Thinking aboutA Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

January 2013


What's a Trace?

For those new to my Trace, be warned, this is "different"... Something like:

  • 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.

Besides, this Trace weaves its audience into the narrative -- one where architects star in an unfolding story of our field. So... it must be awesome!

Happy New Year! I hope that your 2013 is ever so rewarding in the ways you value.


Looking Back

As I take stock, allow me the self-indulgence (and self-promotion) of highlighting some posts from 2012.

Enterprise Architecture

Shout out for Freck and FrecklessStrategic Context: Ecosystems




The Technology/Architecture Community

Sometimes the surprise cast of words seems right, and sometimes a masquerading vanity!



Given this:

Friend: "I forgot what I was going to say."

Sara: "That's probably a good thing."

you know how to interpret this:

Sara: "When you insult yourself, just know that we support you in that."

Quick on the draw. Her sense of humor is coming right along. Like this:

Remarking on how being a nerd has become a fad, with just everybody claiming to be one, Sara quipped "I'm such a nerd. I read all five Harry Potter books." followed by "I'm such a nerd. I read the whole Lowes sign."

1/8/13: Of course the meta-context is that there is tremendous love, trust and sense of play, not to mention shared context that allows the references to be grokked quickly, that allows this style of goofiness to work (without being hurtful).

1/18/13: In case you need help with that... Hermione in Harry Potter did much to legitimize and popularize nerddom among tweener girls. Not knowing how many Harry Potter books there are in the series discredits the claimant in the worst way. What you read, and how much, distinguishes nerds from "nerds." The Lowes reference puts the Maker Movement and the Homer Simpson stereotype together in one sharp sound bite -- the kind that really bites. In just a few lines of acute wit, this 13 year old has captured much that characterizes the point society is at. I have hope for the world! ;-)

Yep, dissecting joke frogs reminds one that this style of dry humor is an emergent property. It arises from inner relationships like surprise juxtapositions that yield, yet don't obtrude unnaturally on, the experience. And you were wondering what the architectural significance was. You underestimate me. Or, to quote George W., you misunderestimate me.

Oof! I walked right into the pole of my own stupidity!


"Camp"-ing Out

From a wonderful essay, Notes on "Camp", by Susan Sontag:

44. Camp proposes a comic vision of the world. But not a bitter or polemical comedy. If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment.

"I adore simple pleasures, they are the last refuge of the complex."
- A Woman of No Importance


The Unit

relate to code versus architecture

The above entry is from Susan Sontag's As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980.

No relevance to architecture huh?

The unit of code is... The unit of architecture is...? Different!



Proud of Me!

Ok, time for you to be properly proud of me. What? Who? It's Winter Break right? I went downhill skiing for the first time. Well, it was more "skiing" than skiing, but I took a lesson. And went, like, downhill. Hey, it's a start. And given how much Dana and the kids liked it, I'm afraid I've set something in motion that a mere me won't be able to stop. Uh. I have to say, I much prefer cross-country skiing.

On the way there, I introduced Sara to "the boss" played LOUD as is only right. I like Springstein well enough, but to me his is "occasion" music -- as in: a tribal sort of occasion music. Sara wasn't buying it. So we listened to Coldplay's "Fix You" next. And so it goes.

No relevance to architecture huh?

Well, goodness, you got me on that. ;-)

But, this Trace's 7th birthday is a month away today. Hint; put it in your calendar so you don't forget to send kind words of encouragement on February 3. ;-) Or get a lead on all those other folk who surely this year are going to say something celebratory, and send your kind words now. Hm. Or not. A couple of architects last month, and another this, gave bolstering feedback so I have some emotional credit in the energy bank. Thank you kind lady and gentlemen, your investment in reading and thoughtful response is much valued.

“Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.” -- George Saunders


1/18/13: Relevance Ruth? Relevance? Going downhill skiing (ok, "skiing") for the first time "at my age"? When I have, you know, too much stuff in my brain to put at risk... takes no small degree of.. something like... courage? Likewise with Tracing. Putting my brain on view like this... What? Rousing the tribe to change something in ourselves to change what matters in the world, renders one (and all) vulnerable and takes courage. And a little help from The Boss. ;-)

Relevance? We tend to think of architecting as this thing we do out there, in the design and the systems that realize the design. But it is very much about leading, guiding what gets paid attention to, what design values are evidenced, ... it is about making a difference, and that is bold in way that has a personal impact.


Politics and Architecture

Hm. Now why does this sound so salient to organizational politics, not just national politics:

"As the domain of competing interests and conflicting opinions, politics is inherently vulnerable to factionalism. For leaders, winning the argument for your interests or values is strongly tied up with managing the factions on your own side of the debate. This is not only a tactical device, it can also be an important driver of progressive change."

-- Matthew Taylor, Farming today and the core dialetic January 4, 2013

It's a great post. For farmers. And farmers of ideas.

Here's more:

"But in the factional world of organization politics there are always those willing to use the issuing of such a challenge as an opportunity for complaint and revolt. A willingness to risk and face down such a backlash sends a message about a leader’s confidence and authority. And this process by which leaders look within and reform is not only a prerequisite for external success, it is often what legitimises reform, driving innovation and improvement."

-- Matthew Taylor, Farming today and the core dialetic January 4, 2013



We saw Lincoln tonight and I can't recommend it highly enough! You're probably going to see this line (quoted here using the paraphrasing from "Mr. Lincoln goes to Hollywood") every time you hear the movie spoken of, but it is a powerful moment in the movie, foreshadows all the navigating of "swamps" to come in it, and is a good reminder to architects that good and right doesn't get you a free pass to successful:

"A compass will point you true north. But it won’t show you the swamps between you and there. If you don’t avoid the swamps, what’s the use of knowing true north?"


1/18/13: While a developer may be able to shrug politics off as the machinations of the insufficiently talented, the architect is much impeded if his political capacity is all crusted over with that kind of hubris. Leading is much about creating enabling context for the team to do great work, and this means advocating and leading up and across in the organization, maintaining the organizational will to do the big thing the development team is talenting away at. And otherwise avoiding swamps.



Entropy, Debt and Other Metaphors for our Mess

1/23/13: Oh, gubbins (via Nat Pryce)! Say what? Gubbins: "general clutter, stuff, a collection or assortment of unconnected items." -- Urban Dictionary



Heap Failure

Some honest feedback on the lack of substance in this Trace today crashed my self-esteem heap, but it needed to be done. (That overstates the criticism. But that is the sense I made of it.)

Honest feedback can, when the hurt subsides, be (re)defining. Like this:

"I played him a particular vocal I'd recorded and I was convinced he would love it because I thought it was the vocal performance of my life," she says, quietly, "but he wasn't moved by it, and he told me so. Very plainly. In that instant, I felt that he had taken away all my confidence. I felt drained, exhausted, as if all the blood was running right out of me, and I started to shake. But it was also an epiphany of sorts, because, of course, he was right. "

-- Anjani: songs of love and Leonard, April 2007

I sincerely appreciate the kindness of those who have been supportive over the years. I know you have encouraged me on the book writing front. I should have followed your counsel.

Le sigh. Well, time to rebuild.

