A Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

March 2014



My Trace is a playground for developing ideas, for exploring architecture and the role of architects. It is a journal of discovery, and traces my active reflection.


Reading WiT on International Women's Day?

You are no doubt here because today, naturally, you want to celebrate and support women in tech.

A Trace is different, to be sure... And since few recommend even a trace (thanks Peter and Gregg!), let alone this Trace, it falls to me to characterize and position just what a Trace is. Which is unfortunate, because that is self-promoting; blegh. Allow me, though, to mention the journals of a few other women you might like to think about as you expand your reading faire this year, namely Susan Sontag and Anais Nin. With those names in play, I used the occasion of the 7th birthday of this Trace, to gush thusly about my own work here (being the one it falls to, to situate my Trace in the discourse of this field, I get to gush on its seventh birthday, no?):

This Trace is a "live performance" of organically updating discovery in the areas of (architectural) design, system thinking, innovation, leadership, more, with a focus on and applied to software, systems and enterprise architecture. Hopefully you will encounter it as something like the Susan Sontag or the Anais Nin journals in terms of their significance and calibre of writing, but, instead of speaking to culture and art, focused on architecture and the culture and practice of systems architecture, unfolded live, and expressing a dynamic understanding that dances on the fast folding sands of time*. 2/3/13

And last month, I [ab]used Ralph Ellison's words to further indicate, justify, and ask forbearance for the peculiar style of this Trace:

"To see [our field] with an awareness of its rich diversity and its almost magical fluidity and freedom I was forced to conceive of a [format] unburdened by the narrow [expectations for style, voice, focus, more] which marks so much of our current [discourse]. I was to dream of [an expressive form] which was flexible, and swift as [] change is swift, confronting the [prejudices] of our [field] forthrightly, but yet thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization. A prose which would make use of the richness of our speech, the idiomatic expression, and the rhetorical flourishes from past periods which are still alive among us. Despite my personal failures there must be possible a [conversation, and contributions such as this thereto...] which, [...], can arrive at the truth about the human condition [especially as it shapes and is shaped by the field of architecture and systems], here and now, with [something as delighted, joyful and open to wonder and] magic [as a] fairy tale"

-- [adapted from] Ralph Ellison

With that context set, you are hopefully in a generous frame of mind, and ready to read a trace or two with high expectations as to the insight fruit you will find there, but with the right sort of tolerance for the messy playfulness one would expect to encounter entering another person's mind while it is still, you know, working things out. Okay. Here you go:

Or perhaps, since this is a special occasion, what the heck, you could go the extra mile and take in a whole month; here's a few to pick from (or use the sidebar on the right):

Busy on the work side. And discouraged on the Trace side. Discouraged? Okay, that is a tad understated. I give up. But that's par for the course. Pour silence on a body of work, and you're going to get that.

As much as affirmative action makes me uncomfortable, disconfirming action is worse.

changing minds

To mark WD2014, I put my trace behind a veil in protest. It is a reminder that silence silences. The choice not to see, is the choice, in aggregate, to make the visible invisible. The habit of not seeing, not hearing, women, of thinking a woman's writing is likely not worth our while, instance by acreting instance, marginalizes women. Each one of us must make our own choices for something so intimate as who we invite into our very minds via our reading and the other discourse of our field. And with each "not this time" "not this woman" "not this work" we stack the playing field against women -- until we look around, and find women have, for the most part, all slipped off.

It doesn't jive to say "rah rah women are people too---except when it comes to actually, like, treating woman as authorities of merit and interest in one's own field.... or any other place where females ask us to countenance them as intellects not over there, somewhere else, but intellects with expertise whose thinking we allow to influence and interact with our own.... like, by reading them... and not just in psychology and interpersonal relationships and kitchen table wisdom settings where we'll grant women a little space"... Which is a strange thing to say to those of the rare sort who read here... It may help, though, to note how rare they are!

I'm not sure when I will remove the veil. I expect to. But I'm trying to regroove my habits and the main habit I want to regroove is the habit of expecting an echo back from the digital void I toss this Trace into... Tracing under the veil is both a form of protest and a way to reset; to try to reshape my relation to this Trace, without it being complexified with "audience."




What Makes Architects Great?

I think there is a lot to be learned -- by architects of nations, organizations, and systems, from speeches like The Gettysburg Address. So when I saw Sara working on the assignment described below, I nabbed it to share with you:

Preseidential Speech Assignment

So. That's your assignment: What makes architects great?

