Great idea! Let’s get started!


How do we get started?

Kind of ‘There’s a hole in my bucket‘, often – everything depends on everything else, so there’s no clear place to start. But since everything does depend on everything else, it’d all be fine once I get started. If I could find where to start…

It’s kinda like starting-friction, or perhaps even more what engineers call ‘stiction‘ – a combination of rolling-friction plus inertia plus binding-friction. Otherwise known as the energy needed to keep going, preceded by the energy needed to get started, preceded by the energy needed to get everything loosened-up enough to be able to move at all.

Or, in human terms, the effort of doing anything, plus the endless effort of dithering in procrastination, plus the very real effort of getting unstuck-enough to get started.

Once I do get started, I do tend to keep going until they’re finished. (Sort-of, anyway. Mostly. Okay, maybe only some of the time, perhaps… 🙁 ) But procrastination? – sure, I’m a real master at that one. The idea for this blog-post came up in the shower first thing this morning, of course, and the notes for it finished no more than half an hour after that. But yeah, it’s already some five hours or so later, and I’ve only just got started. Oh well.

Yet it’s breaking the starting-friction that’s often the hardest part of all. Not so hard with this kind of post, perhaps – which in turn is perhaps why I write so much… But for anything else? – yeah, it’s real easy to get real stuck. So much so that for some really quite important things I still haven’t got started at all.

Take podcasts, for example. I really ought to be doing podcasts, to accompany the blogs and the books and everything else. I also need much the same sort of process to do sound-tracks for my slidedecks, which would make them a lot more useful all round. But I don’t know how to get started. Yes, in theory, I could use the built-in microphone on my laptop or my tablet, but I know that in reality I’d actually need a decent microphone, with pop-screen and mechanical-insulation and the rest, otherwise the sound-quality would be no good. I know I’d need to set up the room properly to keep ambient-noise at bay. I know I’d need to edit the sound to add head-and-tail and to generally clean it up. Yet I don’t know how to do any of that, on and with any of the equipment I already have – and everything, it seems, depends on everything else already being in place. Which is why I still haven’t got started – even though it was already urgent several years ago…

Then there’s videos and vodcasts – which is kinda same-again, really. Yes, I could use the webcam in the laptop or the tablet, but I’ve seen enough YouTube videos to know how ghastly its (lack of) quality really is. And in fact I already have at least three or four possibly-suitable video-cameras of various vintages available to me, if I knew how to use them – which, for this purpose, I mostly don’t. There’s the same problems with microphones and stuff; but on top of that there’s the blunt fact that no room in this house is suitable for the job, especially if I need to set up lighting and green-screen and suchlike – which I probably do, but I don’t know how to do that either. Nor video-editing. And so on, and so on…

There’s drawings and graphics, for this blog and for books and courseware and so on. That I do mostly know how to do, with Visio on my antiquated Windows-XP box, or Omnigraffle and other apps on the Macs: but the workflow is so tangled and tedious – especially for blogs, where I end up having to use three or four apps just to get even the simplest of diagrams done – that it often just doesn’t seem worth the effort. What I really want is to be able to do a quick sketch, probably with a few text-captions thrown in as well, but all inside the blogging-app. Which doesn’t exist. And even when I do get a new diagram done, it ends up with the literally hundreds of graphics already on this blog, which makes it a nightmare to find anything again to re-use. Again, seems there’s no way to start to get anything working any better.

And there’s ‘the app‘ – for which I’ve been wanting to find a way to get started for at least three or four years now. I know the basics of what the app needs to do; I even have a roadmap, of sorts, from ‘minimum viable product’ all the way through to fully-fledged full-featured toolset for strategy, sensemaking, enterprise-architecture and the like. I do know how to code – true, I’m a bit rusty right now, and I’m probably a bit out of date in terms of modern techniques, but I’ve done enough of it in my time to have some idea of what I’m doing with it. And I already have a fair few web-editors and other IDEs suitable for the usual HTML / CCS / Javascript / PHP / SQL cluster. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s that even that lot isn’t enough: there’s a whole heap of stuff I don’t know at all, about current frameworks and compiled-languages such as LESS and CoffeeScript and make-tools such as Grunt or Ant or Brunch, all of which seem to assume a detailed knowledge and hands-on experience of Terminal and Node.js and Git and all manner of other little hidden ‘gotchas’ – without which, of course, it just won’t work. Again.