1/6/13: Perhaps I should explain why the feedback was both so devastating and so important. Essentially, what I take it to mean, is that I haven't squarely shared my knowledge of, thinking about, and insight into the core hard (in multiple senses) topics of architecture -- the trace of my adventures across the terrains of our overlapping landscapes doesn't capture and share, at least not in a readily accessible way, the "real beef" of architecture. One could, at the extreme, say I create negative space precisely where the hard topics are. Now I can defend what I have done in my Trace on various grounds, including intent and style. Intent, because it is a trace of my exploration, not (foremost) an exposition of what I already know (even if my exploration is guided and informed by what I know). But that isn't the point. Tracing takes away time from sharing what I know, and, frankly, drawing/finding out what I know in a direct, head-on exposition thereof. I could also say that there is important work to be done in that exploring and drawing insights of relevance to architecture, and that work is worth sharing, which is why my Trace has its (much appreciated!) audience. But again that is avoiding the point -- I have no claim to standing in a field if my primary contribution is to explore around the edges and make connections... Do I?

Self-esteem has a way of re-establishing the structural mechanisms for its own maintenance... resilience can be like fast restart after failure, or it can be like adapting to a changing (conception of) reality... I need to do more of the latter.

And now you're up-to-date on xkcd. ;-)

"Life is too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it." - Oscar Wilde, Vera, or The Nihilists

[Uh... The overlay of links is a comedy routine! I detach and observe myself, and use myself as comedic grist. Hey, who else provides such grist for the humor mill? Just... I prefer that I make fun of myself, freeing you from the need to. You'd be much better at it than I, you see, so I'd rather make a pre-emptive strike. ;-) There I go again. ;-) More seriously, it is textured and multi-layered -- you might say the reveal comes incrementally, replete with eurekas?]

"Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald (via Maria Popova)

1/19/13: OMGoodness, I shouldn't have said that I create negative space around the real beef? I put arrows in your quiver? Yeah right. Like you don't already have enough to take me down. We advocate putting a "counterarguments" or "alternatives we thought about but we're not going to do" field on, for example, architecture principles. Why? To give detractors ammo? No. By acknowledging that those who will use the architecture are both smart and have different perspectives and concerns, we disarm them by showing how we took those concerns into account, and did what we did anyway. Because other stuff matters -- too. And to get the big thing done, that we are trying to do together, we have to pay attention to that stuff, sometimes at the expense of what people with "local" (to a scope of concern) charters care most about. We may not change their minds (about what would be best for them locally), but at least we can appeal to their goodwill and loyalty to the overall outcome we're trying to achieve by being in something bigger together. It allows us to appeal to those "relationships of goodwill and commitment to objectivity" that Dana Bredemeyer says is the real silver bullet. ;-) [You know, that will slay the software dragon. Though maybe we need to change that to an image of taming/harnessing the software dragon, because, you know, chaos gives birth to dragons, and is associated with the birthing, through (creative) destruction, of ecosystems...] Anyway, I'm well aware of my weaknesses, and perfectly sensible to your awareness of them. And I hope you're just as aware of (at least enough of) my strengths (not to diss and dismiss me).

To be clear, I focus on architects architecting architecture in software-intensive, systems, and enterprise architecture. That is a wide compass of concern, and I explore challenges I'm thinking about and along frontiers I'm pushing. The style of this trace is that of a journal. I hestitate to say diary, because even though you think I put a lot of my personal life into traces, I am aware of how very much I leave out -- especially aware, because even the notes I take that don't make it into this public-facing Trace hardly capture much of my life and thought life!

1/9/13: I read this post and.. oh my... it's just so touching I... cried. Then I happened on this. And this. Don't let anybody ever convince me not to write who I am or what I see. Of course, the feedback I got was, in the best sense, encouragement to write what I see, just more accessibly. There has to be an "and" sort of solution to this. ;-)

I mean, who'd want to give up the chance to make lines like this come into the world:

"We fit experience to expectation, downsizing both."

Now that is the true beef of architecture! ;-)

And then there's the image (you have to read the scroll-over text to get the full effect). That alone is worth the price of admission, no? Who wants beef when you can have just deserts?

"Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you're bad at writing and don't like to do it, you'll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated." -- Paul Graham

Of course.... if what you write is buried in a so-what Trace, what does it matter? Alright. Alright. The book then!

1/15/13: As learning from other fields goes, this is interesting:

Of course, to his discredit, Peter Lindberg apparently neglected to read my writing, for he says:

"The writing on software architecture is extremely dull and at many times, it completely denies that software development is about discovery, creativity, collaboration."

That's a mischievous wink.


"#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone." -- The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar


I cast about for the phoenix of my self-sense, but this feels more like shards than ashes.


In the Air

The timing is interesting:

"This is a terrific example of the planning fallacy at work. First developed by Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979, the planning fallacy simply states that people will consistently underestimate how long a task will take even when they have experience with similar tasks taking longer than expected." -- Tim Sullivan, The F-35 and the Tradeoff Fallacy, January 3, 2013

Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s law -- Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, 1979

1979. Independently derived, I presume?

Funny how we're still rediscovering (or independently deriving) Hofstadter's Law, over, and over.

Mark Twain and C.S. Lewis on Influence

Serendipity served up two interesting reflections on influence today:

Both make the point that if we direct our focus at influence, we do not merit it. By directing our focus at doing great work, influence will follow.

Necessary, but not necessarily sufficient?


The world's wealthiest are divesting. So naturally antifragility and resilience are, like, so 2013. ... Hmmmm.

No, it's more like this, with an upgrade for 2013 since the IMF is like "who knew" when it came to austerity...

We're s-worded!

Ok. That little moment of refreshing honesty over, let's get back to optimism, shall we?


Someone stole the real Ruth, and replaced her with this one.

(You can tell, because this one is like so whatever.)

Yep. You guessed it. Ever so much work to do.

I need to post on the Requisite Variety blog, but we're not done with our "By Thinking" fish... Shall I Agassiz the thing and insist we hang with it longer?

1/8/13: We all have to read Antifragility because, well, the guy is the Malcolm Gladwell of probability theory and learning better to cope with things fragile is de rigueur in this world of highly interconnected highly complex systems in contexts of, and exacerbating, multitudes of sources and degrees of uncertainty. Anyway, Taleb is due diligence in the architect's world where not only is resilience (or system integrity and sustainability) squarely within the charter, speaking across boundaries in the language of popular encounter is helpful if not foundational to effective influence. What's that? I had you at Nassim Taleb, huh? Oops. Uh. I have high expectations for the book/I'm sure it deserves all the excitement it is getting for the insights it brings home. Really. No, really.

As resilience engineering goes, I have been enjoying reading Hollnagel. Here's a taste:

Related, scooped from the tweet-stream:


demonstrates how derision* (or its perhaps somewhat less malevolent cousin, incredulity expressed with the air of superiority) is used to dominate or suppress challenge. Humor Under the Looking Glass

Goofy (physical or intellectual) humor is a form of play. The laughter comes from a place of goodwill and creative openness, for humor requires quick interpretation and trusts that this happens from a goodwilling frame that is positively inclined to appreciate. Humor can also be used to create a sense of an exclusive inside crowd who "get the joke." Then again, humor can be used to convey an attitude of play as a prelude to collaborative engagement. And it can be used as a social rank ordering behavior -- belittle another person or group, and inferior rank or outsider status is implied/ascribed to them. This can be heavy-handed and mean, but often -- usually -- it is just one of the things social animals do to create social (tribal, in a good sense) structure. Our society is becoming so multiply interwoven, there are many opportunities to play in different social structures, and I don't think dominance hierarchies are avoidable (given our brains and socialization) or necessarily bad (though, like much, they can be subverted, and used in cruel, inhumane ways).

