Thinking aboutA Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

December 2010

12/1/10 A Dusting of Snow

That's about it. Just a dusting.

12/1/10 I Love XKCD!

Ah, Randall has figured out how to apply his insight and wit to his "family situation." His work will be the better for it, and we are the better for it!

12/1/10 Something About Boxes

Dana and I were tossing about ideas for a SATURN tutorial proposal yesterday, and we were both excited about pitching doing something about boxes. There's so much fun to be had, and so much really useful stuff to go after.

Stuff. Dana showed me the "George Carlin Talks about Stuff" routine. Where have I been all my life? I hadn't seen George Carlin? There's something to that TV culture after all...

I'm talking like ... I'd never seen (NSFW for language) "Saving the Planet" and (also definitely NSFW; adult language) "We Like War." You see what I mean?  

I suppose if you haven't been reading along in October/November, you have no idea what those boxes could mean except stereotypes we need to get out of, or boxes with lines on those infamous block diagrams.. Ah, but there's so much scope there, and then there's all the other boxes besides. Wouldn't you want to do something about boxes? with me--ok, ok, with Dana?

Yeah, yeah, everyone wants to do something with Dana. Even I. Especially I!

Ok, so this is what we submitted:

Something About Boxes

by Ruth Malan and Dana Bredemeyer (primary presenter)

In this tutorial we will do something about boxes. Play with them. Use them. Elucidate and elide them. Get out of them. Imagine stuff into them. This is a tutorial that does something. It does something about that conceptual architecture diagram, that box and line drawing, that sketchy simple figure that conveys through abstraction, metaphor, visual and textual cues to unfolding narrative, the whole system. Conveys the behavior of the system. Conveys -- illustrates, describes, moves from my mind to yours. Conveys -- conducts, is the conduit for, enables. Conveys -- serves. Serves the development team with models that illustrate. Serves users with behaviors or functions. Serves the business.

So we'll deal with sketchy, ephemeral, shape-shifting boxes. And boxes that convey some quite sophisticated insight, hard-wrung from experience and close observation and attention. Boxes that morph. Boxes that become. Boxes that are compressions, full of meaning and import and -- code. Boxes and lines that draw on us -- our experience, our intentions, our designs. Boxes -- and lines -- that will enable and constrain us. Boxes and lines that may begin as just a crude sketch, where you need me to explain how it is more than just boxes and lines, to tell you in so many words their import. And boxes that leverage metaphor, analogy, condensation of meaning into some simple representative abstraction, that actively engage the viewer in a dialog with the meaning of the thing, enabling us to distill complexity into elegant simplicity.

You could say that this is a tutorial that explores the art at the technical heart of architecting, using visual thinking and design, analogy, intuition and experience honed in patterns and heuristics to achieve "the creation of resilient abstractions, a good separation of concerns, a balanced distribution of responsibilities, and simplicity" (Grady Booch).

Christopher Alexander said of patterns, "if you can't draw a picture of it, it isn't a pattern." At what point will we say "if you can't draw it, it isn't architecture"? Architecture is (at least) the structure of the system designed to deliver, through collaboration and interaction among the constituent elements, the desired capabilities of the system. And we ought to (be able to) draw that! But drawing -- designing those elements at varying degrees of elaboration and abstraction, taking different views on the complex of structures to design and elucidate how various capabilities are to be built or evolved -- is a matter of boxes. Abstractions that sketch intent that morph into compressions of designs actualized in implementations.

These diagrams are a medium for and the visual expression of design thinking. Of course we don't mean it is only or all about visual models. Technology choices may show up on models but certainly the reasoning behind those and other choices needs to be expressed in words so that our thinking, deliberating on stakeholder goals and concerns, connecting to business drivers and assertions we make given a diligent, honest look at technology capabilities and directions, is communicated and preserved. And, frankly, thought about more rigorously, because writing, as with visual representation (whether in "art" -- subjective, or in a "model" -- "objective"), makes us think more thoroughly, investigate more angles, etc.

Named boxes and lines. And the words that elaborate the boxes and lines just enough to convey the intent, in some cases, or considerably more to specify, in others. Words. Spoken words because they are interactive and participative and so vivid and engaging and can be dynamically redirected to explore or address a concern or point of interest. And written words because they endure, and are thought-out and can be rich and exciting too especially when they invite an asynchronous dialog or inquisitive questing/questioning/responding in the mind of the reader.

But this is not just just about boxes and lines. It is about the surprises boxes can hold. And the surprises in something.

Analogy. Visual and verbal. Visualizations. Stories. Play.

What it takes to do something about boxes!

---  End Tutorial Overview---

If you aren't totally blown away by that and impatient to attend, I'm not talking to you any more!

I know, it is really edgy but the idea is that we don't want to give up our time, and travel at our cost, to do a tutorial that is stale and boring with an audience that wants something we're not going to give them. On the other hand, the people that would want to do this, would be a real asset to the conference and a real joy to have in other tutorials not just ours. So all round, I think that if it passes the acceptance bar then it will be good for the conference and fun and good for those of us who throw ourselves into making it great.

So, whether it gets accepted or not becomes a defining moment for the conference, don't you think?


12/1/10 Similarities ... and Differences

One thing leads to another, and in particular Carlin's (remember -- NSFW; adult language and humor) "We Like War" leads to George Carlin on Our Similarities (also NSFW for langauge). Right when I was watching that, the announcement for the last of the four posthumously published Russ Ackoff books arrived in my inbox. It is titled Differences that Make a Difference

"His aim was to dissolve (not solve or resolve) some of the many disputes in professional and private life that revolve around meaning and (mis)understanding." -- Amazon product description for Differences that Make a Difference

This is a glossary intended to dissolve differences using a strategy that Dana calls "goodwill and a commitment to objectivity." That is Dana's "silver bullet."

I have used "difference that makes a difference" differently, yet there is a similarity. :-) Ok, when I'm working with architects in a product family setting, I ask them to seek out the differences that make a difference to various stakeholders. What I'm trying to get at is where there are differences that matter and we will distinguish based on those differences. So that we can find ostensible differences that we can slough off. It is a commitment to excellence and delight as well as excellence in simplicity through reduction. We can't always simply shave off complexity, but we certainly need to find every spot, even seeming tough to give up spots, where we can.

12/1/10 Visualizing Structure

Our boy wanted a desk made from a tree close to us. One that had been standing dead on a property in town was cut down and Dana was given some of the logs. The person on the property thought it was walnut, but we were told that the guys who had hauled the logs away for firewood said it was elm. That set Dana on an adventure of identification, and that is, in of itself very interesting. It turns out you can get far down the identification path by looking at the distribution of pores, but you have to magnify considerably to see them. So Dana took these photos with his digital camera. It is astonishing the world that the macro feature on a digital camera brings to our senses! We live at such an amazing time!

The pictures are gorgeous. Dana immediately used one as his background. I still have the photo I took when we were in Alaska a few years ago as my background:   

There is just something alluring about structure made visible!

12/2/10 Shift Happens -- to my Journal

I looked at my journal map assuming the vantage point of someone just stumbling upon it... pretty much no-one has gone to it yet, so it is not in real danger of giving the wrong impression but... it could happen. I know, I know, that's not likely but theoretically someone could. Now it is obvious I have to add more entries around key topics and I need to shift gears from month-to-month indexing to a round of topic-by-topic indexing. Googling "shift happens" on my site, I returned to and reread The Storm is Upon Us. I love that story about the ice-cream!

Now, question for you -- how do I classify it, if I allow myself only one way to index it? How about  architect :: stance of the architect :: A sense of humor :: The Storm is Upon Us? Or architect :: stance of the architect :: Enthusiasm and Positive framing :: The Storm is Upon Us? Or do I put it under creating culture or finding opportunity, since so many of us are drawn to make things better. I mean, isn't that why you became an architect? to have more impact so that more of the good, right things get done, making the systems you build better for users and developers and the business? Want me to back up a moment and illuminate how this relates to finding opportunity? Well, flip frustration (the under belly?) over, and there we have opportunity -- an opportunity to make things better. Ice cream with no animals in it. Not convinced? Right. I think you just outframed my journal. See how useful this map is? Saves you all kinds of time!  

12/2/10 A Christmas Special

IU Ballet's The Nutcracker is this weekend. Sara is well cast as a mischievous boy in the party scene in Act I. It will be streamed live so you too can watch it. Right. Likely. ;-)  One of the truly miraculously wonderful things about this town is that the police have to come out to direct traffic not just for ball games at IU (Indiana University) but the IU ballet and opera too. The classical performing arts still have a life in a town like this, and it is heart warming, joy-inspiring, and hope giving!

Art that is given expression to through the medium of the human body is wondrous to me. That we still have children and young adults who are inspired and excited by, and seriously work hard at, classical ballets (think of the mainstream modern child) is astonishing when you think about it! It is hard, competitive, yearning-striving stuff, and most people just haven't a clue how to connect with it. These kids aren't just amazing athletes, they are artists and I'll say it again for emphasis -- their medium of expression is the body. We can make amazing stuff happen by thinking code into computers and that is astonishing. But they make astonishing things happen defying gravity!

12/2/10 Identity Issues

Looking for the link on cut-away landscapes, I reread some of October 2009's posts. In particular, the section on elitism. How many gentlemen and gentlewomen are? Gentle, I mean. Really gentle with respect to humanity. Because arrogance is not gentle. It is insidiously oppressive. It is a Procrustean approach to human spirits, diminishing people by imposing a small mental frame upon them. 

So I realize that, and once again I incline my spirit in respect to those ancient Greeks, for their myths still speak to our human condition! A while ago Daniel Stroe reminded me of Procrustes in the context of force-fitting solutions, and that is a vivid application of the myth too.

One of the things we do is help others see how and why something is important. So we variously play the role of the seen and the seer.

We create our identity, in large part. It is the "dress and redress our presentations to the world" thing. Still, the people we interact with are the mirror that validates or invalidates our identity. We may protest and rail against the external "objective" reality they project back to us, and we may strive all the harder to surmount or alter that view of us. Or, like John Steinbeck (1962), our spirit may be so downcast that we lose the will to surmount the shrunken view that is projected onto us.    


12/2/10 Visual Narrative

I got around to buying Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative because I think that there is something to the notion that we should think in terms of visual narrative to make our architectures come alive. This could be much richer than the stakeholder views thing. I don't mean comic strips, unless that's a neat talent you bring to your project -- in which case, leverage the h* out of it! (In the Making It Visual keynote presentation, and again brainstorming Something About Boxes, Dana made the point that the architect importantly puts her or himself into the architecture.)  But take threads of reasoning as threads of narrative, and weave the story of how intentions and threat containment or avoidance play out in the architecture. Yes, for a complex system with complex organizational demands and high demands on human cognition and expertise, we want a well-organized architecture specification that helps us locate and navigate. But as warranted by the demands to align minds, many minds, and provide them context and understanding of the design and the forces that pushed and pulled at the architectures along various vectors, think about narratives -- as visual as you can make them -- that make the thinking vivid and memorable and understandable.   

Architecture that climbs off the page and starts to dance a kind of geeky dance...

Oddly, my sketches (not this one) are used (on other sites, often not even software related) more than my words... what's that about?... Google, it turns out, is my most loyal fan. No, I don't mean the company. I mean the search engine. For example, do an image search on code smells. And you thought I was irrelevant!  What's that? This is the Age of Mediocrity? Maybe so. But maybe it is the age where we rebel against mechanization and compartmentalization of aspects of ourselves, and we admire aspiring, tentative/humble humanity in all its glory and its foible. We want to take defects out of machined creations, but oddities and variance mark hand-made and organic as such.

I use that image being kind to myself about the (schlocky) execution because the idea is important. We need our architecture to come alive -- be vibrant and lively, climb off the page and dance in the minds of those who encounter the architecture, be created in a system that executes and has a "life of its own" as it enters the web of systems that evolve and mingle with our lives in ways we depend ever more on. So it is not a masterpiece and I don't claim to have mastered my perspective (referencing the quote in the image below), but I think we tolerate imperfections when there is some redeeming goodness that our spirit inclines to. Or, I model being bold beyond my warrant, because there is something important that I'm doing. Architects have to be bold. We have to start to make headway in a fog of uncertainty and ambiguity, and that will show in all kinds of ways. But what may seem to be audacity will come to prove itself only if we start taking those tentative steps. We don't so much have a shortage of good ideas or imagination; we rather often have, instead, a shortage of will. So we have to find the ideas that we are drawn to put the strength of our will behind, to take them from wispy tentative notions of how to make something better in the world, all the way to deployed systems. We have to be bold -- audacious, courageous, and willing to accept not mediocrity but some forgivable lesser qualities along with the promise (early on) and then realization of excellence (soon, with more as we go). And we have to persuade others to join us in doing so. That's leadership.  

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

Image source: 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

"I remembered a comment by Paul Feyerabend that modern scientists serve a function equivalent to court jesters in earlier times, and came up with the idea that science is a form of storytelling."

-- B. R. Bickmore, D. A. Grandy, Science as Storytelling

12/2/10 Form+Code


"Once the exclusive domain of programmers, code is now being used by a new generation of designers, artists, and architects eager to explore how software can enable innovative ways of generating form and translating ideas. Form+Code in Design, Art, and Architecture offers an in-depth look at the use of software in a wide range of creative disciplines. This visually stimulating survey introduces readers to over 250 significant works and undertakings of the past 60 years in the fields of fine and applied art, architecture, industrial design, digital fabrication, visual cinema, photography, typography, interactive media, gaming, artificial intelligence (AI), artificial life (a-life), and graphic design, including data mapping and visualizations, and all forms of new media and expression." -- Form+Code website

Actually, I don't think code was long the exclusive domain of (specialist/career) programmers! I started taking CS classes because my engineer friends (mechanical and electrical) were hooked on programming. But they were programming to do stuff. It was just part of the engineering work they were doing. And so when I read Grady's wonderful "invisible thread" quote, I immediately went to "invisible weavers" because the people who write code are often so invisible that we "software industry" folk may not know about them! I don't just mean folk who use VBA in Excel in incredibly sophisticated ways (in a variety of fields from anthropology to business -- not even realizing that they are, in effect, programming). And I don't just mean the mechanical engineers who write computational fluid dynamics (CFD) applications with visualizations beyond anything we're doing in software/code visualization. And I don't just mean chemistry and other researchers who write code to do simulations or to analyze data. And so on, and on, in STEM fields and in academic research. I mean hobbyists who write their own investment systems, kids who write games, and on and on. We may think that software systems are so complex that it is a specialists' bailiwick, and in many situations it is. But it is but no means an exclusive province.

