fin and tail and...

As architects, we need to observe our systems, their structure and the relationship of structure to function, of mechanisms to qualities, and the relationship to their various contexts (or use and operation, development and evolution, sales, etc.). Observe, study, visualize. But never neglecting to observe. On first encounter, take the time to observe. As we become more familiar with the system (as it interacts with its contexts, too), we need to push our understanding further than our eyes and a pencil-as-eye can take us, and instrument the system to visualize it, but even then we're doing this to understand the relationship between structure and function and qualities, to do what design is all about -- get more what we want.

As you can see, when I first encountered this story, I learned something from it about observing and noticing. Seeing relationships and connections, starting to make conjectures about the form and structure, structure and function. As I returned to the story, and discussed it with architects in workshops, I learned more, and relearned but with new nuances. If we treat the story as our "fish" and ask what we learn, "the pencil is the best eye" jumps out -- when we draw what we see, we notice better what we see.

When the question was put to Agassiz, 'What do you regard as your greatest work?' he replied: 'I have taught men to observe.' -- Louis Agassiz: Illustrative Extracts on His Method Of Instruction by Lane Cooper, 1917

This is echoed in a comment on John Ruskin (1819 -1900):

"His mission was not to teach people how to draw, but how to see." Niamh Sharky, Everyone Can Draw

But let's ask ourselves why Agassiz (1807 – 1873) insisted on no tools -- nothing to magnify, and nothing to cut into. Nothing to remedy our urge to do something, to busy ourselves with inventorying and classifying (Michael's comment). But instead to notice, and to notice more. To notice patterns, symmetry, relationships, connections. And as we do that, to get caught up in this incredible creature, the fish, and become curious about it. And to seek to understand why it is like it is, what purpose does just this set of relationships serve, and what else might the fish teach us.

Responding to the story with enthusiasm, an architecture program manager recently told me that when he was learning to sail as a kid, his instructor had told him to be aware of everything -- the wind, the water, the movement of the clouds -- and he just wanted to learn how to sail, but now, teaching his sons to sail, he's teaching the same lessons about observing, not just acting.

To observe. To see. To notice.

To still our urge act-act-act. To be patient. To enter a state of creative suspension.

To become curious. To ask questions.

To reflect.

To perceive. To understand.

And as Gene and Tom indicate, to be wary and willing...

To return to observing, noticing, questioning, ...

because thinking we're done already, is a sign we're missing something. Of course, the "extraordinary moment" principle we introduced in the Master Butcher debrief applies. We have to use judgment, but as we're developing our understanding of systems in general, and the system we're evolving in particular, we need to take the time, and still ourselves enough to observe, or listen, as the case may be. And we will need to act. But in this rush to action, YAGNI-flavored world, we need to remind ourselves the system, and the greater system that is its context, has much to teach us, and we need to perceive it, better understand it. Then what we do, will be more as the Master Butcher, for we will perceive with a greater sense the wholeness, the interrelatedness and the natural structure and flow.

This is a footnote to a trace where I referenced Agasizz:

* A note on Agassiz: Louis Agassiz has had a profound influence on how we study -- in various fields, from his own (paleontology, geology, natural history) to literature and systems. He is also infamous for his theories that became known as scientific racism, and his views and teaching in this area justifiably tarnished his legacy. This serves to highlight the fallibility of man's reasoning, not to undermine the importance of close observation and comparison! This human fallibility could undermine lessons we derive from others who made historic contributions too -- for example, James Madison, in the years after the Constitution, became a fellow we would not want to look to and emulate. But it would be a human shortfall of a different sort, to discount lessons we could learn from people who, despite their limited humanity, advanced some important dimension of the state of mankind.

"the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature." — John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1962

Empathy and compassion are virtues that are much overlooked. It is too easy to see other's fallibilities, and perhaps doing so serves to distract us from our own. Can you imagine, there was critical backlash when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize? And that man made that speech! We humans are fragile, fickle creatures, but oh are we capable of greatness, capable of creating the extraordinary, capable of being extraordinary in challenging moments!