So, what about self-deprecating humor? From a high-status individual, it can convey humility (a recognition/acceptance of smallness in the grand scope of wisdom and humanity). Among peers, and across groups, it can also be a way to defuse tension and create relationship by gesturing a non-threatening play posture. Or it might just be a bad habit. To wit. ;-)

As far as my attempts at humor go, your... er... tolerance is much appreciated. It occurs to me that in a functional family, team and organization, people each sparkle in their own way, and this sparkle is enjoyed -- the enjoyment builds esteem, both self and mutual esteem, that creates a positive platform for growth, which, after all, entails a lot of (healthy, not dysfunctional) risk taking.

Quote right: from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.



In My Dreams...

...someone would write a review of my Trace and workshops in terms like these:

Well, I got straight 5's for my last workshop so, yeah, I'm great too. ;-) Well.. Sometimes I'm great. Much depends on who I'm working with and that was a great group. Very, very smart, with enough experience to appreciate the challenges, personal, organizational and technical. And obviously way too generous on their evals!

1/9/13: Excitingly positive steps: Beating the Odds — How We got 25% Women Speakers for JSConf EU 2012


the ideal we hold out to ourselves, invites us to become



Architects -- Born or Made? ... er... Or Self-Styled?

Speaking of voices -- no, not the throng in my head. At least, not right now. ;-) No, I mean the voice I adopt in a post. The snarky unpalatable voice that demonstrates what we don't much like in a woman, or at least not me. And... I mentioned a post titled "Architects: Born or made?" from several years ago in a dm-versation, but on rereading it, I'm frankly horrified! "Can one develop architects?" Garr! Despicable me! Of course not. I knew that then, know that now. Architects can be invited and enabled, but we each develop our own self. Of course the context was absolutely one of enablement (designing a development program for architects), and inquiring whether this process of self-development can be inspired, enriched, enabled and accelerated. But I slipped into an undermining turn of phrase that I should have been more on my guard against. Given a generous reading, the spirit of the piece is workable enough, but I should add (as we do in our courses/materials), that ultimately the team needs to have the capabilities and qualities that will make it successful, and one person doesn't have to be good at everything. If the designated lead architect isn't a leader, that likely is a problem (as complex as life is, apply exceptions liberally), but there are varying styles of leadership and different people will lead at different times during the ebb and flow of attentional demands on the team. When Dana said "ambitious" he meant in the sense of being effective at doing something meaningful and too big to do alone in timeframes that matter. And given that ambition to work effectively, to lead well, working with and through others (in the best sense, not industrial-era puppeteering), being willing to develop that more in oneself, to draw forth from within (educo, the root of educate), to reflect, to read, to listen, to practice, etc-ly...

As self-styling goes, each of us has our own tastes. Some will look to the pioneers and shaping thinkers of a field, some will look for the pragmatic get-the-distilled version fast approach. I often look beyond, scanning across and diving into other fields -- in part as my evolving mental model of this field directs my attention to what is useful in another. It helps me to uncover the blindspots in our field, to draw insights from other fields to ours, and to develop my own critical and questioning faculties by placing our field under a different lens. Different styles will make different contributions. We all -- and each -- matter.

What we pour into our heads, shapes and fills our mental models. Stuff goes in through our bodily interactions with the physical world, what we pick up through our senses alone, in combination, and as mediated by our conscious and -- importantly -- subconscious mind. We have some levers. Like what we choose to read. How we choose to orient (what questions we ask, that frame and direct, but also whether to see something in a positive or scornful light, for example). And more-ishness.


Mess Management: Art and Cruft er Craft

I'm working on technical debt today. In many dimensions. ;-) What should I read and listen to? [Yes, I've read Gene Hughson's post on the IASA blog, which draws underlying platform aging, even atrophy, onto our debt radar. :-)]

Looking for my post on Software [Creation and] Engineering (10/15/11), I read back through these (relating to tech debt, really):


Requisite Variety er Patterning

Bored with "By Thinking"? Wish I would just get on with it and say what I see? After all, the stupid "by thinking" story isn't your life's work, and your life's work is demanding. It zaps all your attentional resources.


Anybody see any gorillas?

Should I just go back to debriefing after a few days?


art invites us to wonder



Right. The pendulum swings back to permitting myself to Trace and to trace. :-) Journaling my exploration and reflection in a spontaneous way is what falls naturally from my fingers. And even if no-one thought it worthwhile, well, that'd just have to be ok.


A Star, and the Sun

When I read about Aaron Swartz today I was so sad. I only started following him on Twitter a few months ago, but did so because he sparkled. He lived intensely, sought to do what was meaningful. May we all be inspired in the best ways by him. But also be inspired to be kind to ourselves.

Aaron's story welled a pent sort of pain that found no release until I read and watched this: Here Comes the Sun flashmob cheers Spanish unemployment office. Our human predicament can seem so gloomy sometimes; and then there are moments of beauty and goodness to remind us that we are in this together and we can, in small ways and big (we usually don't know how big), add warmth and energy to embolden, comfort, inspire, .... What we contribute in our "work" is important, but in the end, it is human touch and touching acts, human kindness that makes a significant difference.

Reading Quinn's anguished eulogy, I was struck by her mention of George Saunders, who I quoted just days ago:

“Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.” -- George Saunders

I don't know what drove Aaron to the point of no return. Depression played its part. His family is also convinced that "It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." Others close to him, or his case, share that conviction. In the face of such intent meanness, did our pitiful, vengeful human condition push him further from seeking help?

For everyone confused and hurt by this loss of a leader, we have to remember it takes courage to be vulnerable to hurt. To love and be vulnerable to loss. But also to do big things for humanity, even though it means being exposed in many ways to the darkness humanity also festers.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage" -- Anais Nin

And the kindness of those who could be -- and are -- kind to us. Not a cloying kindness that replaces or erodes our courage. But the touch of kindness that inspires us to be more our selves -- our best, our most full selves. And not give that up. To not be intimidated. To not despair.

Kindness -- that is, the outcome and acts, small and big, of caring -- seems like a marvel of human capacity. Kindness is being generous with positive attention, noticing, listening, seeing in a positive way, and acting selflessly to do what that attention brings to light as being needed. Or something else my spirit-weary fingers are balking at finding words for just now.

I guess I bring up kindness because for us to look ourselves, and humanity, in the face and go on, knowing that such injustice was done to a man who gave so much to our world, we will have to be kind to ourselves. Generous in our assessment, and determined to stay open, even though it hurts.

This is one sorry messed up world. Mortality is hard stuff. And the struggle of Life is hard stuff. Being punitively judgmental, repressive and mean puts a harsh edge on the already harsh hand we're dealt, no matter who we are.