I think this is important for us to be thinking about, because we can be so tech-macho arrogant in software and put plenty of smart men and women off entering our field (at significant cost of depriving our field of vital diversity)... and yet hopefully many of these same people will be drawn to writing code in the fields they choose... I say hopefully, because the amount of software that needs to be written to satisfy our hunger to ever augment our capabilities with software is only going up and up, and up and up! Software adds smarts -- "software is becoming critical to the sensory mechanisms and the central nervous system of our society." (8/30/09)

And we need to think about software being written by human beings trying to do other stuff than prove how smart they are at making computers do their systemantics. People who want their brilliance to be focused on their domain of inquiry and passion, writing software to pursue that inquiry rather than as a career focus in of itself. Which makes intentional programming interesting, doesn't it? I wonder how that's coming along?? 

Diversity gives rise to new questions and new connections. You could think of it as rocks still, remarkably, left unturned in the march of progress in invention and knowledge. (Happily Randall was right on that one. :-)

12/3/10 The Iceberg and the Architect Role

Architects create and evolve system designs. Architects generally wear other hats, but given the architect hat, we're going to look to the architect to formulate (or lead the formulation of) and mature and evolve and nurture the expressions of the system design. And like the iceberg, the most visible piece of the work is only a fraction of the work that must be done. And like the iceberg, architecture sinks Titanics. No, no, wrong direction to take the analogy! ;-)

Indeed! A lot of mud has been slung at architects, and perhaps a few have even deserved it (good intentions can be misdirected). But when an architect is doing good, right work oriented towards success of the architecture -- where success is substantive actualized differentiating value -- much of the work is surfacing and understanding what is important and why, and communicating this importance effectively so that the good, right things happen with the lightest directive touch possible while still ensuring that what is important gets done -- well/good and right. (We use good to mean technically sound, which addresses structural integrity. And right to mean meets stakeholder goals and delivers on key value propositions, which addresses the broader sense of design integrity or design excellence. Where excellence is pragmatically oriented to delight where it signifies compelling differentiation and satisfice where that is good enough.)

In design, architecture illustrates intention; upon construction, architecture illustates the realized design; iterateNow we can play this visible tip of the iceberg different ways. Hemmingway coined the term "illustrating the iceberg" in reference to his writing, but as a principle it is applicable to documenting (and visually illustrating) the architecture of a system:

"In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway uses a technique of writing in which only the necessary information is provided. He called it illustrating the iceberg." -- [..], 5th Grade Book report on A Sea of Change, May 2009

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water." -- Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon, 1932 

Yes, obviously the architecture shouldn't duplicate the code nor even much of the code. So there is that sense in which we "illustrate the iceberg" omitting things best accessed and understood directly in the code and executing system. Still, the sense that I am driving at here pertains more to that "help others see how and why something is important." The more we want to get things done with and through people -- through empowerment and self-organizing teaming -- the more we have to enable with context setting. Yes, the architectural design sets context. But there is important thinking going on leading to the design decisions that also needs to be a shared part of the context. We can step out of the way, if we have sussed out what is pivotal, what is make-or-break, to system success and made that vividly, unambiguously, clear. Well, of course we need to stay on hand, because shift happens, and conflicting demands will come up and threaten the architectural intent and the architect needs to (be able to) step back in to make or oversee judgment calls in areas that impact achievement of strategic value and structural integrity.  

So a critical function the architect plays is figuring out what to illustrate, what to highlight and make patently clear, in terms of the requirements (we call these "architecturally significant") and in terms of the design structures. And this is where the "seen and the seer" part comes in. Because the architect is actively watching the make-or-break, the critical aspects of the system, the architect is in a unique position to make the contributions of team members visible and to articulate their contributions in a way that connects them to system success. This is a powerful position because it puts the architect in a place to impact not just system success but the personal well-being of the developers on the team. Yet how often is this done, and done well? Culturally (in our tech-machismo-leaning culture) we often denounce recognition as "praise" which we equate to ego-candy which, in turn, we tend to feel is as bad for the spirit as candy is to teeth and the pancreas... and we rather leave it to individuals to state their own worth. High achievers are self-motivated and self-critical. They are constantly self-correcting and pushing themselves to excellence. They still need the affirmation and confirmation that their contributions are seen and valued. So they need avenues to make contributions, to be recognized for them. It is a good discipline to seek out the good in what is being done as much as it is to be aware of and correct the debilitating things that erode structural integrity and threaten system sustainability.  And yes, it does take discipline on both accounts. It is hard to call a project on its ills when the risks are masked in probability distributions that will play out over the longer term and the pressures are deterministic and short term. And it is hard to take the time to identify and give credit for the good that is being done, since we "do the hard heroic stuff" not the fluffy people-oriented stuff... that's for managers. But they don't see the system the way we do. So if you want the good, right things to happen, you have to make it clear what that is, and and make it visible when people are contributing individually and pulling together as a team to make that happen. And when they see a good, right thing that needs to be done, you need to give it an open-minded listening and support if it fits the context and system goals and constraints/forces. Which presumably you have helped clarify enough that it will, or you can use it as an opportunity to work with that person find out what the limits really are. ;-)

12/16/10: Yes, there's a lot to go after to fully explore that "illustrating the iceberg" principle, and indeed various journal posts explore facets (what and how) and even I see still more to explore. Even I? Well, you haven't taught me all you know, only all I know. ;-) Yes, I still have a long way to go, but the map of my journal is coming along nicely, don't you think? Uh, almost 5 years of writing here does make for a lot of territory to map.  I was thinking I might pull out definitive sentences in the various dimensions of the architects architecting architecture conceptual framework to "illustrate the iceberg" of this journal. (Paraphrasing a leader of my thoughts:) Too many projects, too little time!

(My son reads books adults find challenging and is distinctly quotable, being a rather good iceberg illustrator himself. A Sea of Change isn't just an adult biography of Hemmingway, but a focused research discourse. He is currently reading The Grapes of Wrath. Yes, he's 12. He has a 12 year old's appreciation for Steinbeck's vivid below-the-belt language and a very keen appreciation for matters of truth and justice.)  

12/3/10 Workshop Schedule

My son pointed out an ad along the side of a bus a week or three ago; it read: "It's hard to miss a red bus! Especially if you have a schedule."  Well, here's our schedule:

  • Software Architecture Workshop:
    - Palo Alto, March 21-24, 2011 (4 days)
    - Eindhoven, The Netherlands, March 29 - April 1, 2019 (4 days)

  • Enterprise Architecture Workshop:  
    - Chicago, IL, December 6-9, 2010
    - Q2'11 TBA

  • Architectural Leadership Workshop:  
    - Bloomington, IN, May 2-5, 2011 (4 days)

It is seriously time-consuming looking for a suitable venue -- downtown hotels are out because we use a large meeting room relative to the number of attendees and need the room on 24 hour hold so we can keep the architecture work-in-progress out throughout. Well, that is a lot of evening event space for the hotel to give up, and they build that into the price.

12/3/10 Who Knew?

Did you know:

"Making cement for concrete involves heating pulverized limestone, clay, and sand to 1,450 °C with a fuel such as coal or natural gas. The process generates a lot of carbon dioxide: making one metric ton of commonly used Portland cement releases 650 to 920 kilograms of it. The 2.8 billion metric tons of cement produced worldwide in 2009 contributed about 5 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions."  -- Technology Review May/June 2010 

12/3/10 Faceted Views

I was flipping through a notebook to find a page to illustrate the iceberg (saving trees; yeah that's it), and came across more mediocre images visualizing important points:

 Views focus on a limited set of concerns so we need multiple views, and then we also need to reason acorss views to integrate interactions across concerns

I guess I sketch-noted this sometime when I was thinking about views that focus on a (restricted) set of concerns at a time, hence the importance of multiple views to designing capabilities and their interactions to produce system outcomes. If we want to see, for example, the whole system, we have to be quite selective about what aspects we will include in this view, and which we will elide or abstract away from, to make the whole system visible. That is what views are good at -- allowing us to think more clearly for visualizing a given set of concerns, at whatever level of scope (abstraction/compression) we're working. But it means that we then have to work across views to direct/follow some of the threads of reasoning that underlie decisions. (For example, an activity diagram may expose a responsibility that we missed on the conceptual architecture; we may revisit this responsibility factoring as we think about concurrency or distribution boundaries; and so.)we can hold a limited amount in working memory; complexity isn't just about volume of elements but the relationships among them, and it is hard to hold much of this in working memory without tools to aid reasoning

Our views create extended working memory. By externalizing bits and pieces we would otherwise try to hold in our mind's eye at once, we can move on to other pieces of the view, then come back and survey all the pieces now exposed on the view -- more than we could have held in working memory. That allows us to work with a more complex view. Then we build more views, and work across views. All this adds to our mental processing capacity and it is very, very important when we are designing complex systems! Even if we were to try to do so alone. The other thing that the "external working memory" does, is create a shared "working memory" for the team. It is a shared thought space, where we can see what we mean, surfacing and clarifying assumptions each of us holds. Coming at it from different perspectives, points of expertise, and system/development experience, chances are good that oft-times we think we're making the same assumptions, but we can uncover surprising differences simply by getting what is in our heads out onto paper (or whiteboard or drawing/UML tool of choice) where others can begin to glimpse more of how we are thinking and ask clarifying questions or make assertions we respond to with our own questions.


We work across views, and different views support different kinds of reasoning and decision making. We work more at the strategic, direction setting level early, but we need to dive into more detail to see how this plays out and learn from going (more) concrete and adding details so we can better sense what the direction ought to be. And so forth, working through the views and pulling back to views we already touched on to sort out the implications for these views. It is highly iterative at the level of the developing the early views in the architecture decision model. And continues to be so, as we fan out to include more team members, and then teams of teams. The big loop (right) signifies the architecture iterations that continue as the architect(s) guides but also to draws in what is learned at the code level and decides on the implications for the architecture.

Architecting doesn't (can't and won't) follow a neat linear sequence

Architecting doesn't follow a neat linear sequence, because there is an interaction between decisions (and views supporting decisions) and approaches we might take, requirements and more. We can "fake" the appearance of a more linear process with process milestones or stage-gates (for example, if we need to comply with a waterfall process that syncs up software milestones with hardware milestones). That is to say, the iteration and fluidity of movement between higher level and more detailed views (even prototypes of architectural mechanisms or code to prove out focal features in early market tests, etc.) doesn't need to be exposed outside the team where it is not helpful to do so.

Yeah it's messy. The diagram and the process. Early on when we're exploring the system concept and technical approaches, we need to work sketchily, working quick and dirty, experimenting in the cheapest, fastest medium to uncover value and test out approaches to addressing challenges. That way we can try out a slate of ideas as quickly and as informally as possible, allowing for more cycling using on paper models and mock-ups than some "first generation agilists" may cede is useful. This approach, whereby we learn real quick by trying things out using the cheapest medium for experiment, is truly agile. And yes, we do need to timebox this early experimentation, and we need to think in terms of chunks of experimentation in the medium of models throughout our iterative and incremental process.   

12/3/10 When the Difference Makes Less of a Difference

On that same page there's another shot at illustrating "making your architecture come alive":

That's metaphorical, ok?

12/3/10 The Nutcracker

Remember, The Nutcracker ballet is on tonight -- it will be streamed live. Well, you might know someone who'd like to know that...

Oh wow! That was awesome! Did you see it? Caitlin Kirschenbaum was every-superlative-in-the-book great as the Sugar Plum Fairy! She is such a commanding, breathtakingly lovely dancer who is superb technically so it comes down to artistry and she makes me remember why wonderful has that wonder word in it! Besides, she has such a sparkling personality, she is just aglow when she dances (Sara has characterized her unique quality as "Caitlin Essence"). Vincent Brewer blew us away and Laura Whitby was grace itself. She is such an elegant, beautiful dancer. It is so neat having seen these dancers since they were freshmen, and watching Vincent just dominate gravity but also really gain so much draw-your-awe presence, is neat.

Of course ballet is very much about all the dancers and the choreography, and Michael Vernon's choreography for The Nutcracker is amazing. He is casting smaller kids in the soldier role and they are proving that (with Doricha Sales as ballet mistress!) Michael was inspired in doing so -- the scene has more of an edge to it with very small soldiers (but one that it takes some level of maturity to understand, so it would go over the heads of the children in the audience). You know, dreams have that quality where they reflect truths in distorted ways that amplify but also have a surreal quality.

And the dream of the ballet becomes, in very real ways, the dream of children in this town, with boys and girls getting to perform with the college majors in an awesome ballet. Dancing roles on a really professional-scale production and getting to see these very talented college ballet majors, lights the passionate fire of aspiration in many a local child, and it is really neat!

You have three more chances to catch it -- matinee Saturday and Sunday, and Saturday (Dec 4) night. But the principal dancers will be in different roles in each of the four performances. That all by itself is amazing!

12/4/10: And wow! Caitlin Kirschenbaum was breathtaking as the Snow Queen, and Laura Whitby as the Sugar Plum Fairy. It is so wonderful, at college ballet seat prices, to be able to see such superb ballet dancers in different roles on two consecutive nights!

It takes more than dancers to make a great ballet12/11/10: You doubtless recall me saying that I watch ballet and I think of software, partly because I've spent so many cycles investigating and thinking about visualization of software and the visualization of executing software is still a bothersome gap in our tooling. So that's on my mind. Anyway, in the pause after the snow scene in The Nutcracker last Saturday, and having just watched Caitlin (Snow Queen) and Paul (Cavalier) dancing the pas de deux, a very different insight from a different avenue of thinking struck me.

It was about the architect and the manager, and how, when that works well, it is so much like that scene in the ballet (at least in Vernon's choreography) -- sometimes an intricate pas de deux where both dance as one, though one is doing a lot of lifting while the other is enabled thereby to do what she could not, otherwise, and both dancers are making the exquisite experience happen through their intricate collaboration, spilling sheer unadulterated joy into the mind and spirit of the audience. And at other times each dancer dances marvelously alone. And this too is enabling because the exertion (though they don't make us think of it) is great and the pauses the hand-offs allow are important. And there are all the snow flakes, and that scene is resplendent with many, many dancers working in graceful synchrony with pacing and position and leadership from the "superflake" or snow princess. All the dancers creating the experience! Well, not quite. And this is a point Dana made later, and I think it is so very important. The set and costume design, the backstage crew (staging and costume), the lighting. The orchestra. The sound and lighting people. The choreographer and director. And very, very importantly, the ballet mistress! All playing a crucial role. Or in software terms, the whole extended team, including infrastructure and quality and ... the process choreographers. ;-) (Ok, I added the last point. Low hanging fruit, and all that.)  

The image below is NOT for the analogically impaired! It is only meant to encourage new questions possibly leading to new insights around the partnership between manager and architect -- mostly because we need to understand and enact this partnership with grace, otherwise it can become territorial and the manager typically has the clout!

  sometimes an intricate pas de deux, dancing as one, collaborating closely. And at other times each dancer dances marvelously alone, doing what they do best.

