Time for this old toad to move on

Strange things, metaphors: they kind of have a life of their own sometimes…

My mother tells the story of the first house she and my father lived in, some small place way up in the north of England somewhere, back when my elder brother was still a babe-in-arms. The garden they’d inherited there was an overgrown tangle, and they didn’t have much of a clue about gardening, but it seemed a friendly sort of place. It even had its own toad, hiding in the humid dankness underneath a sprawl of strawberry-creepers that had crept in from under the fence from next-door.

It didn’t take long to see why the toad was there. Next-door’s garden was regimented, ordered, everything under control, just so. And all a bit sad, because nothing was thriving there. Beneath all that would-be perfection, the strawberry-patch was a mess of slugs and snails, stunting all the growth; what few fruit were left were all tiny. Yet over on my parents’ side of the fence, those same plants were producing a lush spread of abundant greenery, enough strawberries to keep a grocery going all on its own – and one very happy toad, who’d made very sure that there was not a single slug to be seen.

My mother realised what was happening in the next-door garden, and even offered to send ‘their’ toad over there. But the neighbour was adamant that she wasn’t having “that disgusting creature” in her perfect space: no way! And continued to fret over the fact that her once-imagined idyll was indeed dying…

Hence interesting that I’ve been writing about ‘the toad in the road‘, because I guess that’s what I am myself right now, in this garden we call ‘enterprise architecture’. A toad in the road: right idea, wrong place. Right idea for somewhere, I’d hope. But wrong place for here-and-now. Oh well.

Yeah, enterprise-architecture. You know, this could be a really nice garden? Especially if you got rid of most of this mess of concrete, and let those tired plants in their cracked concrete tubs get their roots down into the dirt at last. Plenty of potential and all that: to get the water flowing again, you might have to take a stick of dynamite to that ugly-looking paddling-pool that the last lot of kids built for themselves, over in the corner called ‘IT-centrism‘, but hey, it’s all here. Why not do it?

You’d wondered where all the wildlife went, but can’t you see there’s not much that can thrive in this kind of desert? A few bugs and wood-lice and a lizard or two, perhaps, but that’s about it. If you want it to work, perhaps plant a few things that can actually grow here: get a bit of shade going an’ all that. There’s a few plants of my own that might grow well here too, if given a halfway-decent chance: the Enterprise Canvas, perhaps, or that notation-agnostic metamodel; or maybe even a bunch of ideas about value-trees, about the service-oriented enterprise and the structure of management – kinda strange-looking at first, I know, but they really do work in this kind of climate. Only a suggestion, of course: it’s your garden, after all.

I’ll have to admit, though, that this isn’t really my kind of place that you’ve got here. Partly my fault, perhaps: I do know I’m kind of an Outsider – always have been, I guess – though I really have tried, I promise you. It’s just I really can’t cope with all the broken-down bits of machinery parked all over the place, and the possessiveness that still pervades everything: they do kinda get in the way all the time. And a bit too grey, too cold, too lifeless: too corporate, I suppose you could say? I’m gettin’ old, I s’pose: I need somewhere that’s a bit more comfortable with having real people around the place, a bit more aware of the anarchic nature of, well, nature itself? I guess I could do with a bit more of the bigger picture, too: and I don’t mind all those mythquakes that we can see coming down the road a ways, though I know they do worry some other folks a lot.

I’ll still be around, of course: if you need me, you know where to find me. And I’m always happy to drop by in your garden – especially if you find a way to bring it more back to life again.

But yeah, I gotta face the facts: this kind of ‘enterprise’-architecture garden ain’t no place for the likes o’ me – and out here at present I’m just another toad in the road.

So it’s “goodbye and thanks for all the slugs”, I guess? – because it seems like it’s time for this old toad to be a-movin’ on.

10 Comments on “Time for this old toad to move on

  1. Hi Tom. What a sad piece. It’s always good to be moving ‘to’ something rather than just ‘away’ from something. Do you have plans/ambitions?

    Rather like you, I thought the game was up for me a couple of years ago. I spent six months and several thousand pounds ‘taking stock’ and laying out my future at tebbo.com. Then the fates decided to throw two new opportunities my way. Each was wholly unexpected yet each fitted me like a glove.

    Something to do with preparing the soil for the seed to germinate.

    I hope something similar happens to you.

    Good luck.

