A Trace in the Sand
by Ruth Malan
Talk Topics: Requisite Flexibility?
I'm tossing around ideas for a mini-workshop and a presentation for a conference. For the mini-workshop, I was thinking of a scoped down version (stretches rather than a full workout) of the Architect's Parkour -- so something along the lines of:
Those are merely variations on the theme (some are teasing winks to make sure you're awake at the wheel here), mainly playing with ideas for a "catchy name," but the focus would be on characterizing what a designer does, and how to be better at that, with "cognitive stretches" to enhance flexibility of different aspects or facets of the design mind.
For the presentation, I've thought about talking about the role of sketches and diagrams in our software design toolkit, toying with titles like
Since we've been doing the visual thing for 20 years, I have tried out and learned a lot, weathered the tide that turned against visual modeling, and seen it come back in again, etc. and it seems like it'd be a good focus.
Another idea is to focus on Responsive Design, where by responsive, I mean in this case that the design (process) is responsive. That is, it is an active learning process, that seeks out and senses, and responds to, cues in the (various) environments to improve the design [fit to (evolving) context and to (evolving) purpose, as well as the structural integrity of the design]. Again, this is a cornerstone of our approach to visual architecting.
It is a problem of choice. I don't know how much interest there is in the Parkour/Requisite Variety Workout workshop, so not sure if this notion that working on cognitive fitness (and emotional fitness for that matter) for our design work is a hit or a flop...
It is so hard to get traction for an idea in this field, if the people who like it and respond to it don't express that enthusiasm onward. So a huge thanks to Vish Persuad, Cory Foy, Cutter Consortium, John Evdemon, Gene Hughson and Maryse Meinen, and JP De Vooght for retweeting mentions of my workshop at the Software Architect Conference.
Decisions decisions. What do you suggest? Better titles? Other topics? Show of interest????
8/22/15: Oh, right, there's also something along the lines of Filling the Design Clue Bucket (you know, so we can get a clue, when we need it)... Too playfully put? I think it's a neat idea, and provides context for talking about patterns and other mechanism designs, analogies (biomimicry, mechanical analogies and social metaphors, etc.), principles and heuristics, and so forth -- but also looking beyond the usual suspects and sources of our field. The story of the master butcher comes to mind, for example, in the context of microservices (feeling for, seeking out and cleaving along the lines of the natural structure of the system). ;-)
8/27/15: You can take some credit for that whelp, if you've never mentioned my work. Smiles! But really, how would people know? I was there, two decades ago, when software architecture was clearly on people's minds, but we didn't really know what it was or meant, and I set about finding out, exploring, researching, trying things out, and helping to shape how we think about architecture and architects. I initiated a research stream in the Software Lab at HP Labs focused on software architecture (and worked directly with product teams on architecture and design), then led the creation of a software architecture consultancy within the Software Initiative at Hewlett-Packard. (The Software Initiative worked with product teams within HP.) All that was in the 90's, when we were also working on Team Fusion with Derek Coleman and others -- a lightweight jem (just enough method) for teams that incorporated architecture and iterative development ideas from Tom Gilb's EVO.
When Dana Bredemeyer and I left HP to create Bredemeyer Consulting in the late 90's, we broadened our focus to architects in other companies and industries. So. I was there helping to initiate software architecture as a discipline in the 90's, and I was still focused on the challenges faced by architects, and architecture and system design concerns, through the first decade of agile when "emergent design" was the rage. Of course, architecture (or system design) always is to some degree intentional and to some degree emergent. But when we are intentional about learning also from experience -- not just ours, but that of others in our industry -- we can blend more seasoned intentionality into the mix. So that's what I've tried to bring to this field.
I took the approach of making writing freely available, and the Bredemeyer site, and my Trace, have made their quiet contributions. Well, for the most part what was quiet was the response, but ocassionally something great did happen. I know my Trace is...uh... quirky -- I wrestle with sometimes contentious topics, and one has to signal that one is just playing with insights, trying to coax them out to view.