12/4/10 Chris Potts' EA Novel

Another book for the wish list...??

  • recrEAtion: Realizing the Extraordinary Contribution of Your Enterprise Architects, Chris Potts

12/6/10 Back to Presentations

Presentations are one of the facets of the "to frame" section in the (long promised/threatened) To Lead is to See, to Frame, to Draw executive report. So I read Martin Fowler's bliki post on presentations with interest. His audio - visual channel distinction is really useful! There's a growing body of work in this area, and still Martin finds something novel to add to it!

I confess, though, I hadn't come to the conclusion that photos are often used gratuitously, though to be fair I haven't been to the same presentations as Martin, who says:

"By this I don't mean that photos are always wrong, but they often seem to be very unconnected with the speaker's words. I get the impression of many hours spent crawling the internet for some photo that tenuously goes with the talk." -- Martin Fowler, VisualChannel

Ok, you doubtless vividly recall the portion of the Making It Visual presentation that I showed you, and you remember lots of photos and other images. So I'm defensive? Perhaps, but I think there is a point that is worth drawing out. What do we gain from the images? Used to effect, visuals like diagrams and yes, photos, aren't mere eye candy. In the Making It Visual presentation, the visuals were used variously -- some present a model (like the convergence in modeling notations map) or a metaphor (the image of the facade or the watchdog) or a compression of meaning (in the case of the Vermeer, using analogy, composition, and an overlay of meaning given my use in this context), a piece of humor (Michelle Lanza's "UML took it literally" quip, and the facade photo), or simply an illustration by example (the music notations, BSO, and Eric Whitacre sequence). This isn't just to add texture (though we shouldn't dismiss texture in an hour-long presentation). These visuals draw in a rich set of symbols and imagery and story and insight, augmenting what we can do with words arranged on a screen, whether in bullets or connected by arrows. ;-) A visual model (e.g., the conceptual arrangement of named boxes and arrows as in the image Martin shared from one of his slides) is an important kind of visual complement to the presenter's words and body language, but there are others.

Oh, I do get that Martin is asking us to think before we glibly use photos just because some slide guru says to replace bullets with images, but it feels like a sweeping dismissal which discounts visual analogy and if that were so it would be unfortunate... A tenuous connection that makes the audience start to think about wasted hours surfing instead of the talk is clearly harmful! The touchpoint, though, has to be the connection, and visual analogy, while extremely powerful for many, can also be uncomfortable for those who take things very literally. In that case, I'm sorry, but I think we have to say this is a plural world, and the literalists don't get to govern everything. Analogy, verbal and visual, is a hugely important mechanism for communication and learning not just in great literature and art but in engineering and architecture too! We apply what we are learning about fish biomechanics to the engineering of propulsion systems. And so forth. We learn from the great designs of nature to create better mechanical designs. We analogize. It is a crucial tool. [And that is a, if not the, key point of the Making It Visual keynote presentation and the Something About Boxes tutorial we have pitched to SATURN2011.]

It is also unfortunate to sweepingly dismiss bullety presentations. Remember, the operative word in presentation is present --  presentations can (should!) rely on the presenter being fully present -- engaged and engaging. The slides aren't meant to stand alone and present themselves.  Ultimately it is going to come down to the presenter and the presenter's narrative and style, and I have seen awesome presenters be compelling with a backdrop of bullet points so that all by itself isn't a fail-factor. If we're listening to the speaker, we're not reading their slides and it is much like they don't have slides except as an attention brace should that be needed. (What, you never forgot what you were going to say next? Or raced down a thought tunnel and needed to regain context to sync back up with the speaker?) Being only human, we simply cannot process an overwhelming amount of stimulus on many simultaneous input channels, so it comes down to how well the speaker is commanding, shaping, drawing our attention. Speakers can do this with their sheer presence of voice and body language, so we forget the bullets unless, our attention being what it is (spotty, and spontaneously, unmanageably triggered), we need the current slide to reset and resync with where the talk has flowed to.

What I get from reflecting on my experience and thinking seriously about and reading around in the presentation space is that pure and simple design is a key success factor! If the presenter spends time designing the structure and meaning of the talk, thinking about the unfolding and building narrative, etc. then whether it is just oral, or if it fully leverages the "visual channel," it can work. But the design needs to be congruent with the presenter, and if Martin is uncomfortable with slides that contribute through visual metaphor, direct representation or illustration, or an allusion for example to a point in history, etc., then he should steer clear of using photos. He will draw on what he has built in himself -- the knowledge, the style, his distinctive way of being. (Though maybe, sometimes, he could use his own photo library, and even start to take a specific photo here and there because he is looking for an image to illustrate a point he commonly makes...)

For me, it is much like the dots that Steve Jobs connects back to taking calligraphy classes as an undergrad drop-out/in. I so don't spend "many hours crawling the internet" to find images because I use images that I relate to personally -- I shape the narrative and its points of illumination (in words and images) based on my experience, so it is all already there. The photo of Dana looking at the Vermeer (to put the size in perspective), for example, was in my folder from our trip to DC earlier this year. :-)

Of course you have to take that with a grain of salt coming from me. I'm not anywhere close to the same league as presenters like Martin Fowler. Well, my problem is on the audio channel, more than the visual channel. On the bright side, there is something about my style that makes other people become more; it allows other people to step into the spaces my deficiencies create so that together we produce a better outcome. In our world we have to learn to value the network-facilitative style along with the authoritative, imposing, dominance hierarchical style. Have to? Well, ok, it would be a better world if we valued that plurality. For me, anyway.  ;-) 

Goodwill is the silver bullet. If the presenter can engender an atmosphere of goodwill, then all the rules in the book fly out of the window. Or they should, and do, unless we're pedantic. A pox on pedants? No, not really! All styles come into play in making a project successful. The careful rule-followers and the rule-breakers each have a place.      

As presentations go, if you haven't watched Sir Ken Robinson on TED, it is well worth it (you'll hear some of the jokes I quote from the source). No images and no bullets. Still, it is a certain kind of presentation. Others benefit from visualization assisted not just by a picture painted in our imagination through words, but by showing a picture (or a story-threaded, story-building series of them).  The bottom line is, you are the presenter. If you don't know your stuff and have to read the bullet points off, well... Houston, we have a problem...

If we look across the gamut of presenters we admire, we'll see very different styles, and they leverage the audiences' attentional channels differently. Dan North keeps my attention with his lively anecdotes, stories and points punctuated by texty slides. Sir Ken with no slides at all. Sylvia Earle with a backdrop of video to her inspiring script. And one of my favorites -- Rives on 4am makes great use of visual images and presents as good a parody of an earnest slide pitch as any you'll see. It is entertaining and a great illustration of presentation as performance art. But generally presentations are intended to inspire action or illuminate and build understanding. And in each there's story. Even a very engineering/management/science topic intended to teach or align action can benefit from more attention to the narrative -- to the design of the structure (the key elements) and flow to deliver the changes in state in the audience that will yield the sought outcome. Ah yes. Design! And performance art if you're up to it. Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) demonstrated that even pre-eminent nerds can use a mallet to pound a user experience point home.

So I take all the good work that is being done on improving our presentations as a personal call to action (two books by Nancy Duarte and three by Garr Reynolds bubble to the top of the growing body of work here), and I have tried in various forums to work the design so that my "weaknesses" fade out and my strengths have room to play to the best in what the audience will allow in themselves. I try different things. I collect jokes and cartoons and images and stories, I create conceptual models. I try to improve my own thinking, educating myself, adding complexity and detail, and then I work to fiercely simplify. To reach the essential.       

Dana uses Bucky Fuller's life principle -- "if I find I'm in a circle, I step out of it." I like that, but put my own idiosyncratic spin on it:  If I think I'm not in a circle, I step out of it!  ;-)  Which keeps me dancing! (You got that right? The most self-limiting circles are the ones we don't see, so I keep hopping out of unseen circles just in case. ;-) [You get the irony in that, don't you? That is itself a circle! See what I mean? Well, if I wasn't bold enough to take myself on, how on earth would I be bold enough to take Martin Fowler on? Oh right. I'm not! Oops! No, just kidding. I hope I am amplifying the good points Martin made, even if I feel beholden to remind ourselves not to be too hasty in our prejudgments of bullets whether they are texty or visual, using analogy/representations/illustrations.] Anyway, if we always use bullets, perhaps that is a circle we need to step out of, just to exercise our capacity for fresh thinking and experiment and trying on new ways to project our knowledge and advance our passion in the medium of presentations. If our slides are heavily visual, we can try going entirely audio, to stretch our abilities when we just have to rely on stories and concepts and images conjured with words in the mind's eye of the audience.

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

Which reminds me. I've been trying to characterize the value in design that is in addition to, or over and above, the code. And it's staring me in the face. If we consider the case where the code structure has devolved and look at what that costs in terms agility (real agility meaning responsiveness to opportunity and threat) we have a pretty compelling picture of the cost of code without design. We design to make things better. If we do that well, by definition we have improved the outcome over no design! Yes, we don't get the value in the design without it being delivered through the medium of running code. But we don't get the full value we want from the system, and quickly lose value, if the code is poorly conceived and poorly structured. Design factors. Obvious? Yes, but so much of our language messages that the raw, naked running code is the value, so we have to correct the perceptions created by strong messaging that plays up "just get it running," rather than design integrity. Now, of course, we have to ask what is the best design medium to achieve our better outcomes. Code is a design medium. No doubt about it. But it is only one, And we need to use the best design medium for the decisions at hand and the communication that needs to happen. The communication among humans that enables us to build and evolve sustainable and complex systems by aligning the many minds who pour thoughts (in often rather dense programming languages) through finger-tips into growing code bases that build into executing systems of mind-boggling complexity -- and which are ever more-intricately woven into (even necessary to) organizational and human life. Which is to say, we need these systems to work, despite their complexity (and the complexity of systems built upon systems), reliably and sustainably. So, we need to design. And we need to communicate. Which gets back to presentations, and the importance of being earnest.

Yes, I use that allusion advisedly.

Allusion. Analogy. Representation. Illustration. Humor. Surprises.

Back to the "visual channel." I told you I like that distinction. But there is low-hanging fruit there that Martin left for me to harvest. And it is this: A lot of our visual processing happens preconsciously. By which I mean before we have even started to consciously process the images, our brains have already begun to see structure (identifying relationships and patterns). By working the visual channel with images, we seed connections, anchor what we are presenting in visual memory, and draw on the huge visual processing capacity of the brain. This should not detract from those who choose to keep all the attention focused on the audio channel, generating internal images with vivid stories and verbally cast analogies, connections, concepts and more. And while Tufte did well to raise awareness that over-reliance on bullet points can countermand audience attention, we have to keep our brains engaged and remember to draw our own conclusions. Yes, when a "guru" strongly indicts something, we have to use that something with more caution because there will be those who follow the letter of their instruction -- and judge others by that letter.         

I oft bring up Sir Ken and it is because he is quite artful. I mean full of art, but also crafty (I mean that playfully). He really works the medium with great skill. Do you notice that? He has a small set of key points that are his distillation, the message that he wants to bore into us and have take root in our minds creating an unease about the status quo and point to a new way of thinking about the place of creativity. With those key points as milestone markers in his talk, he uses humor and playfulness to get through the natural ebb and flow of our attention spans. The humor might seem random, and indeed he gives us to believe he is just telling casual jokes sort of to humor us, but they are very connected to the flow of the narrative and the points he is making. So it all lines up. It is unified. It has that structural integrity we get with design thinking. 

We can create that integrity with bullet points, with conceptual diagrams, with photos and drawings, etc. Ultimately, it comes down to congruence. If we are doing something that is just fluff, that is going to be incongruent with our message and it will show. If we just use bullet points because we are dashing off something to meet some obligation, it will show. By contrast, if we are using bullet points as verbal cues that structure and connect the knowledge we are sharing and we have thought carefully about the structure and flow, the connective tissue of stories/anecdotes and other illustrations, and so forth, chances are it will work just fine, the opinion of no-more-bullets pundits notwithstanding. That said, as soon as a structure emerges, I often find that there is a visual rendition/model that helps punch up the structure (elements and relationships) so that we get that "I see what you mean" response. We may not always have/make the time to find that visual model, but when we do we enhance our message delivery. At a minimum, simply using different representations (verbal and visual, in this case) provides alternative access points for people with different cognitive styles, and provides multiple memory markers for the information.

If it is worth taking up people's time with a prepared presentation, shouldn't we take the time to prepare, to think about the outcomes (yes, you get to have desired outcomes as the presenter, but also think about your audience and their desires, intentions, attitudes, etc.), and think about how given our style and strengths and weaknesses, we can achieve that change in state (knowledge or mental map, energy level, passion, etc.)? You have built excellence within yourself, and if you leverage that as a platform, you will be credible and energized and your enthusiasm and insight will transmit.

On a personal note, I have a lot of fun trying to create an evocative presentation deck (or, as in the case of the talk I did at CAEAP summit, where I want to be congruent with the theme of drawing, I may pre-draw some memory prompts on flip charts -- recognizing that there's nerves to contend with but also one's neurons are firing on many simultaneous channels when presenting in an interactive forum). I enjoy rifling through the breadth of my experience to make some point of relevance to architects evocative -- that word again, but it is important if you think that educo (the root of educate) means to draw forth from within. To give the audience the material from which to make their own learning happen. But it does take a lot of time. And we have to timebox so a presentation doesn't become a life's work! And so that a post on presentations doesn't become a life's work.. to read... oops. I'd apologize but I highly doubt anyone but me will read this. As for me, this is useful to think through. Architecture is so much about communication -- informal as much as possible, but formal too. Simply because formal has broader reach and sometimes the scope of the architecture demands that. When we can make even larger format presentations more interactive, we do well to consider it, because interactive draws people in. Literally, when we draw their input on whiteboards/flip charts/sheets of paper, or using interactive tech like the "pen" (freehand) in presentation mode on Powerpoint.

The bottom line is that the ante is being upped -- given all the hubbub created not just by books like those by Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte and David Sibbet (pushing the interactive dimension) but by great talks on TED and InfoQ, etc. We expect more and more from presenters, so it is just as well to use in-the-small opportunities to experiment with different techniques (an entirely story-driven presentation; an entirely visual presentation full of glorious visual analogy; etc.; pushing your limits along some dimension you'd like to try out to feel the "fit") to hone the tools in your presentation skillset (your colleagues will thank you).

All of which is to say, why don't you want Part II of our Art of Change Report?

It is a chill world out there. 13 degrees, to be precise.

"I apologize for writing you a long letter but I didn't have time to write you a short one." -- Blaise Pascal

Well, I made time. Here's the short(er) one:

12/6/10 The Presentation Conversation

Presentations are one of the facets of the "to frame" section in the (long promised/threatened) To Lead is to See, to Frame, to Draw executive report. So I read Martin Fowler's bliki post on presentations with interest. His audio - visual channel distinction is really useful! There's a growing body of work in this area, and still Martin finds something novel to add to it!