Once you have drafted your answer, you can read a variant of our answer, circa 2004: What it Takes to be a Great Enterprise Architect

Pouring creativity3/13/14: This is wonderful:

Image right: Sara's contribution to my Trace. You think I stray too far, she bemoans its lack of color. I think she's right. ;-)



I miss Twitter -- I can't tell myself the hills tried to kill me!

Awesome ~30 mile hilly country ride with 2 cat 5 hills and plenty more steep bits in quick succession to keep me from getting too proud of myself. :-) Snow again tomorrow. What a winter!



Standing Out

We saw Alvin Ailey American Dance Company perform Revelations last night. Alvin Ailey was an astonishing choreographer and the company still very much bears the stamp of his leadership and frontier-pushing style. Revelations is deep, amazing, enthralling, moving, stunning, ... here's Wade in te Water and part of Fix Me Jesus (which had me in tears, it was so utterly beautiful), from Revelations. If you can see it live, jump! No hesitation.

Our human condition is so wonderfully enriched by all the peoples who share in, contribute to, and shape our experience. And this is indeed a good time for us to be influenced and more beautifully humanized by Africa. We, the people of digital "social" connectivity, have so very much to learn about community.

'Ailey said that one of America’s richest treasures was the African-American cultural heritage —“sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.”' -- About Revelations

"I think that my best works are personal" -- Alvin Ailey

"Trying to say something about the beauty of black people... celebrating human beings..." -- Celebrating Revelations at 50 Film

Some people stand out. There is so much "self-organizing" this and "push decisions out" that, that we can forget how important stellar individuals are. Too. Each dancer added uniquely to the performance. But Ailey gave their talent and amazingness a venue for expression -- one that makes Revelations a pinnacle experience for dancer and audience.

Choreographers, or architects. There is room for greatness in our leaders, and greatness in those who unfold and give life to the choreography, or other systems. Greatness comes from a fine concert among dancers, or parts, with integrity by design. Interpreting, expressing, drawing on their own centers of excellence, but yet achieving a greater coherence and meaning for the great mind that shaped and formed the dance, or system.



First tank top ride of the season.
Vitamin D from the source -- oh yeah!

The Air We Breath

I expect you think I overstate the occlusion of women. So. Consider this:


Would you like to see the actual author order on those references? Here you go:

Who's on first?

Well, at least they referenced our work. Even if they took it upon themselves to reverse the author order in referencing our book draft, and removed me as author (on a work I authored) on the paper/chapter. Well, it is a "survey" sort of book, and neat that they didn't ignore our work.

This field is gender blind. It just doesn't mean what you think it means??



Context Factors

This, from Ross Dawson's slide-ument titled 2014: Crunchtime, struck me:

Ross Dawson on Ethics and Future

I think ethics is more and more an issue, because humanity -- individually and in smaller and bigger groups, organizations, nations -- has the power to wreak tremendous destruction not just in overt explicit acts of terror and evil, but matters of greed, ... and even... simple acts of consumption that, because of the sheer mass of us, aggregates to destructive proportion. Witness climate change. Connectivity, distribution of knowledge and access to destructive resources, on and on, have changed, and continue to change the world at a pace that outstrips the evolution of our social fabric. The ethics of "don't lie, don't steal" becomes complected in a highly connected interwoven society. If we earn resources legitimately and buy much in the way of material goods legally, using honestly earned money in a virtuous democratic meritocracy, are we behaving ethically? When our combined impact causes climate change that is killing by the thousands, destroying livelihoods by the hundreds of thousands? And how about corporations that use all we share about ourselves (as we connect and reveal ourselves to others, to make an impression, leave our mark, as it were), to sell to us. To get us to buy more (to express our identity through the things we buy, consume, integrate or use as tools, as we create our mark in the world). externalities all the way down!These are not easy, obvious matters to deal with. And every arena abounds in ethical quandaries and quagmires. They are about how we use the present that has consequences for the future -- consequences we can no longer, with innocence and naivete, see as so punily insignificant that we can treat our own aspirations and actions as independent, irreverent of their greater, emergent impact.