Everything depends on everything else.

More to the point, everything seems to depend on everything else being there first.

Which, unsurprisingly, leaves me kinda stuck.

Sure, in theory, I could find all the information on the net, couldn’t I? In theory, perhaps yes; but in practice, mostly no. It’s the same problem all over again: if I knew what I was looking for, I could find it – but I don’t, so I can’t. What I get instead is page after page of advert-laden blog-posts and hour upon hour of YouTube-videos that don’t actually give me the information I need so as to get started. It’s there, somewhere – probably, perhaps, maybe – but where?

Where do I start, so that I can start, so that I can start?

Probably the only way that I could get started is to meet up with someone who does know how to get started. Which most people who already do whatever-it-is-that-I-want-to-do probably can’t tell me anyway, because they’ve been doing it so long that they’ve long since forgotten how hard it was for them to get started.

That’s where’s a real need for hubs, colleges, maker-communities and the like. But where do I find even those? Where I live right now doesn’t seem to have anything like a hub, or a maker-community: the nearest is probably more than fifty miles away – in fact my nearest professional-colleague lives more than twenty miles from where I am. So it’s the same problem, yet again, about knowing where to start in order to know how to start.

And reality is that everyone is stuck in the same kind of starting-friction, whenever they and we try to get started on anything different, anything new. Reducing that friction is one of the hardest parts of any business-model design; finding ways to get things unstuck – but without falling-apart in a heap – is one of the hardest parts of any business-transformation. And in my experience at least, the hardest challenge in enterprise-architecture is not in doing the sensemaking or creating the models or defining the roadmap to go from here to there, but in getting things to happen – in getting any kind of movement started at all.


Everything depends on everything else. And everything depends on everything else already being in place first, before any kind of change can get started.

“There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole…”

Tricky indeed…

So how do we get out of that trap? How do we break the starting-friction, in our own projects and elsewhere?

Ideas / suggestions / comments / experiences, anyone?

15 Comments on “Starting-friction

  1. The answer is:

    1) Start Anywhere
    2) Use It Yourself
    3) Share with the Community, so that they use it
    4) Listen to the Community and implement their greatest wish
    5) Refactor everything
    6) Travel light
    7) Rince and Repeat

    • Kai, Pat

      May thanks – and yeah, you’re both right, of course. It’s getting past the ‘It has to be perfect right from the start’ problem that seems the hardest to work with right now. Oh well.

  2. And to make it even easier:

    Given your very own definition of Enterprise Architecture every currently used tool in your Shared Enterprise is actually a portion of THE Enterprise Architecture Tool(chain). Therefore:

    1) Start where you see the biggest gap between current reality and your dreams.

    • Kai is right I think and that’s the strategy I follow*. Instead of building stuff myself I prototype new tools out of existing (open source) building blocks. Then I try the prototype out in the real world and I share my experiences or even the prototype itself, e.g. the sketching tool I’m trying out now at

      *The biggest gap between the current reality and my dream is an easy to use sketching/mapping tool

      • Yes, it’s a nice tool, Peter – but a nice tool for a purpose that I just don’t have. It’s not a sketching tool as such: it’s a way to take a descriptive text-file and make a sketch-like yet still conventionally-rigid UML diagram – which I don’t need at all. What I do need is a tool that supports all the kind of concerns I’ve described on this blog: one that supports the way that I work, conceptually similar to a recursion of SCAN – supporting simple, complicated, ambiguity/uncertainty and ‘the chaotic’, all in one single space, that allows things to move between those ‘domains’ yet still remain sort-of ‘the same’. I actually do have it in sketches, in notebooks and the like – but not where I now need it most, where I can show people how those kinds of thinking/sensemaking-processes and methods actually work.