Some thoughts (summarizing a too long post):

  • Focusing on the audio channel allows the audience to pay a certain kind of attention, and is very appropriate when the meaning and the message is best conveyed with words (including stories, and pictures painted in our imagination with words).

  • A backdrop of bullet points detracts if the presenter is (extensively and obviously) reading from them, for this creates a diffusion of attention (do I listen to the speaker or read the slide?) and may signal lack of preparation (whether true or not, the signal becomes part of the message).

  • The visual channel opens possibilities to engage the audience at multiple levels, leveraging their extraordinary visual processing capabilities to convey messages and meaning that rely on visual imagery and analogy, symbol, structural/spatial and temporal relationships depicted visually, etc.

  • We can overload the channels, and undo our best intentions. We will generally want to keep it simple. We may sometimes sidestep this guideline for considered effect but then we will need to manage attention.

  • Texture (like switching between focal channels, or adding a joke or visual analogy, etc. here and there) is good, so long as context switches aren't jarring and you pay attention to the integrity and cohesion of the design. A diet of eye candy isn't good, but a visual treat, even a visual feast, now and then may be just fine. Use your judgment, and don't be held hostage by experts advocating all-or-nothing views. They are trying to shift the state of "common practice," but you're not common, are you? ;-)

  • The visual channel can be used to make a presentation more interactive, if we go to whiteboards/flip charts/sheets of paper, or to interactive tech like using the "pen" (freehand) in presentation mode on Powerpoint. Interactive presentations draw people in -- they are engaged in forming the picture, and that is compelling.

Yes, I'm much in favor of the visual. I think we could all stand to do more with visual. That is my clarion call after all. But not at the expense of words! Words are important too. Hugely! Bullets are simply words. In simple structures. They deserve some credit even as we draw attention to the communicative power of more visual models and images.

The bottom line is that it is not about bullets. Or about visuals. Great presentations have been given with and without each of these. What marks a great presentation apart from a mediocre one often boils down to:

  1. i. the speaker is fired by passion and insight born of actively, curiously following that passion, and

  2. ii. she/he has paid attention to the presentation design and the delivery!

The visual channel is powerful. Visual conceptual models are great. But great presentations have been given without any visuals.   

That said, there is a level of frustration with meetings and presentations that is worth heeding. There are some really good resources out there ( Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte on presentation design and delivery, David Sibbet on visual meetings and Stephen Denning on storytelling) aimed at helping us improve our game, and it is worth taking the ideas and techniques out for a spin to see if they suit our style and create better outcomes for ourselves as speakers and for our audiences. We are each distinct, and we can find better ways to leverage our points of distinction. We can flout the guidelines for better presentations, but we should do so intentionally, allowing that we are working to make our presentations better along some other dimension, and not simply because we don't know any better or couldn't be bothered to try something different. If we want to rely on the audio channel, is that an avenue in which we are stretching ourselves? Are we using it to improve our storytelling? Our verbal conjuring? How we use our voice?

Different speakers will have different predilections and some will simply work better with words than visualizations, or the other way around, and we will get more from them if we allow that different people can make very simple media (even as simple as bullets) effective. The audience is there to get something from the speaker, and freeze-framing the speaker in stereotypes and artificial molds is going to reduce what we can get from them. The audience bears some responsibility too. The responsibility of goodwill.  

If we assume that the speaker is passionate and prepared, there will be much good to be found. (Sometimes even when it is a subject we didn't know we were interested in!)

The other side of that coin... don't take up people's time on something you're not passionate about and not prepared to present!


Yes, audiences are becoming ever more sophisticated in their knowledge and expectations. Some of that will show up in demanding to have the senses -- all of them -- entertained with slick on every channel. We may, for example, be tempted, encountering bullets and given the pundits educational outreach, to say "bullets? idiot! that is so yesterday!" and write a speaker off because he is so behind the times on presentation effectiveness. But it is just as well to remember that we each have the responsibility to treat the speaker with respect enough so that we are not raising artificial objections that get in the way of allowing the presenter to shape our attention, allowing us to produce new learning in ourselves. Remembering that the most effective presenter/teacher is the one who makes us feel like we did it ourselves, they didn't do it to, for or at us. They created the crucible, and introduced some new or differently arranged thought material, and inspired us to learn something for ourselves, to create new connections, and shift our own mental models. And all this has very little to do with bullets!

Bullets that are just words, hit their mark through the co-operation of the sender and the receiver. That makes them very different than the sort that are used to kill.


Well, speaking of visual, I like the "power strip" visualization for extension points.

"a native talent for perceiving analogies is ... the leading fact in genius of every order."

-- William James

[1/2/10: In case you haven't seen Martin Fowler presenting, ☼here's an example.]

[3/14/11: Delivering the Speech of Your Life, Dan Pallotta, March 4, 2011

12/8/10 Presentations that do take on a standalone life

I said: Remember, the operative word in presentation is present --  presentations can (should!) rely on the presenter being fully present -- engaged and engaging. The slides aren't meant to stand alone and present themselves. 

It occurs to me that there is a new medium that has emerged and that is "slideware." By which I mean, slidesets gain a standalone life apart from the presenter -- the slideset is prepared for a presentation but it seems too good to leave at that, and it is put on the team's Sharepoint or the internet. Well, in that form it becomes a different beastie. And it is just as well, if we are going to do that, to review that beastie to see how well it can stand on its own.

I think, though, done well, what we get from the likes of Slideshare or Prezi is a visual delivery medium for getting a message viraled. Which is to say, this becomes a new medium that we (ought to) design to. Yes, it is also a way to share slides from a presentation with its audience who have heard it "on the audio channel" and who want that takeaway to revisit later. But if we pay attention to those who will only experience it as a set of slides, we start to design for grokking it in a purely visual medium. It is no longer a complementary channel that the presenter leverages, but a standalone channel for asynchronously reaching a broad audience. Yes, yes, like anything internet, but different too, because it is in a flip-through slide-format. It opens up new ways of thinking about the slideware -- for example, is it our intent to create something more like the online version of a coffee table book? As soon as I used Scrapblog (for travel postcards and travellogs for my distributed family), I thought "sharable online sketchbook" and created the Archman sequence... I want to get around to maturing the sequence and putting it on Slideshare or Prezi, because those are more tech-sexy than Scrapblog. (Like, who would create an account on Scrapblog just to leave a comment to encourage Archman? There is a barrier to entry for those who are, and have every right to be, tech snobs tending the projections of their i-world personas. As for me, I'm a snob about not being a snob. ;-)  (As quickly as we step out of circles, we find ourselves encircled. But the dance keeps the dust off, and that is important. Dust blinds and dust encrusts and renders spirits inert.)

I've also threatened to put the Making It Visual presentation on Slideshare, but will only do that with a full speaker's notes version on Bredemeyer because the script is essential to grokking the points. If one just looks at the slides it may seem "lovely" (if you're kind), but I like to think of it as a sophisticatedly simple expression of a central thesis about conceptual architecture. Yes, the slides I have shared so far are simply setup to that thesis, but in that setup, an important motivating story is being built.

12/8/10 And Another Thing (on presentations)

Perhaps you glossed over that "you get to have desired outcomes too" point, and I think it is worth punching up. Yes, we want to persuade and so it doesn't do to dismiss our audience and the state they come in with both in terms of what they know and their attitudes and intentions. And it doesn't do to vest everything in the audience and their stated intentions! If we are leading, we are by definition taking people where they weren't going anyway! So we can't be slavish to this stakeholder thing. Of course that is an important idea to get right. I'm not in the least bit dismissing stakeholder concerns and intentions. I am saying that when we lead, we are taking those into account, though we are factoring across various stakeholders and contexts and new capabilities that will change these contexts so we need to work imaginatively and innovatively and the concept we come up with will not be exactly what any one stakeholder necessarily has in mind in advance. Hopefully we'll persuade them. So we will work to understand how best to present the concept we're advocating to engender their enthusiasm, advocacy and keen alignment so that the system will be great -- deliver delight and be sustainable.

Anyway, as the presenter you get to, with the best intention of serving your audience, think creatively about what that would mean. In other words, you're figuring out what they would want, even if they don't or couldn't think to ask for just that, because they don't have the information you have. Repeatedly we are told at the end of workshops "that wasn't what I was expecting; it was better." Well, the cost of that is that on occasion someone has the opposite reaction. So, that's life, or at least life when you strive to meet unarticulated but real underlying needs that you see because you have observed and studied and experimented and worked hard at uncovering and seeing how to address the most strategic, impactful needs.

That "illustrating the iceberg" comes in handy again, because what people say they want is only the tip of the iceberg of their experience; there is a lot that is going on even below the surface of what they notice -- and that is in their current context. We have to think about how their context will change. And we have to think across many people, in different roles, with different perspectives and aspirations and intentions and needs. If you're going to deliver better than what most of your audience could have imagined for themselves, sometimes it will be off the mark for some people. We humans just aren't an even set, all neatly cloned! So, that is what gives you a market! If everyone wanted the self-same thing, it would be hard to differentiate! Among other things.  


12/9/10 Style Differences

I recognize that when "gurus" like Edward Tufte or Don Norman state something "corrective", those with "dominance hierarchy" leanings love their strength of statement, while I am appalled at how wrong-headed it is because the world just isn't so gosh-darn binary, all black and white with clear and easy distinctions! ;-)

For example, Edward Tufte posts:

"One look at the current state of the art in scientific visualization was published recently in Science 313 (22 September 2006), 1729-1735" 

and then proceeds to display the related pages from Science. And concludes by asking:

What, then, is the state of scientific visualization on the basis of the Science report?

Of course, in the comments folk go off pop in Tufte-esque style about "eye candy."  While I'm staggered! Where is the sense of wonder and delight in the world that the visualizations manifest for us? Seeing (literally seeing with our eyes not just our mind's eye) the wondrous art in mathematics is a huge contribution right there! I majored in math and loved it, but I'm still like "who knew?"  The "glass-like" images are in the "illustration" category, ok? Goodness, some people do put themselves on such an almighty high horse!

So I look for the greatness in the everyman (and woman), while those who look for assertiveness and pile-climbing, see greatness in dismissiveness and arrogance.

Ok, I'll climb off my almighty high horse now. I feel really vulnerable up there. Maybe that's why it strikes admiration and awe. It takes courage to be so "out there" with extreme statement! ;-)

Looking down on people is not kind. If we want kind leaders, we have to start to look for different attributes. Can kind leaders lead? Can they change the world? Well, goodness, what is more effective in creating change? War? The ultimate dominance game.


12/10/10 Fractally Speaking

The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent covers important conceptual models that would make a very big contribution to the relationship between business and technology leaders, and strategy and architecture, if it gained traction by being passed along. So, are you using:

  • Fractal Strategy (See The Art of Change: Fractal and Emergent)the lifecycle model to talk about what agility means for your systems? Because enough people talk about software projects (and the businesses wrapped around them) as if they were all at the same lifecycle maturity point, that I think the model would be quite useful.
  • the model of the very rich mutual relationship between strategy and architecture, and the dual notions of fractal and emergent as they relate to strategy and tandem architecture (guiding the system realization of the business strategy at various levels of scope, from broadly scoped strategic initiatives to product family or portfolio strategy to product strategy)? Because it would help your management team understand the importance of proactive and evolutionary design to business agility and competitive differentiation.
  • the conceptualization of IT as relationship platform to think about the contribution and future of IT, and to align business investments in technology?
  • the paper to think about the role of design thinking to achieve products and systems that differentiate through customer delight, rather than hard-to-sustain me-too products and cost-based competition?
  • the notion of fractal strategy to talk about fractal pools of leadership, demonstrating that there are many scopes at which leaders play a role, all making compelling contributions at different scopes of influence that build to what makes your product set and organization great? And moreover, are you making the case that these provide an organic growing grounds for developing leaders so that on both the business and the technical side there is a natural succession path for advancing leaders?
  • the paper as a tool to help your management team see what they can get from, and so see how to better support, architects?

Sure, I realize it's not unprecedented! I can't think of anything that is! Indeed, even that statement has precedent -- Grady Booch has observed it, and Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article about it. Still, it is unique, in scope and in the substantively new or adapted models (for example: not just fractal strategy but fractal and emergent, and fractal strategy and tandem -- so also fractal -- architecture; not just technical debt but opportunity debt; not just design thinking, but design thinking that isn't just skin deep, or just about the system guts; etc.).

strategy and architecture in close and collaborative partnership, setting business direction and designing the systems that will shape and deliver that strategic intentIn sum, that paper could revolutionize how strategy and architecture are seen and talked about in your organization, closing the relationship gap that has stymied many an organization. It is, we could convincingly argue, a (the?) short course that business managers and their senior architects should take together. Well instead, at least they can each read this Executive Report. Through the Cutter bookstore it costs more than a book though less than a course, but you can download it free and pass the link along. Someone told me the report was long. Gosh, just think of it as a short book, and then it is actually quite short! And then consider how many books you've read recently that provide such useful models to organize thinking and orient action to fully leverage technology in the dance of change that is true business agility. ... Or not. Just brush it off as no big deal. Your competitors would like that ... if only they knew about the report, that is. ;-)

Whether you are an architecture consultant or an architect, this paper does not compete with you. It complements what you do. It is there to enable you. To help you change your organizational context so that you aren't boxed in to forever doing triage on the guts of messy systems with no impact on the system-of-systems context that is creating and advancing the state of the mess.

If you are a senior manager or a strategy consultant, it gives you a way to connect business agility and differentiation to the system designers who will see the strategy from business intent to realization. This paper does not compete with you. It complements what you do. It is there to enable you. To help you change your organizational context so that we move from technology as a resource sink that ever more constrains and thwarts agility, to technology as a source of strong yet adaptive competitive advantage enabling the organization to forge new opportunities and fully leverage existing ones.  

There's no easy-to-land-in nirvana. But business agility has to start with the dance of change being choreographed by a business-technology design team -- that strategy-architecture, fractal and emergent, in tandem, partnering model. A partnership starts with a common language, and this report helps create that shared conceptual framework and language.

Which is not to say that it is not useful and personally empowering to the individual. It is just more so, when shared.

Oh wow. It was quite good, really, wasn't it? Maybe I should finish Part II!   [A bridge, anyone?]

Or not.

[No really, it's a bridge. You need one of those, don't you? ]

12/10/10 Ha ha -- Ouch!

Right, I told you all I want for Christmas are some unsolicited kind words about my writing. The unsolicited part rules you out, so no worries*.

Of course, I know it's like this.

And, ...since we're in the ouch category...

Hey, I think everyone is in the same funk! Don't you just so love Buttercup Festival? Like this? And this? And this? And this?

and ... this...