Dion Hincliffe does wonderful context mapping work, especially focusing on the digital-social ecosystem. Ross Dawson does leading work in the arena of creating visual frameworks or "maps" to understand shaping forces in context and explore their unfolding. The present warps so quickly into the future -- the future that is foreshadowed in forerunning presentations in the "present" (in air quotes because the "present" we experience is actually our experience of the recent past and our expectations for the close future. It is not a moment in time, But a longer moment, given inertia and our limited ability to process change not to mention our limited field of view. Oh sure, the future, even the near future, is uncertain -- in part because we ill-perceive the present and recent past.

Context maps help us to get a better bearing. They don't unfog all uncertainty, of course! But they do help us become more aware of what is taking shape, and they give us some tools to explore what we might do, to make, and take advantage of, opportunity (alternatively -- perhaps less sinisterly, Machiavellianly -- put, to see needs we can address, creating value).

We have imaginations, and the ability to anticipate. Indeed, we rely much on that ability to anticipate even to take a step -- where we have confidence and can step without conscious thought, our body is still anticipating where it will meet resistance given our gait, or we would put our foot down too hard. And where we need to navigate and step with care, we more consciously bring foresight and knowledge from past experience to bear. Consider walking across our office in the light, versus crossing a stream using rocks as impromptu stepping stones.

Peter Bakker's tweet stream and blog are neat places to look for pointers to papers and other resources on maps. Ross Dawson's site is a great place to go for examples of context maps. Of course, those (assorted styles of projection map, often called roadmaps*) are not the only kinds of context maps I use and am interested in. But various kinds of "projection" maps that help us illuminate shaping forces and their unfolding into the future are vital to strategic thinking. Stay tuned. ;-)

* But "roadmap" is also used for project roadmaps, which are essentially dependency maps used in project (release) planning and tracking (for complex interdependent projects, product families with dependencies on common infrastrutcture/platforms/frameworks, solutions, portfolios, etc.). .





neighborhood colorforests nearby

pond at the bottom of our gardenforests nearby

Now? We're in that uncertain in-between season; it was in the 60's yesterday, with snow in the forecast today.

"So much of reading is anticipation. So much of spring is the longing for spring." -- Christopher Benfey, Spring Is Far Behind



Humility, and Generosity

Feeling badass after facing down more of those jabberwock hills that keep coming for me, and rebuffing yet another challenger of a dragon-hill, I turned to Dana coming up behind me... and said "I've seen the face of humility, and it looks just like you." He laughed in pleasure. Huh? Well, see, in the time it took me to proudly put a cat 5 behind me, he did it twice! He humbled me. But I'm not nothing. He did the hill climb twice for my single -- while I came up with a joke. ;-)

Well, sigh, at least he laughed. Sheesh. Guys. Guys? You're a tough audience.


An easy responsive laugh is one of the most awesome features in a person. It takes a generousity in the seeking out and seeing and the giving back.

And, it seems to me, it is easier to be vulnerably humble when others are generous. When they are not, everyone has to dress up in emotion-hazard protection gear, or something.

People talk about presentation skills and I talk about audience skills in complement. If we want to talk about good leading, we need to talk also about good following. And fractal pools of influencing, leading and following in a dynamic dance. Not all dominance hierarchical and mechanical, but fluid and context and demands-of-the-moment sensitive. (And some of the context is formal roles, because structures emerge over histories and play their part, too.)



Local. System. Context. System. Local

One of the things I've learned to help myself over the most wickedly ferocious of these long steep hills (Indiana takes its karst topo pretty much straight up and down; no switchbacks), is to not take in the long view. And it reminds me how our attention shifts to the very local when we're wrestling a tough piece of code to quiescence.

A defining responsibility of architects, is to take in the system view. And zoom out from there, to system-in-context because the boundary of responsibilities that define the system, give it shape and identity, are negotiated. And zoom out from there, to take in the context, because that negotiation has strategic consequences.

Another defining responsibility (of architects) is system design (and evolution thereof) -- of what it is composed, the parts (responsibilities and interaction surfaces), their interactions (protocol, etc), and how capabilities (functions and properties) are delivered (the theory of operations, or how it works -- how we're addressing the architecturally significant challenges, issues and cross-cutting concerns and resolving forces, to deliver capabilities). We might think of this as the "responsibility architecture" (a nod to Tom Graves, but also Cunningham and Beck at the object level, as well as our work at the architectural level).