        I’m a little bit fed up at the way people have just kept laughing at me about this – that it’s a pointless dream, and so on . Yet once I can find a place to get properly started on it, I suspect the laughing would stop pretty darn quick. It’s just this challenge about how the heck to get started, with no funds, no resources, no help and not enough knowledge, that is proving darned hard at present. But yeah, I’ll find a way to get started, somehow. Eventually. Somehow.

        • Sorry Tom,
          but I believe you miss the point here: “I’m a little bit fed up at the way people have just kept laughing at me about this – that it’s a pointless dream, and so on.” I am not at all laughing at you, even though I do believe it is a pointless dream, because I think you are here running down a dead alley. There is no possiblity to have “THE” Enterprise Architecture Tool, despite what we in general terms call “The Life”. Here I think Douglas Adams got it pretty accurate by stating that mother earth is nothing but a giant computer. A bit more abstract than that and it is perfectly to the point.

          Furthermore, why all this bitterness: “Yet once I can find a place to get properly started on it, I suspect the laughing would stop pretty darn quick.” There is no valid point in assuming that anyone, not even you, is holding the fundamental truth of Enterprise Architecture (nor anything else), despite some despots/dictators who enforce their version of the truth onto their “people” or gurus who make people believe weird stuff (some of it might be cool stuff though, not meant as an offence).

          And then the last: “It’s just this challenge about how the heck to get started, with no funds, no resources, no help and not enough knowledge, that is proving darned hard at present. But yeah, I’ll find a way to get started, somehow. Eventually. Somehow.” Just follow my advise. Even if that requires to trust my statements more than understanding them. If there is the time to start something without big demand of cash flow upfront than NOW, if there is a place to build dreams than the internet of things. Combine the two of them and build something which has true demand (not just Tom Graves demand) and it will fly all by itself and by that also generating the needed cash to scale it. If there is no demand then I fear my judgement that you are here running down a dead alley has been right, but I am more than willing to test anything you provide with open eyes.

          So prove my judgement wrong, it would make me happy.

          Merry Christmas Tom, or as we say here: Glædelig Jul.

        • Hi Tom,

          I was/am not laughing at you, I just wanted to give an example how I deal with starting-friction. I do that by trying to fulfill my tooling dream by starting with creating prototypes which I think can be extended/adapted in the future by me or someone else.

          My example is a tool (based on UML sequence diagrams) which I used today as a sketch tool before and after a phone call(I created a number of hasty made outlines to define the scope of a project brief. And a version of the sketch/diagram/outline served as a kind of scoping map during the call. I adapted it after the call based on new information/remarks that I received in the call). So it is handy for me already and I know I can make “UML sequence diagrams” less rigid by using them differently.

          And if everybody thinks it’s useless I will try something else. Again by starting with prototypes

          That was just my point 🙂

          Alsa a merry christmas from me, or vrolijk kerstfeest as we say here in the Netherlands.

    • Yep, sure, agreed. Some of the tools I’ve been working on for ages, of course – particularly SCAN and Enterprise Canvas, and Five Elements as an overall unifying frame. It’s getting them to the next stage that’s proving hard – and that’s where the ‘Starting-friction’ loop is hitting hardest.

      “The biggest gap between current reality and [my] dreams” is around ‘the app’ – which I know you tend to regard as something of an unnecessary joke, but it means a lot to me, and has been so for years. But that’s the one where I really do not know how to start at all: most of the pieces are in place, in terms of tools and basic knowledge and so on – but no idea at all about how those various pieces can be brought together to actually do something useful. That one really is a challenge where all of the pieces must be fully in place before anything else can happen – there is no apparent overall starting-point from which everything else can be hung together. And so far I can’t find anything on the net: everything that I’ve found so far (of which there is lots) all assumes that that first starting part is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said – but since I don’t know it, I’m stuck. (That’s the ‘status-report’ for right now, anyway.)