We, software people, are capable of world-changing. Let's do it in the good ways that Aaron's many achievements exemplify, within the law. Let's let our outrage inspire us to good. Let the hurt we feel inspire us to be more exposed, for the hurt comes of caring and we must not shut down that goodness in ourselves, not in the least!

"to live authentically means always to balance on the lip of loss; there is no other way" -- Emily Rapp


Related, scooped from the tweet-stream:


the river of humanity, of what it is to be human, flows between and through us, not simply by



Software Architecture: What?

I have pulled together a set of attempts to put a finger on the nature of the software architecture beast. I have included my posts and published papers in this set, and would like to ask your forbearance in recommending them to you but they add something important to the discussion (if you only read one, allow me to recommend Decisions, Concerns ...(re-)Defining Software Architecture):

Please let me know what I am missing, that ought to be on this list!!

Of course, since we define architecture at least in part in terms of (architecturally significant) decisions, that pulls another set of resources onto our slate here:

As architecture decisions go, I like to use the froggy nugget in this post.

Which also draws in matters of timing:

"For centuries, leading thinkers …. have told us not to jump to firm conclusions about the unknown. Yet today we jump faster and more frequently to firm conclusions. We like to believe there is wisdom in our snap decisions, and sometimes there is. But true wisdom and judgment come from understanding our limitations when it comes to thinking about the future. This is why it is so important for us to think about the relevant time period of our decisions and then ask what is the maximum amount of time we can take within that period to observe and process information about possible outcomes." -- Frank Partnoy, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay (via Maria Popova)

1/31/13: I guess I should draw out what I see as being the distinguishing contributions I made with the Decisions, Concerns ...(re-)Defining Software Architecture) piece (contributions which tend to show up, too, in earlier work that Dana and/or I have done). I will do this more systematically, but here are some contributions I'd like to highlight in this moment:

  • architecture has an important relationship to strategy, and what is architecturally significant is that which is of great consequence to the strategy (which for now we can simplify to choices about how we'll compete in the market). I make this point, to get us to "pull up" from decisions like what framework to use, even though what framework we use may quickly get entangled with our implementation and hence carry high cost of change. Not that such decisions aren't architecturally significant, but rather that they can act like "Squirrel!" distractions to a technologist when other decisions of strategic significance would be better addressed at this particular extraordinary moment. If you can think of any work in the software space that draws out this relationship to strategy (and hence system capabilities and properties) and predates our work which makes these points (it would have to go back to prior to the early 2000s), do let me know about it for I would be very interested to read it and would much like to quote and reference it!
  • there is a system scope/system outcome aspect to what is architecturally significant that Kazman et al (2003) articulate but we did so in formal publication (2002) before they did, and we did so informally even before that.
  • architecture is the design of the defining structure and dynamics (how it works), and entails figuring out how to achieve (more the) intended outcomes (a conjoint, interacting set of desired outcomes -- capabilities and properties -- at that). There is a dynamic interplay between designing the structure and designing the system dynamics or behavior -- the interactions and transformations. I would view the architecturally significant mechanisms and key competitive space-defining algorithms as part of the architecture. This design encompasses decisions or choices made (sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly) between alternative approaches (narrowing or constraining the subsequent design space).

There is much more that we illuminate and draw attention to, both in Software Architecture: Key Concerns, Central Decisions (2002) and in my Decisions, Concerns ...(re-)Defining Software Architecture) trace. For example, there is the point about using culture (values and mores shaped by the stories we tell, the conversations we have formally and informally, the things we repeat in different ways ;-) to informally and organically shape decisions in alignment with the technical strategy (which in turn aligns with business direction/strategy). There are points about emergence and intentionality. And more. The piece deserves reading, and rereading, for it is full of insights wrested from going on two decades focusing on architecture. (What's that? I should know more? Smile. There is more. And there is trying to kneed the more down into less, so that it is more digestible.)

Now, what I am interested in, is what else should I add? And subtract? :-) How should I shape and tune up my expression of what architecture is? I know it can seem like this definitional turf gets raked over too much, but I think it is important because:

  • what we think architecture is, shapes what we do as architects -- it shapes our expectations and helps direct our attention but also seeps into expectations of us, becomes written into our charter, gets (unfortunately) cemented into architecture documentation templates, etc. For example, if you think that architecture is "decisions with high cost of change", and charge off down a tack of deciding the technology stack because that is going to get tangled up in the implementation... that is different than thinking that architecture is about deciding what at this extraordinary moment is most significant in strategic (market and technical) terms, which might be prototyping some critical capability to test out whether the business/product concept is viable/sufficiently interesting/useful/etc. or mocking up a technical approach to accomplishing some key system capability (addressing a system property or cross cutting concern), etc., etc., etc. Is the first not architectural? There is an interaction between how we design a capability from the point of view of its use and how we design the capability from the point of view of how it is built -- in Steve Jobs terms, we need to design across the skin and the guts.
  • new people encounter the field all the time, and need to know what they are getting themselves into ;-)
  • our field is dynamic and ought to learn from its struggles to better understand itself and provide value

"The essence of systems is relationships, interfaces, form, fit and function. The essence of architecting is structuring, simplification, compromise and balance." -- Eberhardt Rechtin


Requisite Variety -- What, You Didn't See the "Gorilla"?

What we're paying attention to, shapes what we perceive and pay attention to. Did you watch the video? And apply it to the post and commentary? This is a huge lesson. Ok. I'm bored with boring people. I'm going to debrief the stupid fish, I mean the By Thinking post, and move on. But not now; too close to midnight.

Oh, I don't mean the "By Thinking" commentary wasn't very useful (mine included; wink). I'm only struck by the fact that the title and where our thinking went, obstructed us from perceiving/learning the social lesson that ultra-geek Feynman learned -- as a kid.

The lack of participation does raise a question about format. Perhaps I should just go back to debriefing after a few days, so some momentum gets established...

1/16/13: But I'm also very comfortable leaving the silence to speak too. So far, I think the silence speaks of disengagement and lack of trust/credence. Because a (free!) master class in architecture should get a little more participation with eager anticipation, shouldn't it? I mean, I'm teaching it with some very high caliber architects pitching in!! And the more that join in, the higher the value of the learning experience we're all charged with contributing to.

Ok. Go steep that cup of tea. Then tell us what "gorillas" you saw when you went back to it, knowing there is at least one gorilla, so we can move on. ;-) And no. I'm not going to provide a lesson plan. A least, not for this set of lessons. Just think of the meta-lesson being one of exercising those "comfort with ambiguity" muscles to develop flexibility -- and good following. (Mischief at work.) Trust. Goodwill. Enthusiasm. Go!

Oh, perhaps I should add. There's no puzzle or trick question. It is just a matter of mentioning what you observe. And encouraging, in Agassiz fashion (not letting your boredom, desire to get to the action, and despair, deter my resolve), you to go back and see what else you see -- especially if we (as I did in a comment) explicitly draw attention to cognitive biases... and counting passes obscuring the gorilla...


Uncertainty is the watering place of discovery



Advocacy, and Generosity in Affinity Group Leadership

Thank you Gene Hughson for adding the Requisite Variety blog and this Trace to your blogroll!! Much appreciated! Grabbing Gene's twitter handle, I saw that earlier today he tweeted a pointer to the Software Architecture definitions collection... Thanks Gene! I have gotten out of the habit of putting links to posts in the top right column because no-one used them...