Wow! that really cheered me up. David Troupes is so light when he's dark!

* The link is a recognition of, a hat tip to, David Troupes' sharp intuitions about the human condition. It is not disregard for the times when a friend notices I need bolstering! It is a recognition of the complex of insights that David captures in one brief visual sequence with scant words.

Daniel reminded me: sailors trust the stars to navigate. That, and David's bird, singing of the beauty of the stars (or whatever matters to it, but it makes me see what I care about) just for me, wrapping me in its special moment -- these remind me that even when the days are short and gray, my eyes are more blue. They aren't blue, but more blue. The stars, our moral compass urging us to do the big, right things we set ourselves to do, our sense of self that may be buffeted by the chill winds of indifference, but which still has tremendous capacity for resurgence, especially with a gentle reminder that even under such duress, we are more ourselves, more capable of our own greatness. These all guide us. 

It can take a moment to sync with Troupes... The feedback one, for example... that birdhouse (or feeder?), well, because all you get is that the reaction is surprise or exclamation, you put "your stuff" into the birdhouse. Right? Did you think a cute family of birds had moved in? Did you think it was full of... bird droppings? Did you think it was just blank, empty, zip nadda... Ok, so you see, genius!  Yet, if you put either of the last two in the birdhouse (remember, that is what you did, not David), then was your response an irritated "stop whining"? If so, perhaps your bird didn't sing of stars, but merely incomprehensible randomness... I don't mean that unkindly; it just takes a little time to sit with the bird and its song, to fall into the kind of synchronicity where you feel what it sings of. 

I think what David does is crucial social commentary. The "this and this" sequence is a mash-up that creates something different than simply viewing Buttercup Festival in David's order, so bear that in mind. Still, I think it is important in this "take it like a man" world to recognize that we can feel buffeted and bruised when the work we do is ignored or disregarded, not seen and not valued. Projects are cancelled, our passionate attempts to make something better may be brushed aside -- again and again. We feel that! It takes passion to do what we do, and to ask us to have a dispassionate response when what we do has no observable impact is cold hearted indeed! When we come up empty on sympathy, the truth we find looks empty.

But if we look for sympathy in the wilderness, what will we find?

Sympathy? A human connection. In the wilderness? What could we find, if not ourselves? Our lost selves. Or our found selves. And the abundant wilderness, its indifference to us striking in the opposite reaction it wells in us!

So, sympathy? A kind of synchronicity...   or quantum entanglement, a strange connection... in the larger wilderness, within and without.

What I so love about Buttercup Festival is that it is a canvas much like poetry, that speaks with intent (Troupes') and serendipitous emergence (what we add, by seeing into, putting "our stuff" -- creative, goodwilling, hostile, whatever -- into it). The emergence, the allowance for emergence, begins with the protagonist's figure. Whimsical? Intentionally. Serendipitously. As whimsical as you choose to see it. Is it male? Or female? Is it dark, or blank like a slate ready to be written on? Is it hooded and occluded or is it as open as the mind it expresses? More open, because it expresses the mind, not a face that conveys, but only partially, the mind.

I think I should give myself David Troupes Parsimony for Christmas, don't you? Or, he should send me a signed copy! ;-) Just kidding. Sometimes I think I see differently than other people, and sometimes I do, but mostly I'm just a celebratory sort who actually gets on with saying "hey, look here, this is GOOD!" That's a big deal, in the wilderness that our silence on the excellence others create!

I know, I know. Exasperation. Irritation. Who has the time for this... and there's no money in it... Moving quickly on when the message doesn't jump out and yell its relevance...

"Schopenhauer argues... that self-consciousness gives the illusion of freedom and that human actions are determined, but that we rightly feel guilt because our actions issue from our essential individual character. He locates moral value in the virtues of loving kindness and voluntary justice that spring from the fundamental incentive of compassion. Morality's basis is ultimately metaphysical, resting on an intuitive identification of the self with all other striving and suffering beings."  -- Amazon description of  Arthur Schopenhauer's The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics (1841)

12/10/10 Looking Back to See Forward

Daniel Stroe, who rescues me the best way possible from the funk of short, grey days -- by giving me something worth thinking about, pointed me to Why the West Rules--For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris. This struck me:

"I'm standing there looking around. As far as the eye can see there are tens of thousands of refrigerators and washing machines. Every last one of them is made in Taiwan, South Korea or People's Republic of China. And we're talking about what makes me think Western domination might be coming to an end. It was a surreal experience. That was a couple of Saturdays ago.

Winston Churchill
, famous part-time historian, announced at one point "the farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." I've always felt as a historian that there's a lot of truth in this maxim."

-- Ian Morris,  Why the West Rules--For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future

That "Why the West Rules" transcript is a very interesting read! Now you know why you read my journal -- so you get Daniel's pointers! So, here's another: America's Edge: Power in the Networked Century. Here's a snippet to pique your interest:

"In his book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, writes of human history as a steady process of increased exposure to complexity and the resulting ability to turn zero-sum problems into non-zero-sum solutions. The barbarian invasions that swept across Asia and Europe, for instance, were disastrous for many individual societies. Yet by adding new ideas and practices to the sum of human knowledge, the invaders spurred the process of innovation and problem solving. In other words, they brought progress. Today, the invaders are online rather than on horseback, and interaction is considerably more voluntary. The benefits will flow to those individuals and states that are most comfortable reaching across cultures. It will become increasingly necessary to appreciate and absorb contributions in any language and from any context."

-- Anne-Marie Slaughter, America's Edge: Power in the Networked Century, From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2009

So why does food for thought cheer us up? Well, here's a snippet I came across checking in on Hugh MacLeod (my favorite love-to-hate-to-love marketing/creativity/innovation cartoonist guy);

"The more synapses that are fired off, the more dopamines are released. Dopamines are seriously addictive. The more dopamines you release, the more the customer will come back for more. Your customer thinks he is coming back to you for sane, rational, value-driven reasons. He is wrong. He is coming back to feed."

-- Hugh MacLeod, the hughtrain mkii, October 16, 2010

Hugh has it all wrong of course. If it was all about firing off synapses, people would love my journal, wouldn't they?

Oh. Right. They have to think they're coming for sane, rational, value-driven reasons. I don't leave much room for that, now do I?


I do like Hugh's latest train. I think it should be required reading for architects. We could make advertizing obsolete! I'm ♫talkin about a revolution! Imagine! A sustainability revolution where we create systems that are sustainable in every sense of the word from technically to economically and environmentally to morally and personally! Yeah? No more welfare lines.

Tracy Chapman. Remember ♫this? Opera meets folk rock -- I love it! Ah yes... "The benefits will flow to those individuals and states that are most comfortable reaching across cultures." -- Anne-Marie Slaughter, America's Edge. Promises, promises. ;-)

I love Ian Morris's ending to his talk:

"This is stirring stuff, but it is the poem's opening line—'Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet'—that gets all the attention, mostly from people quoting it as an example of the 19th-century West's insufferable self-satisfaction. Yet that was surely not the effect Kipling was hoping for. What he actually wrote was"—and this rarely gets quoted, the whole first verse:

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face,

Tho they come from the ends of the earth!"

"As Kipling saw it, people (real men, anyway) are all much the same; it is just geography that obscures the truth, requiring us to take a trip to the ends of the earth to figure things out. But in the 21st century, soaring social development and a shrinking world are making such trips unnecessary. There will be neither East nor West, border, nor breed, nor birth when we transcend biology. The twain shall finally meet if we can just put off nightfall long enough."

-- Ian Morris,  Why the West Rules--For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future

Ian Morris gives us a lot to think about. Climate change may well make geography a pivot point again, even as global communication drops other barriers to man's ability to see his shared humanity. And there are interesting changes ahead as the line between man and technology becomes ever more indistinct, blurring the contributions of biology, sociology and geography with those of technology.

Thank you Daniel. When I think of you I think "my glory was I had such friends" (Yeats). That works so many ways, doesn't it? We are bright in the reflection of the glory of our friends, but they also are a mirror to us that makes us more our best selves.

Elizabeth Edwards, Finding Solace and Strength from Friends, 2007. RIP family and friends add strength as well as lovely color and surprising detail to the fabric of our lives

Image source: Elizabeth Edwards, Finding Solace and Strength from Friends, 2007. RIP.

This looks like an important book that could help (curb rock throwing) as we grapple with why people, are, well, complex and full of foible: Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, Robert Kurzban, January 2011. 

My greatest friend is my beloved husband -- who will be exasperated (it being midnight)  if I don't stop tickling thoughts into my keyboard, even if I do so love to make words dance! 

12/11/10 Grandstanding on Grandstanding

When I came across Robert Frost's "Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down" I was taken aback by the jeering jest. Oh yes, there's humor in it, but it clearly sneers and scoffs. It elevates self among the like-minded, by treating (categorical) others with disrespect and sweeping dismissive statement. Those disenfranchised by the occlusion, will tend to be defensive... in this case, perhaps countering Frost's jibe by pointing out that if we see poetry as the rendering in exquisite condensed form some facet of the human condition, then Frost's "tennis" is just a private club game for elitists and the human condition is much more felt and known by those who live so far outside the games elitists' play that their rules don't matter. We can invent new rules, so that the form melds with the meaning, patterns emerge, and the cadence is in sympathy with the human condition. Appealing to our aesthetic sense through a skillfully cast illumination of beauty, truth or foible. Allowing the humanity of imperfection, yet ascending the ordinary.

Territorialism runs deep, whether it is intellectual turf, decision turf, or the dominion of states. In many ways, "territories" are important for they enable us to handle cultural and intellectual complexity. But some of our territorial marking behaviors, and the ways we claim respect by diminishing and belittling "the foe" (or competing viewpoint), are simply divisive and create a downward-spiral of contention.

I should say, I do admire and enjoy reading Robert Frost's poetry! I, for example, much like "On Being Idolized.'  ;-) As I read him, he was a man with a sense of humor and a willingness to critically look also at himself.

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,

As those move easiest who have learned to dance"

-- Alexander Pope, Sound and Sense

12/12/10 Competitors Leapfrog

To see an example of the title of this post, look at what Google has done with image search (bearing in mind what Bing had done, bearing in mind what Google had done, etc.). I tried Googling "fractal" on images, and the new format for the search results blew me away! I couldn't have tried a better first search given the new format!!!

How about software visualization? Awesome! (And code visualization pulls up some of the same, but many new visualizations.)

Software architecture? Cool!

I LOVE it! When did that become the default view on an image search? I use image search perhaps more frequently than most, so I don't think it's been very long... has it?

What's so different? The site reference is gone so it is all visual until you mouse over, and it allows many more images, plus the pages are continuous so you just scroll down, and down, through pages of results... not sure what the meaning of the pages is, then... but I've only just played with it for moments... 

...and when one clicks on an image to go to the website, the image is in a highlight box overlaid on the page that contains it... neat!

Innovation marches ever forward, even within a paradigm that conscribes through expectation and precedent...

See how lovely the Google image search returns on fractal is:

.Google results on an image search on "fractal." 12/12/10

Image source: Google results on an image search on "fractal." 12/12/10.

Now I wonder where that would put me with respect to copyrights on the original images? It was ruled that search engines can use copyrighted artworks in thumbnails on search results pages. Is a snip of the search results page vulnerable to copyright infringement?  

Well, while I ponder this question, here is a snip of the Google results on an image search on "software visualization" (12/12/10):

Google results on an image search on "software visualization" (12/12/10)

Wow, Google search creates a visual treat! Eye candy? Or a vivid expression of the diversity of ways software is being visualized? And yes, the second image is the collage I made for my software visualization resources page (which owes a lot to Grady Booch, for we endlessly traded pointers to vis. resources).

I do like that visual way of indexing information.

Ok, so, I really do need to get the remaining section of The Art of Change: Part II done.

12/12/10 Five Who's

For a different twist on the 5 why's, see Jess McMullin's 5 Whos -- Questions for Uncovering the Influence Network.

We can "unbundle" or "unpack" (an NLP term) the influence network, using Jess' suggested questions:

  • "Who is going to make the decision you care about?

  • Who else is going to affect that decision?

  • Besides those people, are there other players?

  • Who else affects those players?

  • Who have you left out?  Asking Who five times often uncovers far more than five people. So a final “who” question can be “Who matters most?” (more on answering that another time).

Other “Who” questions to ponder:

  • Who is affected by this decision?

  • Who supports this outcome?

  • Who is against this outcome?

  • Who benefits? Who loses? or Who thinks they lose? Does an outcome make anyone look bad? Who?

  • Who loves the status quo?

  • Who hates the status quo?

  • Who is seen as the voice of wisdom?

  • Who has a great track record?

  • Who has a spotty track record?

  • Who has a solid reputation in the company or community?

  • Who has a past history with other people here?

  • Who has been involved in trying to deliver similar results?

  • Who controls the relevant infrastructure or resources (legal, financial, technical, or policy)?"


-- Jess McMullin, 5 Whos -- Questions for Uncovering the Influence Network

Why? Well, we can't always stomp our feet and get what we want. Or, perhaps we can never stomp our feet and get what we want... This from Jess:

"...influence is the ability to affect others’ beliefs and behavior without authority. Day to day, that boils down to decisions – how can we affect other people’s choices? That’s where influence is measured most – if people make the decisions we want them to make."

-- Jess McMullin, The Decision Cycle for Influence, 1/16/2009

Actually, I like the whole set of posts on influence, and I especially like his visual models!

I've only started reading around in his "design thinking" thought stream, but I thought these points are useful as they relate to influencing (which happens, after all, through communication):

"To have greater influence in the organizations that we work with, design innovators need to cultivate an understanding of business – not that we need to get MBAs, but that we need to relate our efforts to business goals and context if we’re going to practice value centered design. Until we understand business, we’re arrogant hypocrites if (when) we complain about business ‘not getting it.’ Not getting it is just a reflection of someone operating from a different frame – and understanding and reframing are strong points for design and innovation. We have no excuses for ignoring business fluency, or expecting that business decision makers should learn our lingo instead." 

-- Jess McMullin, Business Fluency, 4/22/2008

12/12/10 Software Cells

I thought this post on software cells was interesting. It calls to mind Alan Kay's OOPSLA'97 talk... though "cell" in this case is considerably larger grained than a class. Alan points out that in cells, boundaries serve to keep unwanted, foreign things out and to keep important things in. Now that is a useful analogy. As Ralf uses it, logic is pulled to the center of the cell, where 'the logic is defined by "whatever doesn't have to do with communication".' And the boundary of the cell takes care of communication or interactions with other software cells or infrastructure or resources or humans.