That negative reaction veritably extinguished Steinbeck's creative spark. When you speak the truth you see, remember that you see through your eyes, from your vantage point, with context you only partially see.


World in Need

One view of the weekend's drama over the BritRuby conference cancellation conflagration:

Internet time sure is blindingly fast! A whole lot of good intent can go up in flames pretty quickly when people misunderstand one another and lose track of all the goodwill there really is in this field!

We're all fallible. It would help if we didn't rush to judgment.


Etsy Security Style



Software Architecture Workshop

I will be teaching our Software Architecture Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 10-13. And will spend some time in SA on both sides of that. So I fully expect I'll be in great demand. Well, at least my family will be happy to see more of me. :-)

So wow, hey you know what -- South Africa has exported some pretty amazing people -- Elon Musk (Space-X) and Mark Shuttleworth (Ubuntu) among them. And Ruth Malan (Visual Architecting ;-)...

Btw, Mark Shuttleworth has his sights set on being to open source what Steve Jobs was to walled gardens. That is a man to watch!


Pioneering Industry Leader

If you have contacts in software development/architecture in South Africa, please do pass on word -- there are still some places open in the workshop and it'd be nice to get them filled! Oh, I mean, and the people you advocate the workshop to will be really grateful to you, because it is awesome and I'm like totally amazing and they simply just need to work with me! (Ha! And you thought I couldn't self promote. Of course, I'm dying here, from saying that but hey. ;-) On a more serious note, if you look at what I have contributed to this field, you will see that constantly, for a decade and a half, we have led the industry. Right? We created an architecture workshop and consulting practice within HP in the 90's, well ahead of the industry. Moreover, we pioneered an architecting method and decision model while the industry was still talking "conceptual frameworks"; we led with an architect competency model (formally published in 2004, but informally on our website in 1999, with elaborations in 2002) and got on with the matter of building competencies and developing that "requisite variety." We created a business capabilities centered approach to Enterprise Architecture as early as 2002, informally published on our site in 2003, and formally published in 2005.

And if you think we stopped innovating there, I'm going to crown you king of skeptics. Now you might wag your tail at that, because skepticism and negativity are the new black. (wink) And we have a place for that -- always have. ;-) We just, like Disney, like to cycle, so that we have a place for creating, not just for tearing down and making better/more resilient/etc. As for innovating, consider The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent -- if just the title doesn't get you all tingly with excitement... sigh. Fractal and emergent? The two biggest words for this new millenium! Art? of Change? Come on. Where is your sense of wonder and joy? Dust it off, will you! And read the stupid (I mean wonderful) paper/short ebook. It is superbly written, industry-leading stuff.

Why do I say that? Because no-one else will. It takes a certain amount of both confidence and generosity to declare a piece of work great (and even ground-breaking), so few people go there. Several top-flight influencers in this industry have told me that that paper is great, but they don't put their kind words "out there" where they'd serve the community and me. Oh, I know it's not perfect. I'd write it differently now. But it does break ground by making important new connections. The next iteration of my thinking pushes the frontiers out still further. One day someone will be interested! That'll be a good day! :-) Fractal and Emergent Oh, I know, the people who kindly follow along here get glimpses and clues of where my thinking is going, but that's only "teaser" level stuff. Just ask the folk who reviewed Fractal and Emergent how much of it was a surprise, even to those who read here regularly! :-)

Well, anyway, you can buy "The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent" for $150 from the Cutter Consortium bookstore, or you can download it free usng this link: The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent. It is from 2010, but most of the time we lead several years ahead of other leaders. I mean, think about my blog post on Conway's Law first getting attention in 2012, when it was written FOUR years ago -- based on stuff I've been saying in workshops and in this Trace for much, much longer. And why did it get attention? Because one of the field's luminaries put that magical "great" word in front of it.