    • Hi Tebbo!

      Oh. It wasn’t meant to be sad at all… more a kind of description of where I’m at, and a sort-of warning to the enterprise-architecture community that I may not be quite so in-yer-face-visible from now on. (At which, no doubt, certain people would definitely breathe a sigh of relief! 🙂 )

      The reality for me is that I’ve expended around ten times as much as you’d done, in both time and money (just on five years now, and several tens of thousands of pounds) in trying to get things going in enterprise architecture – all for no real return at all other than a lot of really good conversations with great people. (And, unfortunately, a few really nasty ones that I could have done without… oh well…). I also don’t have much to show for all that effort, other than a few books and slidedecks and a quite terrifying number of blog-posts and Tweets that very few people have ever read. Not a good record, really. Hence time to admit it ain’t ever likely to work; hence also time to accept it’s time to move on.

      Which is remarkably freeing. For example, it means I don’t have to hunt any more for those seemingly-nonexistent EA gigs: which also means I don’t have to waste any of my now all-too-precious time pandering to – bluntly – management-idiots who think they know what they’re doing and patently don’t.

      It means that I won’t have any income from that kind of work: but I don’t have any significant income from that now, as it is, so what difference would that make? None, is the short answer: so I’m free to do something other than waste my time ‘looking for work’ and other such inanities. Something’ll come up: I’ll survive somehow, I always have, and I’ve never been a ‘permanent employee’ yet.

      And it also means I don’t need to be worrying about offending certain people’s overblown egos: if they don’t like what I write, too bad – I can just show them the finger, tell ’em to sod off, and move on to the next task, whether they like it or not.

      All of that is hugely freeing – I think you said something much the same yourself a few months back?

      I do have a fairly clear idea about what I want to move towards- I’ll write a bit more about it in my next post. Metaphorically speaking, it’s only a couple of houses or so down the road from the enterprise-architecture garden, so it’d be easy enough to drop by if someone wants. (And yes, if anyone’s willing to pay me to do so, so much the better 🙂 But it actually doesn’t matter, and that’s the whole point – I get to choose whether I want to or not.) Almost all of what I’ll be doing will be relevant there: it’s just that, by starting from somewhere else, I don’t have to fight against the inanities of IT-centrism and the like – I can leave them to waste their own time without wasting mine or anyone else’s.

      So again, I don’t see it as sad at all: hugely freeing, instead. And yes, of course I’ll kinda hope that “the fates decide to throw new opportunities my way”, too 🙂 – the point being, though, that there ain’t the space for that to happen unless I do let go.

      Interesting, isn’t it? 🙂

      And many thanks indeed: once again you’ve shown what a true friend you’ve always been – is very much appreciated!

  2. With the economic downturn and a number of structural changes, independent consultants especially operating in the strategic space have faced the full brunt of cuts, especially those working in the public sector. A further commoditisation through outsourcing has made, many of the gardens ‘bland spaces’ lacking in creativity or longer term thinking. Methods and approaches offering ‘Jam’ today rather than ‘Jam’ tomorrow seem to be all the rage. And when it all goes wrong, those who purvey instant quick fixes just make more and more money. Perhaps enterprise architecture is failing to communicate its value proposition in real terms, and the continual argument that has raged over the last few years of whether it is a ‘bird or a plane’ has not helped. Then there is the argument of whether enterprise architecture should be a separate discipline or just an attribute of strategic leadership? My own view is that our industry is seeing some form of structural change, and many jobs will not be coming back. In terms of getting older, it may well be indeed time for some of us to move on, or perhaps take all those skills we have and apply them in new ways. In terms of the future, serendipity will indeed play a part, a big question will be for some, should people wait for things to change or move on? This can be especially difficult, if one has worked in a field for a long time. I quite like this FT Business School Video by Herminia Ibarra (Professor at INSEAD) on changing direction or getting involved in something new. ( http://video.ft.com/v/62345230001/Moving-out-insead-b-school-second-part-) that may provide some further inspiration and insight. Either way, let’s all embrace change as a positive thing, an opportunity and perhaps a new beginning? Stary positive and good luck. Just my two cents.

    • Stephen – many thanks, and yes, all good points.