And thank you to Peter Bakker for positively mentioning this Trace, and Tom Graves for generously RTing (and Stuart Boardman and Richard West for retweeting). I value the form of leadership that serves the community, and Tom, Peter, Gene, Stuart and Richard amplify what our field is capable of (understanding and doing) not only by being generous with their own perspective, but by generously advancing the sharing of perspective.

And that'll teach me -- I momentarily overcame a host of inner voices to pass on Peter's kindness/Tom's RT as a gesture of reciprocation in network sharing... And that got placed in the Alexej Freund Daily as a self-promotion... Sigh. I mean, awesome to be mentioned in Dailys like Alexej's, but it is not demure for a Q<= to RT a mention of her own work, even in gratitude and "paying it forward" by making a kindness more visible. Social is tricksy business!

1/15: May I suggest: In Honor of Martin Luther King.


Our dreams give us hopes, And our hopes give us dreams. -- Sara B. (at age 7)



Setting the Scene for the 7th Birthday of this Trace

And while we're giving a little handshake to this Ruth Malan creature (making her feel good that she's on this planet at just this point, when you're here being so very thoughtful and generous), let's celebrate this:

Referring to an earlyish draft of 97 Things Every Architect Should Know (back in 2008 when it was called 97 Axioms), I observed:

Context is King is my favorite. Still, with context and communication king, who is queen? Diversity?

Oh, and I do like Mark Richard's tradeoff story. Many of these axioms use stories to make their point. Context may be king, but stories rule! Let that be known as Ruth's axiom.

It's almost the 7th birthday of this Trace. It is really nice that 5 people rose to the occasion of giving it a hat tip. And a few people followed that up with bouncing by, noticed that I retell my daughter's jokes, and quit in horror. ;-) All your good intentions, and I do rather shoot myself down with my own bombs, don't I? Or, is it that I give fair warning that this is a place where a curious intelligence finds company? And who has time for that, these days? ;-)

Yes. I'm teasing myself; hopefully you aren't caught in the ricochet.

7th birthday of this Trace? Why yes, that's February 3. It'll be ever so embarrassing if no-one remembers! Again...

Anyway, this popped through my tweet stream tonight, and I thought of y'all:

Aw, "J Constantine" is really giving me what I need today -- which is good 'cos David Troupes reneged on his promise of a new B uttercup Festival this week!)

I get deeply appreciated support from a few people who bear the burden of an entire field in the care and feeding of my needy ego. Hey, if you consider my inner critics, I must be one of the most trashed people in the world. So that a few people encourage me to share some of my exploration "out loud" is that special. :-) [Oh, in their defense, for the most part these few good men do this in the most temperate of terms, so there's no unjustified hyperbole or overselling going on, with... one endearing exception ;-) Since the world is not much endangered by the impact of one exception on my ego, I think we can allow that little salve of generous enthusiasm -- once in while, anyway.]

"To snare a sensibility in words, especially one that is alive and powerful, one must be tentative and nimble. The form of jottings, rather than an essay (with its claim to a linear, consecutive argument), seemed more appropriate for getting down something of this particular fugitive sensibility. It's embarrassing to be solemn and treatise-like about Camp. One runs the risk of having, oneself, produced a very inferior piece of Camp." -- Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp, 1964

Camp. Or a Trace. Or a Camp Trace. No no. It doesn't even fail that well. ;-)

1/17/13: Camp? Isn't this Trace all about content? Well, could something be so colored by a ferocious determination to find things out, and with such eagerness as to be clearly entirely naive, that content is a parody -- a gentle, human-flaw embracing one, but still a joke upon itself? And all quite by accident. ;-)

Ps. I retweeted the heads-up to that's where they all are, so you'd know too. Wouldn't want to keep something like that to myself.

1/17/13: Now this is how to do advocacy. And how to respond to it! ;-) Michael Feathers is unique and remarkable in many ways. So much so, that people will click on an @-@ tweet to see what gives! What? You didn't? Oh. That's embarrassing. ;-)

Well one day, someone with enough credibility to afford to squander some, will say that this Trace is a remarkable place where system understanding, architect soft skills, and the art and practice of architecting is built with wit and insight... or some other stretch-credulity excess in framing...

Oh yeah right. And you thought you didn't have time to read fantasy. Ha! ;-)

Inspiration is sparked when imagination is struck by meaning. By some keen insight into a human predicament. Between that spark and realization, lies tremendous will -- obstinate, resilient, resurgent, irrepressible will. Dark and lonely desperate spots of uncertainty too. But ultimately, regenerative.

"Dream It / Believe It / Build It" -- Frank Cunha

"Thoughts become things" -- Frank Cunha

(via Peter Bakker)

We can't rely on others to give us the stamina or the creative impulse. And ironically it is sometimes the negative reaction which, though disabling at first, rouses one's muse to defiant counter. It is dangerous, and my muse is tremulous gentle, so being smashed by careless boots of indifference or underwhelmed reaction is hard for it. Poor thing. ;-)

I write about the need for at least some community support for a public work, because it is a shared human predicament. Everyone who has stopped blogging, or taken a hiatus in despair of ever reaching an appreciative reader, has felt the disjunction between all the excitement about democratized "cottage industry/garageshop" publishing and the actuality of a community's capacity for generous promotion of work of merit. Because we have to democratize the business of advocacy (or marketing) if we are to democratize publication. If we leave it to the big engines of social manipulation, we get Justin Biebers. #justsaying

Being an architect is being a person. A full, vibrant, thinking, feeling person. This nonsense about compartmentalzing emotions so that the only one we're allowed to take into the software industry is rage has got. to. stop. #justsaying

Isn't it cute how #justsaying has become the meme for "don't shoot me down in flames you guys"... because we're quick to anger... but slow to show tenderness?

This is not the factory age. This is the age where mankind is becoming cyborged and we need to retain our humanness, including our sense of humor at our frailties. Our compassion. And our willingness to look at ourselves and find ourselves (including the larger "our" of our field and humanity) deserving of great admiration for our gutsyness in all the forms it takes -- including this Trace form -- but also great permission-expanding humor in all its forms from ribald to delicately textured intellectual wit. Emotions are central to our ability to (weigh and prioritize and) make decisions. Imagination is central to creativity and innovation. Art sparks and fires imagination, igniting insight. Insight enables foresight. Caring and compassion energize and buoy collaborative co-creation, carrying it through its frictions and setbacks. These are all important to our complex now, and our increasingly digitally-extended human tomorrow.

Real people. With a delicious sense of humor! See, even giants get hulk sad...


Our dreams give us that welling of rebellion, the passion to resist the damning damping dust of indifference



Wonderful Opportunity for Awesome Architects

One of the architects I've most enjoyed working with is now chief enterprise architect at a (retail/pharma) company in southern California and is hiring senior (director level) architects with a strong entrepreneurial bent, meaning able to see and seize opportunity to enhance business success (through internal innovation as well as product opportunity creation and design capabilities to effect that opportunity). Let me know if you or someone you know has that combination of strategic leadership and architectural design talent and experience to help lead business (and IT) transformation efforts. There are several positions, including enterprise-scope business, data and application portfolio/solution architects with tremendous opportunity to lead, shape and contribute!