The agile wave set the field back with its erosive stance against modeling and architecture decision making. Architecture is back on the table because you just get into a mess without it. But many in the agile intelligensia are still hostile to the notion of architects, painting architects with noxious stereotypes. Well, I don't want to climb into any boxing rings, so I just quietly continue to point out that architects are only more relevant today (as system complexity rises and systems, and system-of-system, resilience is ever more a challenge to achieve as we advance the capability horizon of our systems, of systems). I do believe that we are moving into a flatter, more egalitarian world, with more educated smart people. And when we have highly capable, ambitious (in the best ways) people all deserving of having influence and getting credit, we get into a situation where control of information and decision authority can become a power struggle, and many want to defuse that with a consensus decision process. The trap there is that informed decisions are real work, require expertise, and take time -- more time, the more people involved! So you can't have teams of 10 and 20 and 30 and 50 and 100 all making all the decisions... Meetings anyone? No! So we quickly see that the notion of everyone being the architect is just silly as system (and hence organizational) complexity grows. And don't tell me we should just make the system simpler. Think cars, trucks, planes and trains. Think insurance and banking. Yeah. Context factors. A key insight, if you're an architect -- where a litmus test is comfort with that "it depends" phrase that can make many people squirmy. So. We have to have a more fluid notion of leadership and contribution, following well in some pools of leadership/influence/contribution, and leading well in other areas. We need to develop respect, be ok with excellence in others and seek to develop it in ourselves. And not expect everyone to be excellent at and expert in all the same things! Architects work at the system level, with larger grained entities like architectural elements and their interrelationships, designing significant mechanisms, influencing and shaping technical direction. And more. For another time.



Up Next?

The next thing I was thinking of, for the Requisite Variety blog, that is, and staying with the theme of perception for now, is something from Einstein and/or Feynman...

But I'm interested, what would you suggest, in this perception theme?

Yes, we'll get to checklists -- for example, using the list of cognitive, perceptual and decision biases on wikipedia as a "checklist" of sorts as we consider the ways our perception is leading us astray, and how such biases may be impacting others who shape, influence, obstruct, enhance the likelihood of success of our system. ;-)


Designing Standards

Reading Michael Feathers response to a question about coding standards on reddit:

"What is a designing standard? Think about things like:

  • This part of the code should never access that part of the code
  • This part of the code is all about performance (the rest should be about maintainability)
  • We are not changing this part of the code because we are incrementally replacing it with that part of code.
  • All our metaprogramming hacks for X are over here, never over there
  • No I/O in this part of the code."

-- Michael Feathers, 11/21/2012

I was struck by the word designing. I think of these as architecture decisions, but the shift in wording puts an emphasis on the ongoing act of designing during coding.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Had a lovely day. And all the other yummy stuff made by Dana including persimmon pudding. Me? Clean up duty. :-) Dinner table conversation turned to telling Feynman stories. Hours later, ... :-) Imagine, though -- Richard Feynman was at once so amazing and so impish he still holds 3 generations spellbound with his stories! :-)


By Thinking!!

Well, I thought of using the story of Einstein's famous thought experiment as the next Requisite Variety post, and probably will do that at some point. But I kept coming back to the Feynman story that I like to trio with the Master Butcher and Agasizz fish. It leads well to the next "learning object" I want to toss into the crucible, and the four "objects" then set us up for some good further exploration.

So, yeah. Please add to the discussion -- and a big thank you to Gene for retweeting my heads-up, and for initiating discussion on the "By Thinking" topic. Gene is such an artist -- conveying insight with skiful brevity! Of course, I'm not being defensive about my long quote. Oh nooo. ;-) I know, I could have trimmed it down to just the "by thinking" gist, but there's something about the context that Feynman sets, and the way he shapes the story that is important too. :-)

I hope you'll join us in the crucible. Your support through joining the discussion, and retweets and such, is highly valued! Thank you!!!

11/27/12: Why do I call it a crucible? Well, think about it. I toss in a learning object, you add your experience, knowledge, perspective, and a new alloy or composite-understanding is produced. Someone else comes along, and adds to the mix, and creates a new alloy. Compounding each other's insights and learning opportunity.