8/31/15: I looked at the Bredemeyer site on Wayback Machine (the graphics don't show up on the site captures from 1999, which is too bad, but still). Wow, Dana sure was busy presenting at conferences in 2000! Say, how do you like our emphasis on architecture sketches -- in 2003. ;-) It's not that we haven't learned anything in the last 20 years, but our values have deep roots in what we were doing in the 90's. For example, we worked with and learned from David Sibbet in the mid 90's (sketches and an emphasis on visual facilitation). In the mid/late 90's, under the incredible influence of Derek Coleman, Todd Cotton, Dana Bredemeyer (and yes, moi), we were using a hybrid of Tom Gilb's EVO on projects in HP, focusing on what was just enough architecture and design to help teams work iteratively and incrementally, in one- or two-week development cycles (hey, it was the 90's -- who else was doing that??). Under the influence of the likes of Chris Argyris, we were talking organizational politics back when -- indeed way back when in the first rev of our website in 1999. (Donate to WaybackMachine!) We learned a lot the hard way -- like pressure cooker (fr)agile builds technical debt (we didn't have the handy term, but we knew what it looked like! ;-)
I don't yet know how much interest there is in the Parkour for Architects (workshop at the Software Architect Conference in London in October), but I'm excited by the notion of "fitness training" for the design mind -- the mind of the designer, that is. It has such wonderful scope and opportunity for impact, both in terms of considering what it is we do and are good at, as software designers, as well as how we get better at it. We've been doing the Architectural Leadership and Other Skills Workshop for at least a decade (and the Software Architecture Workshop for approaching two decades), so obviously I'm not unaware of work in the space of getting better (more effective) at this design thing we do -- in various dimensions and facets, including, but not limited to code as design (and thinking medium).
Still, fitness slants a different light on the space of concerns and how we address it. We talk about design as addressing system fit to purpose and to context. We can think of honing our minds. With design in mind. Goodness knows, it makes sense to get better at design. Our systems only get more complex. The contexts into which they fit, all the more so. Thinking about designing our minds to hone and improve our complex system design capabilities is a good thing, yes? Actually, I'm saying mind, but I'm thinking about working on getting better at utilizing extended intelligence -- embodied intelligence and collective or group intelligence -- too. And I don't mean I fantasize or desire to go all Olympian trainer on minds. :-) I just mean that it is a neat metaphor to play with. The goal isn't to have a ripped mind, just as the athlete's goal isn't to have a sculpted physique -- though that is the outcome of training to be better--great even--at their game. Being better at our game, takes a combination of building our capability and honing our design sense and sensibility, building imagination and empathy, getting better at the cognition that happens between, not just within, us, ..., getting better at working with and through and among others to create and evolve complex strategically impactful systems... Exploring both practice and pouring ideas into our melting pot minds to help deepen and enrich the capability set we bring to design.
Oh sure, we have books like:
As well as papers and blog entries, like:
Not to mention, well, my whole Trace, really. :-)
But workshops as workouts? Neat idea? Worth a try?
Later: Thanks for the RT Vish -- reassured that someone responded! :-) Say, have you twitter-met Vish Persaud?
About Those Ideas
Well, I flung ideas across the bow of this Trace to gauge your reaction. What do you think? The Software Architect Conference got what it got because someone showed an interest. Any of the things I do could be very interesting to the interested. It's just a matter of connecting with interest. So. Where is the interest?
8/29/15: Eh. Scratch that. I'll hold off on more talks until I see how my talks at the Software Architect Conference in London in October go over, and then recalibrate. I have a lot of experience. It's not that. It's more that having to talk from the position of an ostencible newcomer to a field I have worked hard to earn standing in, puts me at even more of a disadvantage than just being a woman (voice and height cue stature in the absence of other cues).
It struck me when an architect said "sometimes ignorance is bliss." Struck me as true -- we do have to partition, to compartmentalize, to focus. We can't hold the world within us -- it's just too much. Too much to know, too much to grieve for, too much to hope for. And yet. People flow through our lives and they are opportunities! They have learned from a different experience set, see and perceive things differently. Indifference dulls our senses, damps our response. Focus is important. So important that what we focus on, is defining -- at a certain zoom level, it is life defining, identity shaping. But we need to be able to shift focus, pan, take on other perspectives, feel. Feel! Ache. Yearn. Be excited. Heat up our molecules to dancing point, and thrust off indifference!
(A little... dramatic... there Ruth? Impish grin. )
In Praise of Praise (as a Kind of Feedback)
I'm interested in how we think about praise on the one hand, and critical feedback on the other... There is emphasis on the notion that positive self-esteem must come from within... while negative feedback from outside is encouraged... It seems to me, we have (to have) internal engines of affirmation and disconsolation... And we need external sources of feedback to help sanity check and calibrate the internal self-sense -- we shouldn't receive or give all negative feedback, for life is very good at giving us negative feedback without any special effort, really. Anyway, my sense is that people who do great work, have very well-developed internal critics who hold them to a high bar of excellence. But, my internal critics are warning me that I probably got that wrong.