This is one of those high caliber people who I have learned so much from, yet who has the good sense to value working with me. ;-) What more do you need to recommend working on a team he's building? He values initiative, understands value creation like a start-up wonder-person but knows how do do this inside big companies while leading them on a maturity-transition path. It's a great opportunity to learn by immersion in a circle of excellence.


Upcoming Architecture Workshops

Here is the schedule of open enrollment workshops coming up in the first half of the year. Enroll before January 31st to qualify for early enrollment discounts.

Software Architecture 4-day Workshop:

  • Boston, MA, April 30-May 3, 2013
  • Eindhoven, The Netherlands, June 4-7, 2013 (run by the Embedded Systems Institute; taught by Dana Bredemeyer)

Enterprise Architecture 4-day Workshop:

Architect Skills 3-day Workshop:

You know someone who'd get value from one of these workshops. Tell them I'm awesome and Dana is awesomer. Just, probably don't tell them about my Trace, 'cos then they'd know that you're my teachers and they'd think they don't need to take the class. When really, you want them to take the class so they get firehose lessons like "lead, follow or get out of the way" and...



Paying Attention Channels and Consumes Attention

Did you watch this Daniel Simons video and count the passes:


What we are paying attention to shapes what we perceive and pay attention to.

And paying attention, requires attention. D'oh you say? Okayyyy. Delivering code -- working features! Cool. Uh. The system? Anybody paying attention to the system? Well, are you arguing that "architect" can be just a hat everyone of the team wears, and no need for any designated architect (even though she also codes)? The system, thought of, observed and measured, reasoned about, designed as, a system, needs intentional attention. Attention that competes for bandwidth with the order of the day -- delivery of working code (with tests, please). We need to discover on purpose (embracing happy accident along the way), design on purpose (embracing iteration, discovery, accident), and... redesign on purpose (throughout the lifecycle). Using the cheapest design medium that will expose the uncertainties and stress the design (fragment, mechanism, etc.) under consideration sufficiently for the (extraordinary!) moment we're at. Which may be code. But don't assume so, when thought experiments, models, sketch-prototypes, cardboard mockups, role-plays, etc. will serve the moment. Yes, yes, "code wins arguments," but you have to know how to set up your arguments. ;-)

Architecture viewsThe system takes a different kind of attention. Thinking at the interaction between capabilities (and value the system delivers) and system properties (impacting users individually, like usability and performance, and in aggregate, like scalability and availability; and impacting operations and the business, ...) and the structures and mechanisms that deliver them, takes a vantage point that is able to move fluidly and adeptly at different scales or scopes (zoom levels, if you like) and across views (frames, cross sections, selective screening, ...). But it also takes time, which takes will -- the organizational will, and the personal will, to do it. When there is code to be written to the glory of those who deliver. Until they don't. Because they built themselves into a blind-alley of "technical debt" ...which I have come to think of as "decision debt" -- where we put off making a decision and the non-decision decision (do nothing, or keeping doing the old thing) or a reactive quick-fix decision gets coupled into the system. Some of these will be of little consequence. But there will be those where the "payback time" comes with stiff interest -- and penalties! (Those are the ones an architect should have sniffed out as architecturally significant -- and if they didn't, they will next time! Experience factors. Puns allowed. We're among friends.)

But wait. We can refactor. Continuously refactor. That'd do it. Well, yes. And no. Imperious Red Queen voice: "I need an architect here... Architect?" "It depends." What did the Red Queen tell Alice? "it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" Say what?

Someone needs to be thinking strategically about the system. Not alone; working with the team, but having responsibility for the system so that attention is drawn to the system, attending to structural integrity in the small, sure, but in the large, too. Instrumenting the system -- making code health and operational health visible. Anticipating the market and problems in the code, keeping tabs on how the system is doing relative to the design envelope for its various system properties. Finding the weak spots in the design. And doing "model storming" "out loud" "in pairs" or small groups. And all that agile stuff. Just in the cheapest medium for the moment, because we need to explore options quick and dirty. Hack them -- with sketches/models, with mockups, with just-enough prototypes. Enough early. And enough along the way so that we course correct when we need to. So that we anticipate enough. Put in infrastructure in good time. Avoid getting coupled to assumptions that cement the project into expectations that are honed for too narrow a customer need/group. And suchness.




In The most important personality trait of an Enterprise Architect, Nick Malik talks about empathy and change. Good pointers, useful perspective. In Fractal and Emergent (2010), empathy (and empathetic) comes up various places where I talk about great design. Of course, empathy isn't new on the scene -- the Golden Rule, ..., The Christmas Carol, ..., Walk Two Moons... But perhaps empathy strikes a chord more resonantly and urgently as we figure out what it means to be digitally extended in ever more powerful ways. In our soft skills workshop, we make similar points to those Nick makes, though refering explicitly to Aristotle's triad of logos, ethos and pathos, for example. (The Role of the Architect workshop is organized around the competency framework in the What it Takes to be a Great Enterprise Architect executive report). I'd just like to posit: hubris, arrogance, self-elevation act in opposition to empathy. Empathy is an ability to imagine another's experience so well as to feel it. Arrogance occludes others, puts self above others. So I was very interested yesterday to see, via a Tim O'Reilly tweet, the course overview for the Yale course on character, titled The Humility Course. I was also interested in the tweet response: "because, you know, no one knows about humility like David Brooks."

Empathy is developed, in part anyway, by direct experience of the tough stuff in the human condition -- hardship, loss, striving, failure, more. For a Western Civ. class, did an assignment where he designed an education program for politicians today, taking Plato's Republic as inspiration. In his ten year program, he included living and working outside the US and living in a low income bracket neighborhood in the US -- why? To develop empathy. Some of the strongest architects I've worked with, have "done time" (smile!) in management roles, in addition to their very strong development background (that they re-immerse in, in various ways, from time to time even as senior, broadly scoped and strategically chartered architects). But empathy is also developed through reading, imagining, role play and so forth. We like using the Empathy Map (from Gamestorming) as a mechanism to help shift into other's shoes in workshops. It surprises people that it is so powerful. I tell the story of The Wheel on the Schiool in many workshops, overcoming my urge to distance myself from the "mom box" people are more than apt enough to squish me into -- there's what I need people to not do to me, and there's the lessons I need to share. And the "think like a stork" lesson is nowhere better taught than in a children's story -- a story where all our mixed messages and sham values are called into question. Sham? You know, we mouth values like childlike curiousity, but how extraordinarily uncurious many people are! Developing empathy means stretching that see-from-other-perspectives "muscle". Again, breadth of direct experience (living it) and indirect experience (reading it, listening to it, immersing imaginatively in it) both help to develop flexibility in taking other perspectives beyond those that the predilections of our mindset and current circumstance place us most habitually in. Reading fiction is important, and warranted if only for this reason -- to develop the imaginative ability to move into another's experience, thoughts, and feelings.