      As I said in the post, and also in the reply to David Tebbutt (Tebbo) above, I’m taking a kind of middle position on those two choice of “wait for things to change or move on”: all I’m doing is ‘moving up the road a bit’, to look at the much (much) bigger-picture where EA-type disciplines can apply in the broader societal/socioeconomic contexts. In principle it’s not EA, so yes, I’m sort-of moving out; yet all of it is directly applicable to real-EA problems, which are also going to become more and more common, and at an accelerating pace, so no, I’m not actually moving right out of the space – I’ll still be around.

      As for “many jobs will not be coming back”, I’m seeing a situation in the future where even the current concept of ‘a job’ will itself disappear; and more than “serendipity will indeed play a part”, I suspect it’ll play a larger part than our current concepts of ‘plan’ or ‘control’. But that’s another story for later.

      Many thanks for the pointer to Herminia Ibarra – will follow that one up.

  3. Just one other thing Tom, with myself being originally from Newcastle upon Tyne (the North-east), a land once built on Coal and the Shipyards; I never thought in my lifetime I would see such changes in our own IT industry as fast moving as it is. Returning to the UK at the beginning of the downturn left me with a few thoughts as expressed by Jimmy Nail, and the Big River (a northern song). (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CoCOiE8bLI)
    Were those changes for the best? – I don’t know, all I can say is that the changes were not managed very well, and then as now, there was not much of an Enterprise Architecture or sensible strategy for the UK economy.

    • Stephen – “all I can say is that the changes were not managed very well, and then as now, there was not much of an Enterprise Architecture or sensible strategy for the UK economy”: yes, exactly. That’s the area I’m moving to work on for now on: to a significant extent the current ‘enterprise’-architecture (especially the IT-centric variants) are not much more than a minor subset of that. Wish me luck, perhaps? 🙂

      Many thanks again, anyway.

  4. Interesting as Enterprise Architects we are ‘masters of change’ and now perhaps we are about to eat our own dog-food in terms of changing ourselves. In many ways it is a bit like the ‘Russian bear still standing next to the pole’ even though perhaps the chains were cut long ago. Enterprise Architecture skills are still very relevant to this modern world of discontinuous change and chaos. It could be very rewarding to bring those transformational skills to other areas and perhaps give back more to society rather than just help companies make a profit?

    Thank you for being so open, honest and sharing your thoughts, real discussion is a benefit to all, it helps us in our own thinking and it is good for people to know that they are not alone.

    • Thanks, Stephen.

      “It could be very rewarding to bring those transformational skills to other areas and perhaps give back more to society rather than just help companies make a profit?” – that’s pretty much the idea here.

      P’raps I ought to say that I have no inherent objection to “help[ing] companies make a profit” – I’m very happy to help them to do so. The possible catch, for them, is that I’d also expect them to understand what ‘profit’ and ‘value’ actually mean: and in both cases it means a lot more than just money. I’d also expect them to think a lot more carefully about the question “profit for whom?” – because in a world of social-media, failing to acknowledge and work with your anti-clients (or, worse, fail to acknowledge their existence at all) is one of the quickest ways to kill the company.

      As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m serious about enterprise-architecture, in all its forms: and that does include the commercially-oriented forms too.

  5. Tom,

    I think I know a tiny little bit how you are feeling because (coincidentally?) yesterday I tweeted something similar: “Taking a long long break from #entarch & #itarch, having fun learning Processing for my Tubemapping on Android project”

    I hope you will win your inner battles and become an artist:
    “But the artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling. If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer in his whole life.
    The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for his own sake.”
    [Steven Pressfield – the War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles]

    • Peter – “I hope you will win your inner battles and become an artist”

      In some ways I feel a bit like the British politician John Major, who was said to have run away from the circus to become an accountant. (True, apparently.) I did all sciences at school, and then went on to art school, where I probably had very little talent at all, but survived somehow. I’m probably one of the very few people with a Masters-level degree as an explicit generalist, from London’s Royal College of Art. My first job was an illustrator in research on child-development; I then went on to become one of the pioneers of desktop-publishing, both developing the market from scratch and writing most of the software for it; and I’ve kind of ‘careered’ wildly from one direction another ever since.

      Given all of that, for me to “become an artist”, as you put it, would be both a bit like coming home, and a bit like an acknowledgement that I really don’t know what the heck I’m doing… 🙂 (Which is true for me most of the time, of course, and probably most everyone else as well: but at least I’m willing to admit it? 🙂 )

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