I suppose I could just call it a "(get a) clue bucket", and exhort people to toss in and take clues from the bucket, huh? ;-)

Whatever we call it, it could be great ecosystem growing stuff -- if people get into it.

I totally get being too shy to enter the (potential) fray. Well, I do contribute a lot to discussions in the general blogosphere, but usually I do so where I am comfortable speaking out, such as in this Trace or in DMs or email on the side. I figure that is still goodness, because I generously use my "soapbox" to get word out about other people's work, and give their work extra credence by addressing it sincerely and curiously from this special vantage point where only the brightest and most courageous insight-questors hang out. ;-) Anyway, so I understand that some might have reservations about entering the discussion. Nonetheless, it sure would be great if you'd join us!! :-)

I think the blog is a great idea. It deserves to be supported.

It will be interesting to see if it gains any momentum. Gene Hughson and Peter Bakker are incredibly generous both with input to the discussion and getting the word out on Twitter. It was awesome that Tom Graves and Michael Feathers and Charlie Alfred stopped by and leant their voice and wisdom to the last post.

Who else?

Ok, while I'm on the subject, what do you think of the form/format I'm using -- you know, the "learning object", discussion, debrief, thing? And the specific instances of learning objects used so far?

Should this fall limp and flat, like a dead fish? Or should it take off? I want to make it a useful -- a growing grounds for architects. And lovely, because can and should! Have you seen Life of Pi? What humanity is capable of -- in the best and worst ways. So help me make wonderful, please!

Kayaking last Summer, I watched a beautiful yellow butterfly struggle against the wind, out in the middle of Lake Monroe. Why would such a pretty creature set out on such a trying journey? Because it didn't know better, because it got blown or because it just must, is encoded to, somehow? Life can seem like just flapping in the middle of nowhere, endless water everywhere, and hard to stay in one place, let alone get somewhere worthwhile. So how do we make life beautiful? By doing meaningful things for our communities (local communities but also our affinity groups). Learning how to be a more effective architect seems like a meaningful, high leverage thing to do, don't you think? Helping others alongside, still more so.

So let's make this useful, meaningful and beautiful.

Where does Feynman's story take you? And the three stories in conjunction?

Ps. Wooohoooo! Frances Paulisch followed me. Not very many women in our field, and to be followed by one is so cool like. Oh I followed Frances quite a while ago. But I'm a followey sort of person -- my "curiosity quotient" stands at 837::297! So, you can see I'm _really_ curious. And very few people are curious about female cartoon heads professing an interest in "architecting for agility, integrity and sustainability"... sigh.

Sara, on the other hand, has blown past 1,000 subscribers on her Youtube channel. She's a talented, sparkly person. Oh right. Well, that counts in some circles, just not in architecture and software. Apparently. ;-)



Architecture and Design Exclusive?

"Architectural decisions are those that must be made from an overall system perspective." -- Ruth Malan and Dana Bredemeyer, Less is More, IT Pro, IEEE, 2002

That point was formally published in our "Less is More" paper in 2002, and informally in the Software Architecture: Central Concerns and Key Decisions paper also published (earlier) in 2002, and extensively downloaded from the Bredemeyer website over the past decade [Btw, the. Central Concerns and Key Decisions is still a worthwhile read (I make points there that still aren't generally made) and it places a stake in the ground in terms of our pioneering leadership in this field.]

It is impossible to be accurate about the history of ideas. Rick Kazman may have come up with the same conception independently in 2003, so that he didn't wonder if there was precedent. And we wouldn't expect anyone quoting Rick to think to dig further back. No big deal in any of that.