At least, I think, we might want to check in with ourselves before we offer (only or predominantly) negative feedback to someone who obviously does a pretty good job of being their own critic. By the same token, if someone seems to be giving themselves unbalanced positive feedback and maintaining blindspots that aren't helpful to them, we might consider helping them see what they're not. But we should also remember that we have only a pinhole view on their experienced reality, and they may have (internal) battles they're waging that we aren't aware of.
Anyway, I think that being blanket anti-praise is misplacing concern, and removing an important source of feedback. Judicious praise -- based on observation, insight, and acknowledgment of something good or done well, etc., -- is positive, affirmative feedback. This is quite distinct from flattery, which is intentional ego manipulation through false or inflated praise.
As I read it, anti-praise is reaction against a form of manipulation. For example, against influence to "do more of that" (thing that serves me well, the subtext might go). But negative feedback is -- at least, can be -- manipulative in the same way, if you think about it. That is, we can use feedback to serve our agenda, or to serve the person we are giving feedback to, or to serve them as they strive to serves others (on their team, their family, etc.). In the first case, feedback -- whether negative or positive -- is potentially problematic. The more problematic, the more serving our agenda is at the expense of the person we are giving feedback to.
But. It depends. Some people get into a position of power and influence and all they get is positive feedback. Then speaking truth to power may be hard but important. Or they may be pretty isolated by their standing, and they may need authentic, thoughtfully noticing and appreciative, affirmative positive feedback. Their very "soul" may crave it, because we are humanly social creatures, evolved to connect. All distance and "objective" "constructive" negative feedback doesn't provide nurturing, affirmative warmth. It communicates "don't be you" rather than "be more you."
Mainly... we're not all that good at paying attention to others and taking the time to express appreciation and wonder at what they do and have made true in the world. Their work, words, ways of being that light and delight us. But it serves us well to notice what we are grateful for, in others. As gratitude goes, Leonard Bernstein's words of appreciation to a mentor is inspiring:
8/28/15: But please don't damn with faint praise. And... please don't condescend. That is elevating yourself at another's expense. I hope that doesn't come off as condescending! I know. People stuff is hard. But condescensions and undermining a person's standing (often subtly, like ignoring them in a conversation) are the thousand small cuts that bleed our field of those we force to choose between becoming calloused over or withdrawing.
9/19/15: Reading Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (via Brian Marick), I wondered if the whole anti-appreciation of the excellence a person develops in themselves, their work, the products of their thoughts and hands, is the "Handicapper General" -- we don't need literal handicaps, because we have created a very effective alternative.
When we changed the title from Parcourse for the European audience, it accidentally became Parkour, not Parcour. Dana Bredemeyer noticed, but only after the print brochure was a done deal. I confess, I wasn't familiar with the Parkour/Parcour distinction, but Parkour was even better (for my purposes), so I happily ran with it. ;-) I mean, "the act of moving from point “a” to point “b” using the obstacles in your path to increase your efficiency" is a gift of Serendipity. Further, parkour 'comes from the French “parcours”, which literally means, “the way through”, or “the path”.' So we get a two-for-one kind of thing -- a Parkour and Parcour. ;-) Dancing with moving metaphors. :-)
Speaking of selfie shtick, I added a "contemplating the architecture astronaut" selfie below my tweet bars. ;-) Partly, because my avatars are manga (drawn by Sara several years ago), it seemed like I ought to show up somewhere as being a "senior WiT" -- you know, the kind with hair the color of wisdom. ;-) [That photo was taken a year ago -- I have more wisdom now. :-)]
8/27/15: my avatar amiright?!? ;-)
I joked that there should be a new Seaworld attraction: Empathy Jumps the Shark. I suppose the quip could seem loaded in an unfriendly way if you don't understand that I'm so not about being unfriendly or unkind. I simply was playfully making the point that empathy has made it so far up the hype curve that there are some surfing the opportunity wave, pulling some attention-boosting stunts -- that is a wickedly teasing wink at the likes of Paul Bloom and Against Empathy. Paul Bloom makes some good points, and directly and by opposition, he gets us to clarify our thinking about empathy. What he points us to (in the article; I haven't read the book), is usefully applied to helping us use empathy more effectively (we need to be aware of our tendency to be more empathetic to attractive people, for instance). And Bloom reminds us that we have other traits and states than just empathy available to us, as we seek to be effective in our relationships and roles.