12/13/10 Meaning Has Many Makers

When I think of my "ha ha ouch" post, I'm reminded... Our box and line architecture diagram (which may be known as the conceptual architecture diagram or block diagram, etc.) is variously reacted to, and I visualized a sketch sequence but still need to draw it (I can draw in words more facilely than with lines; you may have noticed... ;-). Anyway, some dismiss it with "dubious semantics" and such. And it is again just as well to remember that the greater the degree of abstraction, the more people can put "their stuff" into the abstract boxes and lines. Their "stuff" may be a mission to bring better clarity to architecture. It may be an orientation to suss out risk and make things better (which may look an awful lot like trying to undermine the architect through perpetual devil's advocating or elevating self by criticizing others). It may be discomfort with ambiguity, which may show up in words and attitudes that attack the diagram for not clarifying more. early on we're exploring, and our concepts are mutable and they morph as we mature the design into specifications or expressions of intent and then realizations

While others may see in this very ambiguity, see in the abstract nature of the thing, a key tool for early thinking.

Later, as more is clarified and decided, and more comes to be known, we might see the same diagram as a compression of meaning. Now, the meaning is enriched and deepened by all the collateral views (including the code itself) that it compresses, on the one hand, or views which provide details that it abstracts away from, on the other.  

we make tentative decisions (expressed in models) so we can MOVE forward, not being paralyzed by uncertainty, but also bearing in mind what is exploratory and what is decided/constraintAnyway, this serves as a reminder that meaning isn't just made by the person or team who is creating the architecture. The meaning that those and others get from "the architecture" is an interaction between the intended meaning (at best partial) and the meaning interpreted and made by everyone else interacting with the various expressions of the architecture. And it doesn't do to hand-wave this away saying "so the code is the truth" because that requires interpretation by humans to make meaning (essential to truth, as opposed to fact or data). Yes, we can refer to the code as the touchpoint to assess accuracy at the "data" or "fact" level of our code. Even so, the code is not simple and linear as its textual format might belie to the initiate. To understand even a focal small set of lines of code, the human mind has to grok multiple simultaneous facets, from the lines of code themselves to the placement and content of other relevant pieces of code and the interactions among them, to the executing environment, to the (multiple) user context(s) in which these collaborating sets of code will play out various paths of interaction. In all this detail, it is hard to impossible to see "the" design, although of course elements of the design will be more apparent than others. 

No, the appropriate response isn't to throw up one's hands in despair. Nor even to embrace this organic messy state and leave it as is. Well, yes, "appropriate" is values laden. And I don't mean to invoke a cult although we software types do like to create our "belief camps." I suppose that is because we are human! What a concept!

So, if you like, in the "belief camp" in which I play an advocacy role... we mature our notion of the system, and along with it the architecture -- or the design of the system and expressions of this design. The expressions are at first highly exploratory (discovering and exploring value and structure), becoming more, and then explicitly, intentional (describing, or even prescribing or specifying in pivotal ways, what we intend the design to be, to achieve desired system outcomes), then reflective (describing the design realized in the code), then exploratory--but with ever fewer degrees of freedom, and intentional and reflective and ... the cycle of system life as we evolve it. So these expressions will be more open to interpretation at the points in the lifecycle where we open ourselves up to divergent thinking about the system concept (along more prescribed lines, as the system matures), value propositions, and system capabilities and architectural design mechanisms that deliver them. 

architecture needs to be connected to strategy and systems (as they are built and evolved)As we mature the architecture, the boxes and lines take on meaning, but if we want that meaning to be consistently interpreted -- less what is subjectively lobbed into the boxes and lines, and more objectively what we intend or have already realized (in code) -- we have to work to add details in views that support and enhance and deepen and clarify (etc.) the boxes and lines. The role that the Conceptual Architecture Diagram plays shifts from an abstract thinking tool that accommodates the fuzzy front end state of uncertainty and exploration, to one that supports system-level communication and understanding, locating, seeing relationships, etc. 

Well, that is a sliver of what is going on in "Something About Boxes" and "Making It Visual."

Interpretation is seeded by what the architect does to ensure the intended interpretation is conveyed. But it is also in good part a matter of the state (attitude, knowledge, personal orientation to novelty, how much sleep they got or what other things they are worried about, what they are passionate about, etc., etc.) of the receiver. You could say meaning is the message received, not the message sent. I tend to think of it having multiple facets, and we work on trying to bring consistency between the meaning the sender intends to send and the interpretation made of it.

Notes on "The" Software Architecture Document

With respect to the expressions of the architecture, it doesn't help to yield to "but it just gets out of date!" If this is happening, are we doing our part to change the organizational culture (yes, at the values level) so that cycles (mental and time) will be allocated to keeping the expressions of the architecture in sync with evolving business and strategic technical intent and realization (in code -- which is part realization of intent and part emergence)? 

I like to distinguish between the architecture specification document or system of record and the architecture overview document. Dana Bredemeyer makes the point that the architecture overview document is important for various stakeholders to read because it reveals the many, and highly varied, intentions/desires/goals/value propositions and drivers and forces that the architecture is taking into account. This helps offset simplistic, localized parochialism from having sway within any one group, because they see the needs/concerns and positions (and the complexity each raises) of other groups and individuals! Well, if the overview is going to be encouraged, and even required(?), reading (or listening to the presentation form of the overview) for a fairly broad set of people, it can't be extensive -- it has to provide context, and highlights, and build a narrative various stakeholders from different backgrounds and concern sets, can relate to. It will help to "sell" the architecture, but also enable the various stakeholders to play their role with respect to the architecture more effectively, for it provides the context for all those roles (making vivid what is the urgency, what is compelling, what is at risk, what is hard, how will this exciting value be built, where do I fit in, what do I get, ....).

Then the question is, do we need more than that? (For it is more documentation to maintain and evolve.) Obviously this will depend on the system, but for larger scale systems where the technical and organizational complexity warrants it, the answer will be yes. This will serve as a key reference for many in the community, but aside from the architects, probably won't be required reading in its entirety, though on a team/group-by-group or even individual basis parts of it will be drawn out as a required reference to be lived with day-to-day. And because it is lived with and by, interacted with, and issues of clarity, correctness, salience, and more brought to the architect so that in partnership with, but under the decision leadership of, the architect, the document lives and evolves.   The document -- the expressions, visual and textual, of the architecture -- that level of design that "illustrates the iceberg" and governs its structure so that it is sustainable.

You know, sustainable in every sense of the word from technically to economically and environmentally to morally and personally. :-) Meaning it can be evolved without degrading the system and everyone who works on it. Meaning it delivers value now, without so severely undermining our ability to deliver tomorrow that we undermine the very business that gives us, and our teams, not just a paycheck but a place to vest our egos/aspirations/sense of self (important, in this so-short sojourn in this life). Etc., taking into account environmental and social impact, and more.

12/16/10 Metaphors

George Lackoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors we live by.

12/16/10 Technical Debt

Rod Nord along with Ipek Ozkaya and Nanette Brown from the SEI, and Philippe Kruchten, and an impressive program committee, are organizing a Workshop on Technical Debt in conjunction with ICSE 2011. Papers are due January 21.

Here's some of the conversation centering on technical debt and related concepts like design debt:

Ward Cunningham (credited with the origin of the phrase technical debt):

Martin Fowler:

Robert (Uncle Bob) Martin:

Steve McConnell:

Ruth Malan*:

* Ruth Malan? Well don't you like how I put this:

We call growing entropy technical debt. Then legacy. Meaning something we need, but it weighs us down, anchors our business to the past.  -- 1/29/10

and how I illustrated it (right)?

not so fast you tie the product to its past by its shoe laces!


Case studies/examples:

5/17/11: Managing Technical Debt, Philippe Kruchten, March 2011

7/10/11: What is Enterprise Technical Debt? Charles Edwards, March 28, 2009

12/17/10 Culture

The architect, as leader, does well to think of culture as a subtle, light touch yet powerful mechanism to ensure that good, right things are being done to ensure design integrity while empowering teams to act with considerable creative freedom. It is that "left hand" work that Dana Bredemeyer talks about. An important dimension of culture are the values that guide behavior and become the team's yardstick for self-evaluation and principled development.  

... memories are the roots of tomorrow; they create the shared stories that shape the nuclear culture and build principle and practice. ... ... So, it's just a little whisper of a reminder to think of other vehicles and formats for conveying key aspects of your architecture, and doing so in a way that recognizes that it is people, not machines, who create great software. -- 8/12/09

Here are some ideas for artifacts that create ceremony and serve as memory markers that underscore values:

  • custom insulated water/coffee mugs illustrated with key diagrams from your architecture set (or ask me for a VAP insert if you're enculturing VAP). Scrapbook travel mugs that can be customized in this way are available from Amazon and Walmart, etc.  These will be conversation starters wherever the water tumbler/coffee mug goes.
  • an architecture map book (you might like to buy a copy of The Map Book for analogical reference in the team) -- keep "heartbeats" of your top level architecture views (context map, capability map and conceptual architecture diagram) in this expanding "map book." Make sure you keep your "in the beginning we thought this...!!" maps for historical reference. At important points of greater divergence from the initial path, mark these shifts with a new chapter and some commentary on the shift. Have fun with this, so readers down the road will have fun following the history of the system. This piece of ceremony underscores the values of iteratively and incrementally evolving the system as well as keeping the documentation alive, viable, meaningful throughout the life of the system.

I just stumbled on Jon Dahl's slideset titled Aristotle and the Art of Software Development and it is serendipitously synergistic with the culture point that I'm making. If we appeal to the team's desire to live well, to do good, to be virtuous (in a balanced ethical sense) and cultivate values and good habits (e.g., leave the campground cleaner) then we can do with fewer rules/less governing our way to system integrity. Below are two slides from Jon's slideset on slideshare. The first (slide 87 along with slide 88) makes the point that a life well lived is a happy life, a happy person is a good person, a good person is virtuous.  Or virtue and happiness are duals, each of the other.

Jon Dahl's slideset titled Aristotle and the Art of Software Development

Image source: Jon Dahl, Aristotle and the Art of Software Development

The slide below explores that balance:

Image source: Jon Dahl, Aristotle and the Art of Software Development

I suppose one could stretch wit to include playfulness, but I think it is important enough to elevate... so what would that look like:  excess: procrastination/tardy/undependable  ... just right: playful ... too little/paucity: stuck/rigid ??

12/17/10 Misc.

Did you catch Wednesday's xkcd? Today's is great too!

12/20/10 Total Eclipse Tonight

This is the first eclipse of the moon on the winter solstice in 456 years! It is such an important moment for geeks that this afternoon we scrambled looking for a flight to Florida, but ... didn't do it. We're becoming wimps I tell you! Well, in truth, it's the economy and the flights went from $200 a person to $500 a person in the moments where we went from "hey, wanna do this kids?" to "hell yeah" to ..."shoot!" Oh well, we're missing the eclipse but getting some snow. With more in the forecast for Christmas. :-)

[Well, we have been thinking longingly of getting somewhere warm for a few days over the break, and it is the kind of thing lifetime memories are made of to take the kids on a spur-of-the-moment jaunt to see the solstice lunar eclipse.]

12/22/10 Sketchbooks

This book looks interesting: Sketchbook: Conceptual Drawings from the World's Most Influential Designers, Timothy O'Donnell. I like the haiku quote:

 from Sketchbook: Conceptual Drawings from: the World's Most Influential Designers, Timothy O'Donne

And this quote: "The idea is everything" (below).

from: Sketchbook: Conceptual Drawings from the World's Most Influential Designers, Timothy O'Donne

Well, I would not want to discount the technique or the execution (for a painting or a product), for they give rise to the ideas within the ideas and make the idea real in the world. But the big compelling idea, the idea that is big enough to get us over all the inertial crud that will block it's path -- that idea is crucial. Not one without the other, but the "technique" people can get all twisted in knots because they think those compelling ideas are easy. They're not. Just think how many ideas are out there, then think how many make it. No, it isn't just because we are so "all talk no action"! Action can obscure the compelling idea. The compelling idea -- you know, one that would stop action in its tracks and make it think a bit before heading in a new direction!

So, anyway, give yourself a pocket sketchbook this Christmas or New Year or Kwanza -- and if you don't celebrate any of those (and since it's late for Sinter Klaus or Hanukkah), just make yourself a You're Great Day. The Moleskines are superb and no sketch-snob would be without one but I also buy little blank notebooks (I prefer unlined) at museum stores and such when we're traveling. They run considerably cheaper but are not the same quality. So, if you think you're onto the next big thing and want the notebook that will be there for the Museum of Science and Technology, or you just can't be seen without a Moleskine... I won't judge you. After all, I carry one everywhere for exactly that purpose. Which, the former, or the latter? I'm not telling. ;-)

So, did you ever find out what The Zuck does with his vision notebooks?

A pocket sketchbook yet... sort of a nerd-meets-artist/designer kind of thing... oh yeah. If the cap fits...

Hey, wouldn't it be just radical to publish a book of pages from the sketch/notebooks of the Zucks and the you's of this world? Let's do it! Send me your images, and I'll get to work! I think a "conceptual designs" for software systems book would be so dynamite!


12/22/10 Architecture and Related Conferences

12/22/10 Coupon

'Tis the season, huh! Well, that beats couponmountain and retailmenot. :-)

12/23/10 A Map, A Map -- Anyone Need a Map?

In case you have time on your hands while I work on a family Christmas on one front, and To Draw on the other, there's always my journal to catch up on. ;-) My journal topic map progresses in fits and starts, but progresses all the same. I'll transform it into a pan and zoom visual structure once I've collected the link tree data. Because these are journal entries, the clusters under each topic heading are chronologically ordered, so I also need to write an entry to head each topic to provide an overview/summary of the topic. Well, anyway, I hope you find the material and the map useful even as it is.

As I go through each month of entries, I've also started collecting the aphorisms from that month into a topic ordered set and it's a neat way to view the topic space! I may, to bolster my self-sense, also collect a set of my own (colorful and) definitive statements in the various topics, just to kind of put my flag on those various planets and their moons, as it were. ;-)  

Well, if it serves no other purpose, reading the back issues of this journal to catalog entries in the topic map, makes me think there is a small chance that someone else might like and find it useful too. Ok, ok. I said small chance.

Of course the chronological ordering is interesting (to me, ok), as there tends to be a set of themes that course through a month that one doesn't see if one looks at the entries threaded by topic rather than threaded by sequence. Yes, chronological access is still there, even if I didn't bother to put it on this page -- the current month's entries are already much too much to parse... which was why I hoped that a topic map might be useful to some... if they found they liked how I think about architects architecting architecture and wanted to focus on a chunk, organized (albeit loosely) by topic thread...   

If you have suggestions, I welcome constructive input ().

12/23/10 Drawing as Seeing and Drawing into Action

"To draw oneself, to trace the lines, handle the volumes, organize the surface… all this means first to look, and then to observe and finally perhaps to discover…and it is then that inspiration may come. Inventing, creating, one’s whole being is drawn into action, and it is the action which counts. Others stood indifferent – but you saw."