Nonetheless, we may want to reflect a little... Our field thinks of itself as being gender neutral, and it is true there is a lot of really wonderful, respectful interaction. That said... My work has been out there for a long time, freely available and easily accessible -- you just have to type obvious search phrases into Google and look near the top of the search returns. Think about it! All the resources of the SEI and IBM and everyone else, and for the first ten years the Bredemeyer site -- which I write -- returned at the top of search results (vying with Wikipedia, once that was a big thing and no-one could beat it) on software architecture, software architects, architecting, documentation and related topics.  It isn’t a reliable measure of influence but it is a huge indicator of access.  Anyone with any curiosity had at-their-fingertips access to my work. And many architect practitioners and some of the thought leaders in our field were curious enough to take advantage of that access. Yet leaders in this field pervasively refrain from referencing or otherwise recommending it. Is it just another way of rendering women invisible in the conversations of our field? Not intentionally at all. But at the emergent level of many, many careless acts, amounting to something more.

For example, several people writing in software and enterprise architecture and business design space have told me in personal emails that the Fractal and Emergent paper is excellent, but the public mentions have been limited to Stuart Boardman, Peter Bakker and Kris Meukens. Everyone has a right to decide what they support and lend the weight of a kind word to. But it is very noticeable to be a woman in this field, and to consistently be ignored when appeals are made to "authoritative voices" in our field. Our "go to" authorities in this architecture field simply ought to include women since there are women to appeal to. Anything else just propogates the message that women are not heard, respected and valued in this field. (I'm not talking about instances, but preponderances.)

Sure, women may not use the same mechanisms and forums for getting their voice out there as men do, but society is implicated in that. We are very quick to advise women to do the things men do to raise visibility, but do we notice all the ways that women work very, very hard to "raise the tide that lifts" more than they self-assert and self-promote? So let's be more care-full to look for the ways women really do show up in our field, and appeal also to them when we are looking for authoritative, meaningful voices. Awareness is being raised about diverse representation in conference programs. But what about peer recommendations in the informal and formal venues of our field? I am only one data point, but I have enough self-respect to know that my work deserves more of a handshake than it gets. Since our field is in trouble in terms of diversity, I don't think it can be a bad thing to be a bit more aware, and bit apt to wonder if we have called on a diverse mix of authorities when we reference, link, and quote people in our field.

See also:



Architecture Without Architects

So, architecture without architects, huh? Of course, folk in the architecture space have been saying "for ever" (look at my traces in 2006) that architect is a role and the team can be the architects. But I have also been warning that we have to be very careful about this! Architecture by committee stinks. No really, it's a smell. Yet, even on very small highly capable teams, it really helps if the team agrees on a lead architect. Why? Architecture is about making tradeoffs, negotiating compromises, resolving forces in tension or addressing properties that conflict or where one has to get really creative to find the "and" solution that gives more of the desired properties. Well, that makes for differences of opinion on path to take, and there'll be uncomfortable uncertainties and sometimes a call just has to be made to move forward under not-optimal conditions and uncertainty -- and that position has to be advocated and protected under trying conditions of organizational politics, and this takes leadership, credibility, respect in the broader community of developers and managers but also among other stakeholders like ops and the business. There'll be times when it is appropriate for the team to cry YAGNI and move on, while the architect experiments, putting a periscope, as it were, into the future, to test out what's ahead for the project. And so forth. But it's not just about having a designated "ultimate design authority" for structural integrity. Design integrity and sustainability in the full sense (the sense we have come to respect Steve Jobs for, for example), is not just about the guts. It is a whole system design responsibility, including the role that is played in designing the system-in-context or system capabilities, as well as the role that is played in bringing technical know-how and know-when (in the strategic sense of trends unfolding and capabilities emerging, etc.) to the strategy table to give the strategic team insight as they plan ecosystem interventions (the real end-game of strategy -- just so you remember why you love to read my traces; titillating insights, no?) that will shape the competitive landscape.

This isn't to say that the architect should be a lone designer, plunking down a grand scheme on the heads of the development team and scuttling back off to play with the new cool tools vendors are hyping. It isn't to say architecture is a do once upfront, read only brick. None of that stuff. Shoot, I created "RufAntics" cartoons for all those fail cases back in the mid-90's (while at HP; I signed them RAM and no-one even thought I had created them and I wasn't going to ruin it for them) so don't get me going.