But design is not all top down. Not all big-picture thinking. We do have to make some decisions early, and many subsequent decisions get bound to them, so they may as well be made with savvy, expertise, wisdom, perspective -- including wisdom enough to figure out which are make-or-break that we need to get right (in that good, right, successful sense, too), and consider how best to get them righter. With experiments, mock-ups, sketch-prototypes, code-prototypes, focused sprints and deployments, ..., whatever is adequate to the moment. The extraordinary moment.

ah, the role of the architect




What's Wrong With Doing Nothing Wrong?

Those in the "I'm not worried because I've done nothing wrong" internet privacy camp, might want to consider what that means. Do you want surveillance that is able to creep its kicks, peering in your daughter's bedroom? Or your son's? You don't have to be sexting to not want to be peered at, when you take your phone out in... the bathroom... Those who wish to deflect with "it would serve them right to see that," need only imagine who might see that, if someone was to decide to use you as the object of their sport. And if you think you lead a plain and moral life, do you want someone, for the fun of making fun, trawling through your email, laughing at how very dull you are? How life is pouring through your fingers and you're counting off minutes, with nothing to show for them, nothing risked, no heights plummeted. Or scaled.

Needles in needle-stacks? Sure. But some needles are picked from the stack. You know they are. And even if the needle is not you, do you want to protect the privacy of all, in order to protect yours? Our digital lives give access to our physical, and we don't want uninvited eyes, no matter how they are rationalized, invading our thoughts and personal spaces.

I don't like putting items in a shopping cart, pausing, and finding a $50 off coupon from that company in my email. It makes me feel like grubby digital fingers have been riffling through my online behavior. It is an intrusion, meant to manipulate my behavior by hounding me, (ab)using the trust I placed when giving my email address on the last order -- for the purpose of completing that purchase, not for the purpose of creating a digital window through which to invade and attempt to manipulate my thoughtspace in the future.

Will we just succumb, relinquishing our privacy in this constant wash that erodes and eats at it from so many directions?

See also:



The "First Tweet" Game

How do I show up? My RuffyanMe alter-ego's first tweet:


She's cool. I like her.

My formal twitter persona? Well, back in 2010, I was all about code visualization, so this chanced to be my first pebble toss into the tiwtter pool:

it's still an important topic y'all

I was so darned cute -- I didn't know how un-hipster mentioning Microsoft was. Ducks and runs. ;-) [A lot of the chismo on twitter comes from independent agents who don't have to live backwards compatability and design for moving the masses through epochs of change. Walking a moon in Microsoft's moccasins would be a good exercise?]

My alter-ego is a lot more fun. Too bad the third tweet wasn't first, though...

first 3

We watched Trainspotting tonight, following up on watching Pulp Fiction the other night -- I'd managed to avoid seeing Pulp Fiction; should have stuck to that determination! Those films are tough to watch. I'm not sure they added anything to my life, other than deep disquiet about humanity. I'm going back to reading Howard's End! That is tough enough; not directly though. E.M. Forster had such an exquisite mind and it shines through in his narrative presence as well as the way he explores and expounds through the voice of his protagonists. No, that's not the tough part. What is tough is that one falls for such a mind, and, being gay, he couldn't live as fully himself in public. I read that Maurice wasn't published in his lifetime, and he never wrote another novel after Maurice. A whole dimension to the human condition he was restrained from illuminating for us. Humanity. I have to remind myself there is so much good in it. But it is also hard to figure out how to live in this world. I decide over and over to withdraw, because the cost of harsh ill-intent is high. But the spirit also wants to be present to others. And then. It is over. How quickly the sand closes over without a trace.

Image right: Lancashire in 1610 by John Speedpeople in their places



Strategy Who's Who

...as time permits (busy) I'm collecting together this list... so expect it to be spotty for a while...

Strategy Pioneers and Field Shapers

Clayton Christensen

  • The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

Henry Mintzberg

  • Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through The Wilds of Strategic Management, 2005,
  • The Structuring of Organizations, 1979,
  • The Nature of Managerial Work, 1973

Michael Porter

  • Competitive Strategy, 1980

Karl Weick


The next big thing? Why, fractal and emergent, strategy and architecture in tandem, of course! ;-) See:

The Lay of the Land (Futurists and Roadmapping/Context Mapping)
  • Stewart Brand
  • Dion Hinchcliffe,
  • Hagel and Seely-Brown



  • Michael Porter
  • Verna Allee

And Me? :-) The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent, 2010



Play Nice

Thanks to Richard West for "playing nice", and retweeting my pointer to my Postel's Law trace:

Thanks for the RT Richard!