But, but, ... I read the other day that software developers should be high on hubris. Cultivate it in themselves. Not humility! IMO not IMHO. And all that. Yeah. Right. And we get what we get. Systems that act like they hate users, or at least have no compassion for them. Do not consider what it would be like to actually use the thing... E.T. C. [Excellence and pride in craft does not have to mean arrogance. #justsaying]

I heard that humility is awareness of our smallness in the vastness of the universe. That sure is humbling. But I think it is also (and among other things) being aware of our limitations, or aware of how little we know in the vastness of what is known and how small that is in the vastness of what could be known, now, and in the future -- and the past, when maybe we were more acutely aware of some things we've lost the ability to be aware of. Being aware of how puny our aptitudes and successes are. Not in a disabling, self-demolishing way. But in an appreciative way that enables us to so value what others are capable of, so we appreciate what we and they bring.

Related traces:

"We imagine, empathize, quest more if we (from time to time) lift our eyes from the immediate, from the pragmatics of now, and see the larger scope of pain, and striving, and magnificence in the world." -- Requisite Variety and Requisite Imagination, 1/3/13

So much for that little roam in the playing fields of my Trace. One of the things I'd like to highlight in this moment is generosity. While empathy may be a stimulant to generosity, I'd hazard the guess that it doesn't get out of the starting gate without generosity. We need to be generous in our outlook, in how we perceive other people. If we belittle and diminish them, we are hardly able to step into their shoes, figuratively. Which gets back to humility. If we are able to be tolerant of our own foible and generous with ourselves, we can apply that generosity and tolerance to others, who may have different foibles, but foibles all the same. And see past those, to their predicament and shared human condition.

The other fresh insight that occurs to me, is that empathy is a mechanism which is much like analogy -- we apply what we know in one place, to another. If we are empathetic, we are able to apply our own feelings, our aspirations, pains, joys, responses, etc., to understand better those of another person or group. Sure, we have to make a translation, and the more flexibility and imagination we develop, the broader the span of our own encounter within ourselves and across experiences, the more we have to draw on to imaginatively construct an empathetic sense of another person's experience even when it is quite diferent that what we have experienced ourselves. Likewise with analogy. And our capacity for both is fueled by imagination and curiosity (including experimentation,but other kinds of exploration, too).

For more in the "soft skills" area:

1/29/13: Why talk about empathy, when generosity in how we see and frame up (the work of) others is in such short supply? Empathy leads with generosity.

It occured to me that empathy is intuition in the interpersonal or social/relationship space. But the generosity component seems especially pertinent in this complex world where there is a cacophony of demands on our attention and (apparent) need to attend to our own self interest.


A Place to [Not] Put Things

If I write about a place to put things, tell me to put my things where they will do more good! In code.

But since I'm putting myself back in Trace time out, you might be interested in:



Comedic Relief

Ok, a spot of comedy relief aid:


Aside: Did you click on the links on my comedy pair-up with xkcd? No? Hmpf. In case you didn't notice what I did there -- I linked to almost every xkcd comic from 1143 to 1156 (that being the last, as of 1/6/13 when I wrote the piece). Dana, generous man that he is, laughed deliciously and said I'd created a new art form with that. Ok, perhaps that is over the top, but sometimes one just needs that kind of positive response and delight at what one does. This is a cold cold world, otherwise. People are so "it's not that good." Get over it! It is that good. If you let yourself experience it that way. [This from my Trace in 2010: "I've heard people say I write like I've worked on their project (not yours, theirs) and that Scott Adams surely works in their organization. But Randall Munroe writes like he knows what I'm going to say next! Ω (pronounced ohmmmm)"]

... .. .

Must. not. write. trace. on. place. to. put. things. no. No. NO. ;-)

Not seeing the trust I placed inside, you thought the gift was empty.

"By Thinking" Debrief

Ok. I give up. Is it fair to cast this a chill, cold, indifferent, unkind world if three people step in to the discussion, and it peters out, leaving me to hang on my own audacity and generous impulse? Or did I frame that up wrong? Is it really hard to see how in the name of colorful fishes this is relevant to architecting -- and architecting software-intensive systems at that? How do we create software? By thinking. And if something isn't working as we expect, or is doing something our users can't tolerate, how do we "fix" software? By thinking. Oh, fish! By thinking! Yeah. By thinking. Ok. So maybe it is somewhat relevant... But we covered that in the comments. Indeed. That was a wonderful discussion, and it illuminated new insights for me. So we're done?

Wait, wait. Don't tell me... you didn't watch the video? Or you did, but couldn't find the "gorilla" in the story? Or I'm making you so nervous you don't want to venture a response? Well, think how nervous I am, when I'm left doing the tango alone on center stage! I tease. Too much. Ok. The gorilla I saw? It may not be the same one you saw. But it went like this: I titled the post "By Thinking" and all the discussion went straight to the heart of the piece, and focused on fixing systems, and thinking. Stuart mentioned stories. And that is a hint. But still didn't squarely nail my gorilla. Remember, when I quoted the piece, I thought perhaps I should just quote the core story, but decided also to include the encompassing story? Why? What do we learn from that story? Which? About the stakeholder -- hello? the customer! -- and the important lesson Feynman learned about people who resist an idea becoming its strongest champions, once they "get it." It's not just about the system and troubleshooting and being the fix-it-by-thinking hero who saves the day. So we get back to Stuart's mention of stories. But also this point about personality. How many times have you worked with someone who has that interaction pattern? They resist and devil's advocate but when they get it, they become loyal advocates for the system (or mechanism/design fragment/design approach/etc.) It is important to notice those people, to distinguish their style of trying to get to grips with something from people who are just mean, ripping into every idea because they can't get out of being a perpetual downer.

Ok, so that "gorilla" was really two gorillas. The point about the stakeholder/customer and the interpersonal aspect to the story, not just the system failure/resilience/system thinking dimension at its core. And a point about us -- about our cognitive frailty. That "what we are paying attention to shapes what we perceive and pay attention to." Does that make sense? Led by the title and the core of the story, we focused all our discussion there, and didn't notice, or didn't think it worthwhile to point out -- even when prompted with strong hints -- how our discussion canalized around the topic suggested by the post title and the repeated phrase in Feynman's story. Anyway, that introduces the whole body of work on cognitive biases and biases in decision making and judgment.

We will come back to all of these topics -- "by thinking" and complexity, resilience and failure, stakeholders and their concerns, stories, persuasion and influence, cognitive biases, and more.

But let me return just for a moment to the stakeholder versus our tendency to focus on the problem our brains seize on. I can't tell you how many times an executive team has voiced frustration to us because their architects have just ignored the concerns they articulate, and focus on some facet of the problem that they have ideas about. This story, and what happened to us, happens over and over, in many different forms. It's not that we don't have good intentions, it is that we just canalize. And we have to develop levers to get ourselves to shift! Levers? Questions, for example. Like "what else?" and "why don't?"

"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." -- Willa Cather (via Grady Booch)

Uh... Well, obviously I have to edit the rant out of that before I put it on the Requisite Variety site. ;-)


1/26/13: Nice complement to By Thinking:

OMgoodness, it doesn't cover everything we should do when we write software... ;-)

This is wonderful:

And if your day wasn't quite complete... here's a little cat treat (courtesy of Sara).