--Le Corbusier

Drawing, or writing, is seeing -- a movement into action. It is hard, in our products world, to remember that, isn't it? Designs are action. Writing to help architects design is action. Writing to better know what I think and believe and to organize and to express, is action. Yes, it is not the end-product. And the creators of the end-product, if they are not enough valued, may "mark the territory" in unpleasantly assertive ways by belittling what contributes to making the end-product better, more useful, more sustainable and capable of creating delight.

So, To Draw. You know. The last section of To Lead is to See, to Frame, to Draw. It is all very fractal and of course you're going to love it. I wish I could use Escher but since I can't I have some ideas for drawings that I have to see if I can put well enough to paper to use.

12/23/10 Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to you and your family, and may the New Year bring you much joy and fulfillment!

With progress towards peace and NO new wars!!!

12/23/10 Golden Carrot Awards

It is astonishing how two words and three exclamation marks can make one's day! Like these, about the other site I write:

"Great site!!!" -- Josef, Resources for Architects mailing list signup, 12/21/10

It's gratifying when someone takes a moment to say something appreciative. It's sort of like an electronically-conducted smile of thanks. It has been a labor of love building and evolving the (extensive) Bredemeyer Resources for Architects website, and it is heartwarming to get a word of thanks every now and then. :-)

12/25/10 Happy Christmas to those who celebrate Christmas, and Happy Tolerance of Diversity Day to everyone else :-)

(Since the excesses of Christmas must surely stretch tolerance. Although. The down economy gave a whole new level of significance to the material excesses of Christmas... Material excesses. Well, we participate in them too, though with ever more rue. I think that part of what makes us human is to take joy in extravagance now and then -- taking joy in the extravagance of nature in something like the Grand Canyon, and the extravagance of man-made things that bring art and enablement into our lives. The extravagance of dreams and desires that get bundled up into great expectations for some untoward extra special treat like a new musical instrument. ;-) So, yes, we did our part to kick-start the arts-tech economy (we enter the era of the electric guitar and Logic Express, wahoo) but also did the hand-made, local gifts thing (redoing Sara's room with mom-painted walls and dad-made loft bed).

Painting her walls on Christmas Eve, Sara told me she'd made me a gift. I told her I hadn't made her anything. She told me I had -- I made her happy. :-)  Well, that made me happy.

Playing a guitar for the first time on Christmas Day -- not too shabby given that:

Awwww, isn't it heart-warming to see the guy chief architects listen to singing with his kid. ;-)

12/26/10 Mapping the Future: Roadmapping

Roadmaps: What and How

Roadmaps: Examples/Case Studies/Initiatives

* Capability Mapping? You do of course know that we approach EA from a business capabilities orientation (see: Ruth Malan and Dana Bredemeyer, "Enterprise Architecture as Strategic Differentiator," Enterprise Architecture Executive Report, Cutter Consortium, June 2005. You can download a complimentary copy from

Future Forward: A preview of tomorrow today

Roadmapping tools

  • Sopheon's Vision Strategist for Roadmapping

Note: The term "roadmapping" is used variously. Let's consider two quite different uses:

i. mapping projects and the technology dependencies among projects to manage the dependencies -- dependencies which exist to increase leverage among products (to reduce time to market, lower development costs, do more with the same or less resources, etc. through reuse/multiple use) and imporve the competitive position, mind you.

ii. mapping projections of technology developments to improve strategic planning, visioning, opportunity discovery, illuminate risks by assertions about directions and developing associated scenarios, etc.

The first is used in a "plan" sense. The second in a highly exploratory sense. The first is closer to projects and project management, the second is strategy development (which could be at the product, product family/portfolio, ..., corporate strategy levels -- given a fractal view of strategy).

12/26/10 Mapping the Past: Histories

Not a map, but a visual telling of the story: "Yesterday's Tomorrow: How Americans learnt about the future at world's fairs in the 1930s."

Also not a map, but a lesson from history on "less is more" and technology gestation: Wayne Ting, nearly a billionaire. Or how Facebook won, BBC blog, 12/21/10

Are these maps of the future and the past (below) relevant to architects? You bet! But if you have any doubt, why don't you read our paper on innovation and agile architecture and then we can discuss it. :-) See Getting Past "But...": Finding Opportunity and Making It Happen by Ruth Malan and Dana Bredemeyer,  Enterprise Architecture Executive Report, Cutter Consortium, August 2008. You can download a complimentary copy from

12/26/10 By Analogy

I thought that "Making place for clutter and other ideas of home" was going to make use of an analogy close to home... ;-) Like my images of components right and below. ;-)  [Hey, isn't this cool? :-)]

separating what's still "in the tornado" from what's already "on mainstreet" (using Moore's terms)

12/26/10 See, I'm Not the Only One!

One of the best things about Martin Fowler's tweets is news of note like this:

One of the best things about this month is @_david_ing 's return to blogging:
-- Martin Fowler,

As for David Ing, this is the by-line on his blog: My most recent weblog and probably the next one for the chop. So I'm not the only one to "put a lid on it," or think in those terms; or to take it back off, maintaining the option of again using the lid should whim or reason strike... ;-)

David Ing? Remember his superb (insightful and funny) "overly long guide to being a software architect? It's back! Well, Darth Don got taken down by the suit, but at least we have David back!

And Charlie Alfred, this is your cue!  We've MISSED you too, you have to know!

12/26/10 A Year to Remember!

I'm sure you'll agree, one of the most memorable pleasures in 2010 was reading Bill Atkinson's MacPaint. I hadn't thought of it as literature, but it is definitely one of the most important pieces of writing in our time:

"I've just finished reading one of the most important pieces of writing from the last 30 years. It is carefully constructed, elegantly expressed and one of the most functional pieces of literature I've ever encountered."  -- Bill Thompson, August 23, 2010

So I looked at the definition of literature and sure, that ("the art of written works") works for me!

12/27/10 Software Architecture versus Software Design

Looking over some of the LinkedIn discussion threads, I came across the question: "For you, which is the difference between SW Architecture and SW Design?"

I know, that's turf I've raked over time and again, but I think there is a set of distinctions worth drawing out. Firstly, software folk aren't usually using "design" the way the design community uses it. We mean internal design (of the "guts"), with a focus on the code rather than the software as something that is experienced in many different ways (not just as a developer developing and evolving the code). Then, when we say, borrowing from Grady Booch, "all architecture is design but not all design is architecture" in our mental model we're still thinking in terms of designing the guts -- the architectural elements and relationships, mechanisms, ..., design of classes and factoring at that level. 

The design community, by contrast, very often is using design to mean of the skin, of the surface that the user interacts with. They are dealing with the look and feel of the thing, and designing interactions between the thing and the user, rather than its guts and how the guts works to make the surface behave and react and interact with the user.  In the software world, these are the user experience and UI designers. And they quite often work largely independently of, or in isolation from, with handoffs to, the design and development of the guts.

Separation of concerns, divide and conquer, hierarchical decomposition ... and composition, building more complex (sub)systems out of smaller proven components,... these are critical techniques for building ever more complex systems. It works for human organizations and processes and for other systems humans build. But if we want to speed up "evolution" to bring intentionality and reasoning, experience and transfer of knowledge and techniques from one domain to advance another, we set out to design at a higher level -- to design systems, not just components and subsystems of systems. To design across the boundaries. Not just the interfaces within the guts of the system, but the interfaces with the context -- the system-of-systems context(s) and the use context(s). And not just the interfaces, but the processes, the dynamic interactions not just in terms of activities but intentions too.

Then, is there a distinction we should draw between architectural design and system design?

And should we make a distinction between design as an intentional act versus design that is a matter of emergence (where Serendipity or Happy Accident or Evolutionary Adaptation or Natural Selection is the architect or designer).


This is a rat hole, me thinks!


12/27/10 Scanning Tomorrow

Tonight we watched Bicentennial Man. So naturally a whole set of um very human lines have entered the family banter as a result. It fits the roadmapping/trip to the future theme that a New Year and new project invite. And I thought the kids should be part of the conversation, because this is all very much about the world they will live in.

We are headed into an ever more tech enabled world. It is immensely exciting! The waves of change just keep rolling in!

'Intel isn't wasting time looking for ways to take advantage of its technology. Among other ideas it has in works, it's conferring with farm-equipment manufacturers on the possibility of using its chips to make remotely controlled tractors that would let farmers till their fields, plant seeds, dispense fertilizer and harvest crops from their office desks.

"The possibilities," noted Steenman, "are pretty much endless."'

-- Microchips now used in everything from toilets to tombstones, by Steve Johnson,, 12/20/10

We already have autonomous and remotely controlled mining equipment and airplanes, and more and more smarts in cars. We have more and more use of drones in warfare. Interesting times ahead. Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" are a nice idea... except that a major thrust in funding for robots comes precisely from the opposite desire. The desire for power and control, which we may couch in "security" terms, but which rides on our baser human traits... Is humanity ready for all we are enabling? This deluge of change can't be halted (except by mass disaster), so we have to work at every frontier to create the kind of world we want to live and work in.

A gentle caring kind of world.

I hope.

12/28/10 Scanning Yesterday

I was reading over October's entries and, wow, you missed a lot letting me put a lid on my journal... well, you knew it wouldn't last. ;-)

We went hiking yesterday and the sun on the snow lit the crests and crevices revealing the contours of our landscape that in the summer are more hidden by the woods. It was mind-lifting, spirit-expanding lovely!

12/28/10 Looking Back and Seeing Forward

I'm so glad our electric guitar playing boy is a "roots with the dirt still on" kind of kid whose hero is Woody Guthrie! Otherwise I'd never have known Woody Guthrie's songs of identity and social awareness! I'm perfectly happy to be drawn into bluegrassy roots, but it's not where I come from. I also think it is great that there are kids today who are drawn to folk music and their heritage, even when their friends tell them they'd be more popular if they moved on from bluegrass...

Here's Woody Guthrie:


The kid, like anyone who pursues a passion, does it for the joy of it. Which has an aspect of doing it for people who will see it for its common and unique human qualities and appreciate them. Sportsmen compete. Musicians perform. Much of the work we do on ourselves in the pursuit of excellence is quite solitary, but that we pursue excellence has an importantly social dimension. If we didn't have an audience, didn't earn esteem, we would probably still have that internal drive to achieve excellence. Probably. But the social connection of a warm response is hugely important to the aspiring spirit.   

12/29/10 The Grace of Empathy and Poetry

In Finding Opportunity (the agile architecting paper), I draw on The Wheel on the School because that story makes so many points about innovation and self-organizing teaming delicately yet powerfully. Delicately? Yes! There to be drawn on -- rather than proclaimed and asserted in a style that commandeers our senses superficially for a moment but leaves them more passive and dulled than inspired and invited.

In The Wheel, the little girl is encouraged to "think like a stork" -- to use her imagination and powers of empathy to understand what a stork needs. This morning, I picked up our copy of The Way of Chuang Tzu and read The Joy of Fishes, and it again struck me how important empathy is.

"I know the joy of fishes

In the river

Through my own joy, as I go walking

Along the same river."

-- The Way of Chuang Tzu, translation by Thomas Merton, 1965

Which, of course reminds me again of these lines from J.K. Rowling's Harvard Commencement Address:

"Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared."

-- J.K. Rowling, The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination, June 5, 2008

Which is quoted here and in the To See section of To Lead is to See, to Frame, to Draw. ;-)

We were bouncing around ideas for daily organizing themes for an upcoming architect leadership workshop, and I suggested magic for one of the days. Don't you like that? Magic takes perception and attention, and persuasion and influence, and all those topics to a pinnacle that is beyond where we go, but we can learn a lot by opening ourselves to some of the ideas and influences and thinking about the mechanics of illusion. And it is entertaining! Of course, there's the visual arts with visual analogy and symbol, composition, balance, compression and abstraction and all that good stuff that makes for another rich theme. And Dana suggested poetry for the third day. No, not to spend the whole day on poetry! Of course we'd still use our architect competency model as the warp structuring the day, but use poetry as a colorful ribbon in the weft. Well, at first I was reluctant because I thought that while magic could be a dangerous stretch of goodwill, it is fun, but poetry is dangerous and work, so it'd put the thing in danger of being cast as "flying above the ozone" by those made uncomfortable because they don't much like/get poetry... But, when I think about it, it fits quite nicely:

poiesis: the root of our modern "poetry", was first a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world

So, maybe. We could use Phlippe Kruchten's Tao of the Software Architect.

If you want to be a great leader,

stop trying to control.

Let go of fixed plans and concepts and

the team will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,

the less disciplined the team will be.

The more coercion you exert,

the less secure the team will be.


The architect doesn't talk, he acts.
When this is done,
the team says, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!" (17)


When the architect leads, the team
is hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader that is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst one who is despised.


-- Phlippe Kruchten's Tao of the Software Architect.

Or is that leaning too precipitously toward the mystical, and rather far departed from engineering?

Of course, Chuang Tzu has an answer ready to hand:

The Useless

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu:
“All your teaching is centered on what has no use.”

Chuang Tzu replied:
“If you have no appreciation for what has no use
You cannot begin to talk about what can be used.

The earth for example, is broad and vast
But of all this expanse a man uses only a few inches
Upon which he happens to be standing.

Now suppose you suddenly take away
all that he is not actually using
So that, all around his feet a gulf
Yawns, and he stands in the Void
with nowhere solid except right under each foot:
How long will he be able to use what he is using?

Hui Tzu said: “It would cease to serve any purpose.”

Chuang Tzu concluded:
“This shows
The absolute necessity
Of what has 'no use.'”

-- The Way of Chuang Tzu, translation by Thomas Merton, 1965

An architect is an engineer or computer scientist by training and by experience, but an architect is more than an engineer. The architect creates that crucible for engineers to do their work thinking they did it all, each themselves, and yet it coheres within a system that has integrity.

The architect, perhaps, has to step beyond the circles of past comfort. Unless... 

12/29/10 The Useless -- Journal

How about this as the by-line for my journal: "This shows the absolute necessity of what has 'no use.'"???

This is the time of the year when "top 10" entries are picked. That's not my style. But I think I might be able to pick the "10 most useless" entries... ;-)

Scanning for at least one entry for the "most useless" list, I read this:

... the joy of the thought chase drawing insights glimpsed but barely into view and finding them fall into epiphany -- 6/29/10

Doesn't that just make the useless point magnificently? If I hadn't written that useless retro/introspective piece, I wouldn't have written that line. Seriously, isn't it the most sensual line about awe-struck seeking you ever read? Like Epiphany is a forest nymph. Most sensual? Did you read the entry? Anyway, when I wrote the piece, words just tumbled as they do from my fingertips; I wasn't thinking about the allusion. Reading it now is kind of like this. Well, if that offends you, it serves you right for reading a useless entry! ;-)

Perhaps I should arrange the words thus:

the joy of the thought chase

drawing insights glimpsed

- but barely - into view

and finding them fall



Tennis with the nets down. Think Frost would have been so stuffy about his rules of play today? Ah, you question how I see poetry, if I blithely rearrange a line of prose? I do well know the value of discipline, structure and convention. And Epiphany found within righteous structures is as rewarding to me as Epiphany found wild and free. We value the one all the more for the contrast with the other.   