Of course, Seaworld could do with a dose of self-effacing humor, replacing their unempathetic shows with orcas and other sea creatures, with some satirical comedy with humans and fake sharks. I suppose it helps to know the origin of the phrase:
to more fully appreciate the spectrum of entendre I was playing with.
Yes, there is a serious point beneath the playfulness. It is good to get better at empathy -- at empathetic design, empathetic interactions, more. Empathy is a mechanism for being more considerate. For taking into consideration. But we have to make tradeoffs and tough judgment calls. Empathy isn't the whole ball of wax, the magic solution, the... And if we try to force it, paste it over superficially without going deep, we're going to earn a bad rap for empathy. And it's too important to hype so much that we create a pendulum swing against it.
8/31/14: What's with the sentences that trail off? Inclusion my dear Watson. You get to add your own points. Aren't I nice? ;-)
This applies to how we see people, and systems, and well, seeing...
Yesterday was #WomensEqualityDay. I noticed that I wasn't doing a very good job of retweeting women, so yesterday I made more of a point of reading and following up on the tweets of women. It certainly made a difference to my retweets!
I suppose I should lay off twitter for a few months to make up for overflowing the attention buffers yesterday!
Alter-egos. That's the way to go. Always someone there to reply, or favorite, and sometimes retweet, you.
The example we set, leads. If I cannot be wholeheartedly influenced, why expect to influence? If I cannot live the golden rule, by whatever version and name I want others to apply it to me, why expect them to?
One can change the world even if one will not change oneself. People do follow leaders who are arrogant and assert their will. Trump puts that in our face. But do we want to live in a world the likes of a Trump dominates? If not, we need to be different. We need to live differently, lead differently.
Dana Bredemeyer says "if there is a silver bullet [in software], it is relationships of goodwill and a commitment to objectivity." In engineering and system development, we value objectivity, but in part we need that commitment because we are too often objectively wrong even about objectivity. We have to commit to seeking out and accommodating for our fallibilities, our biases, our just plain incomprehension and tendency to error because we can't hold it all in mind or memory or view. And goodwill, working with a positive orientation towards one another, but also because we mess up -- not just cognitively, but in our relationships too. We get stuck. We wilfully misunderstand one another when we need, if we are to get anywhere, to wilfully -- imaginatively, actively -- understand one another. Words are messy ambiguous, shape-shifting creatures, and they do as much harm as good, as they mix it up in the world! Goodwill helps us get past the bumps along the way, recover and reorient.
We need a more fractal notion of leadership, where there are as many opportunities for leading in a moment, as there are moments. So that some of the time we step aside and let someone else lead, and some of the time we step up and lead. Sometimes, and in some roles, we do more leading -- but even there, we can try to do much of that leading by the example of good following.
Sometimes we need to visibly follow. Examples? We can set the example of listening to someone else -- if the venue is digital, we can demonstrate we listened with a gesture like a favorite or retweet, or something less passive, like a quote or a positively framed retweet. We can set the example of finding someone else's ideas compelling, agreeing with them out loud. We can set the example of being wholehearted. Not begrudging another a positive word of recognition, or a moment of leadership. Not undermining and undercutting someone who is getting a moment of mindshare. Or who is simply attempting to be heard. [If you recognize that we unconsciously tend to not let women lead, then you see how important it is to step it up, when it comes to visibly following women. Also, we must hold off on giving women an inch of recognition, and taking away two feet with simultaneous undermining innuendo.]
I do try, even when I talk about my ideas, to be inclusive of others, being positive about them even if I don't absolutely agree with their ideas, so that others will take them seriously and weigh their contribution.
I want people to look past my faults. Do you have faults? Why yes, now that you mention it. Just kidding. I try to be generous in how I see, what I notice, and what I look past. I need to be more generous. I'm not alone in that. ;-)
I'm going to give Twitter a break for as long as I can manage. It's a distraction (I have a bad habit of chasing down interesting rabbit holes, and need to forcibly regroove that habit). Of course, I've made and broken such resolutions before...
Thanks to the 3 people who (re)tweeted the link to this month's Trace: Amitai Schlair, Stuart Boardman and Tom Graves. I don't think I'll Trace going forward. Attention is overloaded and there are more important things to do and read. But it was nice to have that show of collegiality and mutuality on the way out. :-)
I want to stay open, vulnerable, spontaneous and joyful. The thousand small cuts that tend to bleed our field of its women, break my spirit too. It's restorative to work where my contribution makes a difference.
I also write at:
- Bredemeyer Resources for Architects