1/30/13: Well, I gather Leslie's article bought on another of our field's pack attack things... Really? How about changing code tends to get harder (as the code base grows and the system becomes more complex), and it takes thought to change this situation? Software is highly malleable... generally at local scope, but if entanglement increases, less so... And that is the "by thinking" point. Goodness. Who'd have thought our community would get into a feeding frenzy over a call to think more carefully, and to do that design thinking with some intentionality and focus? Of course we think very effectively in the medium of code -- but we have to recognize that we tend to think locally when we do. Code is "counting passes" kind of attention. We need to acknowledge that design thinking is not just local design but mechanism (involving collaborations of elements) and system design -- that is to address cross-cutting concerns and get more the system properties we want. Including understandability through naming things well (see also here). And capability design, where we need to take into our design view the system in its context, not just the "guts" or inside-view of the the system.

"Virtue consists more in doing good than refraining from evil." -- Aristotle




I (re)started something that I think is promising. At any rate, it will be a fun experiment... :-)

every day we reassemble optimism, focus one lens on the future and one on the moment, and set about making a difference



See, its not just the women that we're putting off:

"There are several statistics that tell that story: the number of United States students receiving bachelor’s degrees in computer science, and the percentage of high school students earnings credits in the field, are both on the decline — even though there will be 150,000 computing-job openings every year for the next seven years, by one estimate. Microsoft has gone so far as to send its engineers into high schools to help teach computer science." -- Nick Wingfield, A New Group Aims to Make Programming Cool,


Software is Creative Work

There are many ways to do things in code. And a lot comes down to context (including but not limited to language/genre), judgment, personal aesthetics. Also experience, choice and individuality of expression. Sometimes we do things in dashed ways we haven't put much thought into, and don't care very much about. But code is an expression of our minds, and if we criticize it publically it can feel like ridicule or derision. Sure, we want to value feedback so we improve what we do, so we see other ways to do it (even if, given our context or aesthetics, we ultimately disagree), so we gain experience, are offered alternative perspective, and put more "clues in our clue bucket." And while we don't want to make our field feel like we're walking on eggs and don't want to overly constrain overselves keeping a heavy hand on the self-censoring delete key, we might bear in mind that our zealous criticism costs hurt, and our incredible stinginess with recognition and positive comment is stultifying too. We are at base, primates and worse, our "lizard brains" still raise themselves to fight or flight ugliness when our defensiveness is triggered. But we are also humans -- wonderful social creatures with the capacity to imagine ourselves into another's experience. Let's use some of that -- which takes huge generosity because it means we have to pay attention to someone else, to get into their perspective rather than staying in our own, always and ever taking care of our own self. Oh yes, we'll slip up and not always be superb, but we can at least try sometimes to be! Can't we?

We might just want to consider our own inner and mutual struggles as a firmament for empathy. Nourishing, generative insights just come from so many sources and it would seem risky for society to (seek to) reduce that diversity... That said, how much better is it to

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,

-- Emily Dickenson


A Parade of Minds

and open minds:

Speaking of open minds:

and generalist-specialist:

One of the ideas I toy with, for a novel, interweaves in a curious way with Through the Looking Glass. So I'm not sure if this (by which I mean, the essays it references) is something I should or shouldn't read. It might muddy my waters, but other architects, though, might be well served to read it. Very well served. If the quoted paragraphs are anything to go by. ;-)


Life is the greatest artist of all, and we are each complicit and deeply enmeshed in its work.



Almost 7!

Just days until this Trace turns 7 (on February 3). Seven years of tracing! Well, I'm impressed! Discouraged, certainly. But also amazed at the resilience of a voice that will offer itself, despite the general indifference. I am heartily grateful for the encouragement of perhaps 7 people dotted across those 7 years (and stacked more towards the last year).

Perhaps my experience is just a symptom of a changing world…   We have dynamic content freely available, but peers have to become the “review committee” bubbling good stuff up out of the mass/mess of info glut, or we will have to return to the old school vetted, and hence pay-to-access, system. In an attention constrained world, who wants to use the podium they have worked hard to build, to give attention to others? Where is generosity, reciprocity, and a sense of community responsibility?

When our work is ignored despite being distinctly valuable, it builds a loneliness that causes people to withdraw.

I have an ill fit to the world that leaves me rasped raw, aching and weary of myself



Follow -- Now!!

Grady Booch has turned his attention to tweeting about architecture and he's really worth following. It is simply stunning how he can capture essential gist and grist in just a tweet with a link. He is insightful and inspiring, and if you're not Twitter-following him, why ever not? Architects need to keep a finger on the pulse of trends, and Grady is one of the best "heads-up this is gonna be important/shaping" scouts around -- and he's brilliant at articulating why something is important in just a tweet. Brian Foote characterized him as a meme wrangler. I'm not much one for fitting people to caps, but that one does nicely!

For spirit lifting witty banter, I recommend Martin Howitt and Simon Gough.

And these days my good friend Peter Bakker's tweet stream is filled with great pointers to resources on sketching and maps, and drawing the relationship to architecture. When Peter grabs a dragon of a topic by the tail, he uncovers such useful material and shares insights that illuminate my thinking.

And I'd recommend Michael Feathers, but everyone is already following him. No? In addition to keen insights on bringing better design to code, he uses imagery that seems to unlock the subconscious, speaking more powerfully than anything else that tweets by...

And I have to be all of those, for myself. No wonder I'm over-taxed!

Cheerleaders? Well, I prefer to say advocates and champions...

1/3/14: Well, um, naturally banter isn't the only reason I recommend following Martin, though I rate wit highly in my twitter stream! Martin demonstrates how much dimensionality a person can present in so spare a medium as Twitter.



Framework Entanglement

Michael Feathers wrote a nice blog post on Framework coupling. See also follow-up tête-à-tête on twitter.

2/9/13: Michael Feathers also talks about dependencies on frameworks around minute 17 in this interview (YOW Australia. And this is interesting: Let's Reconsider That Stunting a Framework, Michael Feathers, July 30, 2003


I also write at:

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- Trace In the Sand Blog

- Follow ruthmalan on Twitter



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Chief Scientists

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Enterprise Architects

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Architects and Architecture

- Charlie Alfred

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Architect Professional Organizations




Software Visualization

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Domain-Driven Design

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Agile and Lean

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Agile and Testing

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Software Reuse

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Other Software Thought Leaders

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- Marci Segal


Visual Thinking

- Amanda Lyons


Social Networking/Web 2.0+ Watch


- Mashable


Visual Thinking

- Dave Gray

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- Scott McLoud


Leadership Skills

- Presentation Zen


Strategy, BI and Competitive Intelligence

- Freakonomics blog

- Tom Hawes

- Malcom Ryder


Um... and these
- Nick Carr

- Tom Peters


Green Thinking

- Sylvia Earle, TED

- CNN Money Business of Green videos

- Matter Network


- xkcd

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- a softer world

- Dilbert




I also write at:

- Resources for Software, System and Enterprise Architects

- Trace In the Sand Blog

- Follow ruthmalan on Twitter



- 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.


- Links to tools and other resources



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the December 2012 version of me

Copyright 2012 by Ruth Malan
Page Created: September 2, 2012
Last Modified: January 22, 2014