Epiphany? You know, "eureka-level convergent insight" (7/20/10) or "like the last few moves in a solving a Rubik's cube" (3/10/09)... that "flood the brain with insight reward response" (11/14/10).

Ok, here's a possibility for the useless list: weaving Ruth.

That should do it, don't you think? Do what? Ensure that I get to keep asking myself what I mean, knowing that no-one else is reading this. ;-)

Why weaving Ruth? Well, there's the pointers to Eric Whitacre, the head crush line ("the lineage of many of my thought children trace to these recognized fathers of the fields I work in") and there's a bonus in that it contains some quintessential links to previous year's posts (that's called a Trojan horse or a Greek gift, or a head fake. Depending on your heroes.). ;-)

Oh come on. I told you it was useless! So, how about the notion of a poetry theme for a workshop day, huh?  No, it wouldn't be anything like this!

"There's a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate, and then there's the whole category of stuff you just don't do!" -- [..]

I should listen to the wisdom of my son, huh?

I'm serious.

Now, now, I didn't write this whole post just to work in a reference to today's xkcd. What this obviously means is that I'm streaming a bunch of eurekas in the background and the To Draw section is just going to write itself -- words will be tumbling from my fingers in happy eagerness to take the form they have been contriving in my subconscious... Yeah, that must be it.

When we were painting Sara's wall, she confided "I have writer's block. Actually, all the voices in my head say they have writer's block." I told her I'd written "It is very good to have more than one internal voice 'cos you can get so much more thinking done!" in my journal. She replied "That's because you just hear your voices. I hear other voices." Right. My voices all work all the time, just like Sara's mom. ;-) But isn't that so insightful. The child's eleven. Elizabeth Gilbert develops this "genie" notion, and Sara already is totally onto that.

Now, as geniuses go, Martin Fowler has been talking to some in India. Should we conclude he's doing a book on distributed/global development next?

Do I have writer's block? Well, as this journal evidences, not that exactly. It's been more like this, as I explained talking about Durer here, but now it's more like a tug between competing projects. Lots of exciting stuff in the works. Including in the To Draw section. :-)

Oh yes, as perfect goes... Nobody has said anything about my attempt at a Map of the Software Visualization Zoo. I suppose we can assume it is perfect then. ;-)

12/30/10 On The Invisible Fabric of Our Lives

I'm doing a bit of time traveling, "exploring the future" just a little and this article, very much about the present but foreshadowing things to come, is nicely done: The A.I. Revolution Is On, by Steven Levy, Wired, December 27, 2010

It reminded me of these quotes that I referenced last year (7/25/09):

"Manufacturing company or software company?

Software is the ‘invisible thread’ critical to sustaining product innovation and competitiveness. Every company is transforming into a software and systems integration company. Approximately 66% of products delivered last year relied on software as a key differentiator.

On a smarter planet, success is tied to how well businesses can harness instrumentation, interconnectedness, analytics, software, and system intelligence to deliver differentiating value." IBM Rational, Smart Products, circa 2009

This is how I put it in the opening paragraph to our book (back in 2002, sigh):

"Software may not be the first thing your customers associate with your products or services, but it is, visibly or not, impacting your ability to impress and keep customers. Whether yours is a manufacturing company producing products with software content, or a services company using applications to support your service offerings, your reliance on software to create competitive differentiation has increased dramatically over the past few decades. While the signature competencies of your industry may be the obvious place to focus strategic attention, software architecture has emerged as a competency that a broad variety of businesses, including traditional software companies, have to develop, and do so quickly. Such is the pace of our times that while we are sorting out what software architecture is, we are trying to raise it to the level of business competency!"

-- Ruth Malan and Dana Bredemeyer, Software Architecture: Central Concerns, Key Decisions, Software Architecture Action Guide (draft), 2002

I loved the way Grady Booch put it in a recent blog post:

"Software is the invisible thread and hardware is the loom on which computing weaves its fabric, a fabric that we have now draped across all of life." -- Grady Booch

That invisibility cloak -- software has been using it to insert itself throughout our lives, and while the anger at way-of-life disrupting job-loss concerns have been directed at offshoring, so much is happening all around us as automation/robots/digitization/AI in various forms take over jobs. This is fast becoming a very different world and IBM's "top 5 in 5" are ...interesting... Of course, they are very "The best way to predict the future is to invent it" (Alan Kay). So, I want to see the next 50 (or, what else is IBM working on?)!  And what about the ideating and roadmapping that led to those projects? ;-)  

A different world. Yesterday I read:

“In an era when pessimism is the new black, a little dose of technological optimism is not a bad thing”

-- Paul Saffo quoted in  IBM Sees Holographic Calls, Air-Breathing Batteries, Ryan Flinn, Bloomberg, 12/23/10

A little dose? Goodness gracious! Anyone who doesn't get excited -- and fearful -- about the surges of change ahead is living with their eyes and mind closed! Fearful? This invisible fabric opens us in ever new ways to the dark, menacing side of humanity. From abusers who prey on children to any nut with an axe to grind. It is thought that stuxnet had to be nation-state sponsored, but smaller outfits provide huge economic disruption (through productivity losses, and tangible losses too). ... We enter an era when a small group of zealots can take down nations, corporations and families -- at scale. It is an unprecedented era where not only can mankind destroy the world, but a small group of individuals could conceivably wreak the kind of mass destruction that it previously took nation states to fund and staff. And, while a nation in an explicit, overt war is one thing, the invisible weavers of an invisible thread that rips and pulls at the fabric of society is a scary notion... a not unprecedented one at that. Stuxnet is just one demonstrator.

And. Back to "normal life." As technologies displace work from people to intelligent (if unidimensional) machines, people keep inventing new kinds of work to do, and new products to create. While traditional crafts and personal services receive new outlets with the connection of long tail producers to long tail consumers via channels like etsy and vrbo. It seems as though we are calling more upon our defining humanity even as we are redefining it!

But it does mean that all the unemployment dollars we're pumping into the economy to keep it propped up and to provide humanitarian assistance to our fellow humans, should come with the requirement of, and assistance with, new skills training or community service work that would build skills and social networks. A Depression is depressing, and we need to lift people into the new era with new expectations and new skills.   

Amundsen said "Adventure is just bad planning."

We need a bit less adventure here, guys! A little more "get the future in mind" so we can start building the one we want, with some intentionality while embracing the Serendipity we hold so dear. But fickle she is!

I read Scott's last letter to his widow on Ryan North's recommendation. Very moving.

The Useless. We're going to have to explore more of that!

How about some of the "stimulus money" going to something like another World's Fair? But at a personal scale? Or Bucky Fuller's World Game? We need to become wide-eyed with optimism and energetic passion for making a future we want to grow old in, and to see our children bring children into!

"The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people passing by

I see friends shaking hands

Saying, "How do you do?"

They're really saying, I...I love you

I hear babies cry and I watch them grow,

They'll learn much more

Than we'll know

And I think to myself

What a wonderful world (w)oohoorld"

--  Israel Kamakawiwo Ole' - Somewhere Over The Rainbow

1/24/11: Keeping track of bad predictions: Paleo Future blog.

12/30/10 The WILL to Surmount

Hmm, can you read my sketch notes? My family teases me enough about my writing, so no need for you to tell me I have to improve my writing or my voice. Both are lost causes; I can do better in short bursts at the cost to attention elsewhere, but over a longer haul I can't focus on these peculiarities that are, after all, pretty common in my gender (the soft voice) and among software developers (the scrawl). Of course, I just create space for all of you (only marginally less) messy writers to feel comfortable. ;-)

But if you don't have the will to surmount... the trials of my scrawl, just jump ahead to the notes that follow. :-)

The BIG idea is one that gives us the personal and organizational WILL to DO IT!

See: the "BIG" difference that needs to be made; FRAME it in compelling terms that create focus and evokes passion; DRAW people into the collaborative effort of making it real

Allow me to translate:

If we just start to ideate, we open the tap to a veritable deluge of ideas. The key though, is finding the combination of ideas that we are convinced, and we can convince others, is big enough to passionately pursue and make real in the world. The convincing has to do with what the big idea enables, what value it creates (in contrast with other things we might do, that compete for resources and attention), and a promising plan (even if sketchy at first). The leader doesn't just see the need/opportunity, but what must be done about it -- what difference we needs-must make in the world, and how, strategically, to go about making this difference. And the leader inspires others with this vision and this confidence that it can and should be done. The strength of will to surmount challenges (competing ways to invest resources and talent, resistance from those with vested interest in the status quo, etc.) comes from the perception and motivating force of the need, the attraction of the difference to be made, and a sense that, by rallying together and applying passion and skill, it can be done.

You know, the idea has to be big enough first to convince ourselves to make the effort required to lead. To champion the idea. To draw others in to help us elaborate and explore and refine it into a design, a plan, a reasoned construction that will make things better. Even when it can feel like we've signed up to be Sisyphus. And worse, like the vision rock comes crashing back down... again, and again. (... something like that commercial for a TV show we saw at the movies about guys bonding, pushing a rock up the hill as a work out ... but which of course I forgot 'cos, well, if I watched TV I couldn't journal, now could I?)

But... there be dragons therein...






So focused on the detail, don't see the chaos dragon...

Now, now, a chaos dragon doesn't have to look exactly like a dragon... it can look like a hint of a dragon in a chaos of lines...

You're not buying it?

And I wonder why no-one recommends my journal... ;-)

Well, I have just this to say to you then: Have a Happy New Year! 


If you don't follow my links, you miss all the fun! Well, did you follow the links on my Christmas post? See what I mean?

Hmm. I guess I wrote plenty of candidates for the most useless list this month. And some might even qualify as useless in the best sense. Perhaps. Not likely though.

I understand why the suit made Darth Don pull his blog off the i-way. CA CTO's just don't get to talk Metamucil; well, not so directly, anyway. It's too bad really. And I do wonder if my suit-self should take me in hand. I'm sure you wonder too. So. Rest assured. You're the only one reading this. Well, a few more people will hit this page, but they won't read it. Too many words. Finding something worth reading here is either like finding a needle in a haystack or a needle in a needlestack, but who would stay to find out when the stack is so BIG? :-)

12/31/10 Once in a Lifetime

My son cracked up when he saw a piece of junk mail with the headline "Once in a Lifetime Twice Yearly Sale."  Ah, the value of surprise.

Dana just suggested Darwin Awards for websites...  (NO he wasn't looking at mine! Goodness, the things you're willing to think!)

12/31/10 Maturity

A favorite book among kids in Sara's class is the Encyclopedia of Immaturity. There is something quite wise in embracing immaturity, where it means playfulness and wit. And not being eager to leave that realm where playfulness is seen to be a "good thing."

It occurred to me that while "capability maturity models" reflect greater and greater process rigor, the most mature (in the sense of reaching wisdom and goodness) organization is one that embraces and works on chaordic principles. Yeah, yeah, it's that fractal and emergent thing, so I'm advocating my own "baby" but it is the thought child whose forebears include the likes of Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Dee Hock (Visa), ..., Grady Booch (Rational/IBM) and our own Dana Bredemeyer.

I just thought that was worth saying, reflecting on the accomplishments of 2010. ;-)

12/31/10 Logical Fallacy

I woke up this morning with this thought in mind: decisions are either unilateral and autocratic, or talk happens in order for the decision to be reached and to stand a chance of sticking. So all those meeting wimps just need to eat their spinach or something. Uh, no. That's not what I thought. But I did think that the "stop talking start doing" crowd is either advocating unilateralism or they're ignoring the fact that action behooves decisions behooves talk. I know. It's ugly. But someone has to face it. And not just managers. Or they'd have to make all the decisions.

Now, obviously we want to try to empower people as much as possible to make decisions without having to talk about them (except in their own heads, or to get other opinions and ideas). And that requires informing context, and a solid sense of where decision boundaries lie beyond which others need to be involved, or a decision needs to be made at another (broader) level of decision scope.

So, I just wanted to say that "stop talking start doing" is problematic for anything beyond a single person effort. Doing raises the necessity of making decisions. Which raises the necessity of talking if the decision needs information and consensus or collaboration or give-and-take. Unless... you're a dictator. Any of you dictators out there? Successful are you? ;-)

"You just look at the alternatives; analyze the merits vs. the problem at hand, and may the best option win. This works out well if you are the king (or work alone which makes you the king by default) -- otherwise there are other people and they won't necessarily agree with you."

Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz, Architect Soft Skills, 10/26/08

In the days of old (you know, like 20 years ago), when bureaucracies might have worked (though perhaps this is a matter of urban legend), decision making may have been a one-way street requiring only telling not talking. Now, well, there's a mix. Chaordic means empower but also set context -- with decisions, where those need to be made at a broader, more strategic, level of scope. But decisions that impact across turfs are going to take some talking to be informed and to gain support and advocacy and understanding so they can be executed.

Indeed, everyone is happy for someone else to make decisions (which take work, if they are to be considered -- in the due diligence sense, too -- and bought into), so long as they have no impact on their vested interests. As soon as they impinge though, they want to make the decision! Or better delegate, so long as the decision outcome is the same as if they had made the decision with only their vested interest in mind.

This is why politics is the inescapable fact of architecting. Architecture is a set of decisions that needs must be made by the architect because if they were made by those without the perspective of system scope and accountability for system outcomes, they would derail strategic objectives for the system. So -- sorry about this downer on the last day of the year but -- some talking is imperative.

This also means that the most likely thing is that everyone is going to be bummed about the architecture some of the time. Including the architect! Uh, perhaps most especially the architect! 

All talk and no action. Fail.

All action and no talk. Fail.

Fodder for a great dinosaur comic, don't you think?

Don't you love how the picture stays the same? Kind of like pouring different functionality into the same architectural mold. Dana points out that it'd be harder to make the words stay the same, and change the pictures every time. You up to the challenge, Mr. North? Because, I have a head start on saying the same thing, over and over. ;-)

1/1/11  Happy New Year!

Hey, right now It's 1/1/11 1:01! Cool!


Sara made biscotti to see the New Year in. I like where this is headed/the passing of the years is not all bad. :-)

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I also write at:

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

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


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Feedback: I can be reached at . 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! Bring value, and I commit to using what you teach me, to convey it as best I can, help your lessons reach as far as I can spread them. I try to do this ethically, giving you credit whenever I can, but protecting confidentiality as a first priority.

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Copyright © 2010 by Ruth Malan
Page Created: December1, 2010
Last Modified: December 01, 2011