I do want to make the case, though, for leaders. Often, the scenario goes along the lines of "yes, we should have a lead architect -- iff that person is me." And in too many cases where a developer would not be the candidate for lead architect, they are against having a lead architect. So the "no architect" spiel appeals. But just as agile-without-architecture ran into the obvious brick wall of a really stupid idea, we need to be very careful about architecture being no-one's responsibility. Best effort engineering is good enough until it isn't, and then triage triage triage... technical debt, entropy -- heck it's a mess. Ok, yes, I've been pointing out for several years that we need to use software visualization tools and instrument our code for better visibility and so on, so that we keep track of and make early adjustments to improve system/code health as we go. And just like design isn't the sole charter of the (lead) architect, responsibility for code integrity is a team responsibility. We just like to remind everyone that there is a difference between local design and system design concerns and issues, and if system integrity isn't owned, it tends to fall off the attention slate. I mean for goodness sake, creating systems that aren't messes and don't fall down isn't something we just thought of! Why does it happen? For lots of reasons. Including (lack of) leadership. Besides, there's also the matter of expertise. Pretending that everyone is an expert at everything -- no matter how many hours and years (both matter, because wisdom is not just acquired through coding hours) experience they have -- is just blah. It's a refusal to have respect, admiration, joy in other people's accomplishments within themselves and in what they can do more effectively. Thinking that because I can run code rings around my lead architect so he shouldn't make decisions that I disagree with is just naive -- the architect may be out of touch technically and that is a failure point. But assuming the architect is effective and capable, at the level they work at, we have to acknowledge that the architect is running interference in the political playgrounds of the company, for example. Are those "political playgrounds" just signs of bad management -- or of good? Either, actually! What we think of as "politics" is, in the best cases, a matter of making hard decisions about strategy and resource allocations. And if you know your family budget, you get all the cool new Apple toys the day they come out, and your wife gets your hand-me-downs -- am I right? Well, in organizations your dev team doesn't want that. So politics. Ok, I'm being frivolous, but there is a serious point in there.

We need strong technical leadership who can work effectively with the management team -- who has to do the also tough job of meeting what they perceive market windows to be, and keeping the project from being axed and so forth.

And besides. Know how much code there is in a car? Some 10 million lines. Or a plane?

LOC in a plane

Still think no architect is a good idea? Yes, yes, context factors. Architects know that.

Related and useful:

The story Gene uses in Part 2 is going straight into my treasure chest! :-) You'll likely see it in a Requisite Variety post one of these moons.

Of course I have not been silent on the subject of architects for the past 15+ years.:-) Here's a couple (out of many) addressing achieving a balance between participation and the team delegating leadership to the architect:

Collaboration and participation permeates Visual Architecting:

And we use pictures to collaborate with others. Now, and over time and distance. By collaborating on pictures, we create a shared thought-space. Now we have more minds actively engaged in coming up with alternatives, testing and challenging and improving the models--while they are just sketches and the thought experiments and reasoned arguments are quick to play out and the biggest cost of change is the cost of letting go, the cost to egos. And the best way to keep egos from becoming cemented around ideas, is to keep the ideation process fluid. So early on, generating more and more ideas, alternatives, challenges keeps the team fleet of mind. Bringing in other minds, getting their input, their questions, their alternatives helps--they get drawn into the picture, and they help improve the picture.

So now we're getting to pictures that really help with communication. Not "immaculate communication" (Rechtin) of that miraculous one-way sort that we expect from people who draw a pay-check, but which we don't get--miracles being hard to buy, not even with a pay-check, not even in a recession. Communication that doesn't just produce "I see what you mean" but communication that draws people in. Collaboration produces buy-in and understanding, and the benefit of multiple experience sets and talents, and pictures are wonderful vehicles for collaboration.

So we can use pictures for telling and selling. And we can use pictures even more effectively, for thinking and collaborating, for challenging and improving. For drawing people in.