      • Is there by any way a possibility that you slice the gap in more pieces? Otherwise I fear that the challenge in front of you is too big (and has too much of a big bang smell). Slice it down, SCRUM it. Are you able to do as following:

        1) Define Product Backlog (the things you “know” must be in
        2) Order the Product Backlog (sequentially, so not two items witht he same priority)
        3) Deliver from highest priority to lowest
        4) Test shipment (yourself, but also your potential Customers / Users
        5) Listen to Customers and feed back into Product Backlog
        6) Continue with 2

        Key is to limit work in progress to the lowest possible amount. If you can manage just work on priority number one and nothing more. So instead of trying to deliver the whole deliver in pieces but keep the holistic picture on the Product Backlog and adapt it accordingly.

        • I try to slice my prototyping work like this:

          My last real programming experience was from more than 15 years ago so i’m barely good enough to do some work on the UI side with existing Javascript libraries and info from the stack Overflow site. I also have already reserved an OpenShift Online PaaS as an sandbox with Node.js and MangoDB installed (just click some checkboxes and follow the instructions). If I have a UI that is mature enough I can connect the UI and the sandbox through JSON. Until then I work with the HTML5 file API or HTML5 LocalStorage.

          I think it’s fun and very revealing to work on (parts of) the UI. So just start there 🙂

  3. By the way, just as an overall point, the real aim of this post was not to wail about how I’m stuck and suchlike pointlessness (not least because doing so doesn’t get any help anyway – it just gets people piling in instead in ‘Dear Liza’ fashion, as rather too evident in those comments above). What I much more wanted to do was to use a personal example to support a more general point about how almost everyone gets stuck in this ‘starting-friction’ loop from time to time – not just me!

    Perhaps I ought to made that point further up? Oh well, just indicates once more that I can’t get it right all of the time, I guess…? 😐 Sorry…

  4. The link provided is a tutorial I used to start my own podcast.

    My Audio-Technica microphone cost $30 and is decent quality.

    I record in the bathroom. I’ve considered setting up a tent as a recording studio, to somewhat muffle echo, but was reasonably satisfied with the bathroom. I suppose one might do that in a large room.

    This guy is an expert in podcasting, and has tutorials and information on his site:

    Audacity is a free, open source audio editing tool that I picked up intuitively. I edit with that. I have not delved into anything advanced.

    I found Microsoft’s in-built video maker to be easy to use and picked it up intuitively. I don’t know about green screen. One can connect files together using YouTube’s in-house video editor, which also includes a facility to connect images–or slides–into one film, with transitions.

    Good luck. I appreciate that you meant this post as a concept and not so much as a request for practical advice, but I did know some resources and have some that could save you some time hunting around and give you a starting-point, and here they are.

    • Many thanks, Linda – not least for being the first person to answer this thread at the level that it actually specified!

      (Thanks also for the note on microphones. I’ve now set up the ‘studio-space’ – a desk in the little half-bedroom above the stairs. I’m running Audacity, as you suggested, but on the Mac. For microphones I have the relatively-expensive Blue Nessie, which is very pretty and ‘feature-rich’ but turning out to be not as good as the £30 Samson Go clip-on. I’ve done all my tests and timing, and set up the SoundCloud account, so I now have come up against the ‘Just Do It’ point… 😮 🙂 For that item, anyway.)

      • You’re welcome.

        I struggled to podcast. It felt too much like public speaking, which I don’t do (well, not happily, and not with any regularity). Once I did start, I ran against external roadblocks–Internet limitations was the worst part, but also I’m not a do-a-little-every-day kind of a person, more of a sprinter, and that didn’t work for the topic; I’d find myself needing to go through about a hundred articles just before launch-time. Not ideal. 😉

        So, I’m going to see if I can cultivate the self-discipline to do that and, if not, will move to videos, which at least don’t have to be on a schedule.

        Anyway, all this a long-winded way to say that it’s hard to start, but I found it easier and more fun once I got going.

        Hope you can find your way in soon. 🙂

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