I don't want to be faulted for participating in making my work invisible, so I'm experimenting with assuming I too have permission to mention my own work. The support I've gotten for doing that has been staggering. Yeah. Right. Extra heapings of gratitude to Peter Bakker and Richard West for being extraordinarily generous.

And, as play nice goes, here's an illustration by counter-example:

Be liberal, but not _that_ liberal


And then there's this version:


It gets the idea across... in just a tweet. Oh wait,

"Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others"

fits in a tweet.

What was I thinking, writing a whole trace? ;-)

3/25/14: Thanks also to Paul Harland (and Stuart Boardman). Kudos to Paul for noticing the pattern/pheromone trail. :-)


Dealing with Uncertainty




Reactive Isn't Proactive?

REACT2014. Yet another conference with no women speakers. We don't want to go after the instances; that just hurts people who are doing good work in our community, making conferences happen. But why not shift our cultural expectations by shifting our own behaviors? How? By having high expectations of women -- expect that there are women in technology you want to read and listen to and discuss and work with, so that you actively seek to shift your own ratio of inclusion.


or women ?

Because, you know, who listens to women, really?




It Depends [Gosh-darn Dependencies]




From Pack Stack Ranking to Learning Journeys

I was tempted to tweet:

Grateful to those for whom gender blind doesn't mean there's an invisible gender... Hears bullets. Uh. Make that grateful to be invisible!

But I know full well that many people are rendered invisible by a world that has a great tendency to overlook gentle collaborative non-dominating people, no matter what their gender.

I think we can make (or put more conscious effort into making) a new relationship basis that is more about learning journeys and helping one another along our interweaving paths. Creating real social networks, rather than simply, only dominance trees.




George Eliot, in her essay on German realism, wrote that “the greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies. Appeals founded on generalisations and statistics require a sympathy ready-made, a moral sentiment already in activity; but a picture of human life such as a great artist can give, surprises even the trivial and the selfish into that attention to what is apart from themselves, which may be called the raw material of moral sentiment.”

-- 10 Novels to a Better You: Who really knows if reading will make you a better person? More to the point, why should it matter? By Mark O'Connell

Literature is one way to expand our access to the thoughts and experiences of others -- sure, fictional others, but the tradeoff there is deeper, richer, more intimate access to the thoughtscapes as well as action and interactions of those others. It is only one way though. Actually knowing others, talking to and corresponding with others, being interested in them and, with mutual vulnrability, respect and trust, sharing experiences, thoughts, encounters. Of course, reading a well written journal by an unlike Other is like huge. Just huge. ;-)

Interesting article, but more as a prompt to thought. Being able to "feel into" another person's perspective, doesn't necessarily make us more considerate or generous. Because I can write a poem, doesn't mean I am going to right now, tonight, or this week. Even if you ask me to. Why haven't you asked me to? That's not very considerate! ;-)

Wish Gene Hughson a Happy Birthday on the 31st!!

He adds so much to our field -- through his wonderful blog, and through his collegial camaraderie and generosity. Truly this field is ever so much the wiser and kinder for his being in it!


I also write at:

- Bredemeyer Resources for  Architects

- Trace In the Sand Blog




Journal Archives

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- storylines tubemap by Peter Bakker



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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





Agile and Lean

- Alistair Cockburn

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- Johanna Rothman


Agile and Testing

- Elisabeth Hendrickson

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Software Reuse

- Vijay Narayanan

Other Software Thought Leaders

- Jeff Atwood

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CTOs and CIOs

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CEOs (Tech)


CEOs (Web 2.0)

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Innovate/Tech Watch

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- Marci Segal


Visual Thinking

- Amanda Lyons


Social Networking/Web 2.0+ Watch

- bokardo.com

- Mashable


Visual Thinking

- Dave Gray

- Dan Roam

- David Sibbet (The Grove)

- 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

- Buttercup Festival

- Dinosaur comics

- geek&poke

- phd comics

- a softer world

- Dilbert


I also write at:


- 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 fits 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. Thank you.


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Copyright 2013 by Ruth Malan
Page Created:July 1, 2013
Last Modified: February 3, 2016