-- PICTURE IT: The Art of Drawing People In, 6/18/09

But it's not just about a participatory structural design process. We need to architect across -- not just the boundaries within the system, and not just across logical and execution (or deployment) architecture. We also need to architect across the "skin and the guts" or user experience and structural integrity, and across capability design and structural/dynamic design. More here (and other places in my Trace, the Bredemeyer site, and our papers):


The link is to: Pronovost advises all boards and CEOs


"By Thinking!" Stopped Em Cold?

Well, should I be concerned that the Requisite Variety blog will fall flat? The design relies on discussion and if there is very little discussion it fails. So far, Gene Hughson and Peter Bakker have been demonstrating leadership and bearing the weight of this community responsibility, both in terms of tweeting/promoting awareness and in terms of entering the discussion. That Tom Graves and Michael Feathers contributed to the last discussion is also a major credit to them as leaders in the EA and software (design) field.

It would be super-awesome to see some more discussion, and the Feynman story is just begging for more! Really it is. Challenge yourself to see what else there is to add, what new avenues to take discussion along, etc. -- add your voice. Pretty please! I'll be ever so grateful.

If you don't feel comfortable doing that, mention the blog in the places where you are comfortable speaking out. Say something really nice about it, like "wow, I'm learning here and it's a really cool idea, this online peer learning format that is FREE and gives me access to one of the greatest teachers in the architects architecting architecture space in the whole world." (Well, I'm not saying that. I'm just suggesting you might like to say that. ;-) Just kidding. Goodness! The value is in the discussion. Well, if we keep having a discussion, that is.

No substitute!


Nonlinear and Faking It

Reading Tony Da Silva's Faking Rationality post, I was thrilled to be reminded of the (in process terms, classic) Parnas/Clements paper A Rational Design Process: How and Why to Fake It (1986).

I mentioned that Dana talks about "goodwill and a commitment to objectivity" being the elusive "silver bullet" in software development. Commitment, that is, to exploring, experimenting, using conceptual, cognitive, decision aids like modeling, simulation, intrumenting/data gathering, etc., etc. to take into account our wonder subconscious power and its downsides, as well as to navigate in great uncertainty and complexity.

I'll gather some links to traces that explore the nonlinear process of architecture design evolution -- soon. Busy day.


Outsourcing Oops




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I also write at:

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- Strategy, Architecture and Agility: The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent, 2010 

- Innovation and Agile Architecting: Getting Past ‘But’: Finding Opportunity and Making It Happen, 2008

- EA and Business Strategy: Enterprise Architecture as Strategic Differentiator, 2005

- The Role of the Architect:: What it Takes to be a Great Enterprise Architect, 2004


Ruth Malan has played a pioneering role in the software architecture field, helping to define architectures and the process by which they are created and evolved, and helping to shape the role of the software, systems and enterprise architect. She and Dana Bredemeyer created the Visual Architecting Process which emphasizes: architecting for agility, integrity and sustainability. Creating architectures that are good, right and successful, where good: technically sound; right: meets stakeholders goals and fit context and purpose; and successful: actually delivers strategic outcomes. Translating business strategy into technical strategy and leading the implementation of that strategy. Applying guiding principles like: the extraordinary moment principle; the minimalist architecture principle; and the connect the dots principle. Being agile. Creating options.

Feedback: I welcome input, discussion and feedback on any of the topics in this Trace in The Sand Journal, my blog, and the Resources for Architects website, or, for that matter, anything relevant to architects, architecting and architecture! I can be reached at

Restrictions on Use: If you wish to quote or paraphrase original work on this page, please properly acknowledge the source, with appropriate reference to this web page. If you wish to republish any of my or Bredemeyer Consulting's work, in any medium, you must get written permission from the lead author. Also, any commercial use must be authorized in writing by myself or Bredemeyer Consulting. Thank you.


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a deer in the headlights sort of look is just perfect next to an expression of openness to feedback ;-) [dry sense of humor alert]

Copyright 2012 by Ruth Malan
Page Created: September 2, 2012
Last Modified: October 24, 2019