Decisions, decisions – and an anniversary

One of the more challenging aspects of reaching so-called ‘retirement age’ is how much it refocusses attention towards one’s legacy rather than the new. There’s so darned much in my back-catalogue that still needs finishing before I run out of time or ability to do it all…

And for me, today is also an, uh, interesting anniversary – because it’s exactly ten years ago, on 6 October 2006, that I set off from Australia to move back to Britain, certain that there would be a much more mature market for the work I was doing in enterprise-architecture.

Boy, was I wrong…

As I quickly learned to my cost, Britain was – and largely still is – a country so backward in its concept of EA that it still thinks that it’s primarily about IT. The US is even worse: the IT-centric rearguard are still so dominant over there, that according to Gartner, it’ll be another decade yet before the leading-edge – Gartner’s so-called ‘Vanguard EA’ – will even begin to grasp that IT is merely one minor enabler amongst many within the architecture of an enterprise. The reality is that by the time they do start to wake up there, at least a couple of decades into the future, the IT will be almost the least of an enterprise-architect’s worries – but that fact is still way beyond most people’s comprehension yet. Oh well.

Once I’d realised that yes, the situation really was that bad – so bad that the only place I could get a real EA gig was back in Australia – I set out to try to remedy the situation, by writing, blogging and presenting about the difference between EA as a woefully-inadequate ‘architecture of enterprise-IT’, versus the literal ‘the architecture of the enterprise’, and how to do the latter in real-world practice. A quick summary of the current outcome from all of that work would include:

  • nine books in print formats on enterprise-architecture
  • seven books in ebook formats on enterprise-architecture
  • more than 1200 articles on this weblog, most of them on enterprise-architecture or related themes
  • at present, 45 slidedecks published on Slideshare, from I-don’t-know-how-many conferences or other events, with others still to post
  • some 40-50 handwritten notebooks, much of the content on themes that I haven’t even started to publish on as yet, such as app- and toolset-design for enterprise-architecture
  • at least 25 distinct tools, models and/or methods for use in whole-enterprise architectures and more

I’ll list all of those tools and other work-in-progress in a separate post. But for now, yeah, it’d be fair to say that I do have something to show for a decade’s-worth of hard work?

Yet the other blunt reality is that all of that work has been at huge personal cost. This kind of development is all about futures: and yet whilst it’s essential that someone does proper futures-work if, collectively, we’re to have much if any chance of a future that’s actually desirable, that work is also – by definition – decidedly distant from the ‘Now’. The result of that distance, though, is that no-one, it seems, is willing to pay for that work – no matter how essential it may be:


Hence all of that work over all of those years, from which a lot of folks are, yes, now starting to make serious profit and more: who paid for it? Short answer: me. For the most part, anyway. A few people have bought books and suchlike, for which I’m truly grateful; an even smaller number of people have asked me to do proper paid-work for them, consultancy or workshops and suchlike, for which I’m even more grateful again.

(Conferences? – hmm, different story. Most conference-organisers still seem to expect me to pay them for the ‘privilege’ of presenting – and even amongst those that don’t, the not untypical case was one relatively recently who thought that the proper fee for a year’s-worth of professional research, three weeks’ direct work on workshop-development and delivery, and a week’s-worth of international travel-hell, was… wait for it… a box of chocolates. No, I kid you not on that…)

The blunt reality is that, for the past decade, whilst you’ve all been profiting from my work in one way or another, I’ve limped along on an income that’s been barely half of minimum-wage at best – whereas a comparison with most of my peers would suggest I’ve missed out on a likely overall-income of way more than a million dollars over that time. With no home of my own now, and my savings so depleted from all of this unpaid work that I can no longer afford to buy one anyway, it’s clear that I need urgently to do something different that will help me extricate myself from this mess. At the very least, it should be obvious that I can’t keep on going like this.

In short, it’s decision-time, folks…

As you can imagine, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching on this over the past few weeks – and as far as I can see, the choices seem to be these:

#1: Keep on going with what I’ve been doing: Keep working in the background, writing, blogging and presenting, pushing for enterprise-architecture to change, maybe establish myself as the ‘go-to guy’ for whole-enterprise architecture.

Assessment: The blunt reality is that I’m already a decade or more ahead of even the front-edge of mainstream EA, and as can be seen from my futuresoriented work on RBPEA (Really-Big-Picture Enterprise-Architecture) and the like, I’m still moving forward much faster than they’re catching up. Keeping on going along this path will merely push me even further ahead: and to be somewhat bleak about it, I can no longer afford to wait around for another decade or more, because I’ll likely be dead by the time they start to catch up even to where I am now. In short, there’s no point – and given how much pain this path has been, for so little reward, it’d just keep me entrapped in exactly where I don’t want to be. Not A Good Choice.

#2: ‘Get a job’: Yeah, I’ve been told this, often – including one ever-unhelpful sibling, who snarked that the only place I’d ever be useful for anything would be to go get a job stacking supermarket shelves…

Assessment: Short answer is… well, it isn’t an answer. Try ageism, for a start: in this country I was classed as ‘unemployable’ at age 55, let alone at 65 as now. And to be blunt, I’m not much good at ignoring incompetence, iniquity and bad system-design, or at accepting stupid orders from self-styled ‘bosses’ who don’t have a clue about anything beyond their own ego. Which is probably why I’ve never been an employee yet – and why, even as a contractor, I’ve struggled so hard against the old Contractor’s Creed, of “ours not to reason why, ours but to do and charge”. So even if ‘get a job’ was available – which it isn’t, and very unlikely ever to be so – it would still be Not A Good Choice.

#3: Focus on spot-work consultancy, workshops, training and presenting: A bit like ‘get a job’, but with the emphasis on short-term – typically 1-2 weeks at most.

Assessment: This is perhaps the only kind of ‘Get a job’ that I could cope with now – and it’s probably also the one that would deliver most direct value to others. In terms of income, it’s probably what I most need to do – and it would build on what does seem to be some real credibility that I’ve developed over the past decade. The catch – as people who know me would recognise – is that I’m one of the world’s worst self-marketers, struggling with self-doubt every inch of the way. I’m looking at some options about finding an appropriate agent for this – which would certainly help. But in the meantime, if you want to learn from me, or suchlike, you will need to put the effort into getting me there – because I can’t, I really don’t know how to do it. (Delivery, yes; proposals, marketing, invoicing and the rest, just no. Oh well.)

Yes, it’s something I need to do, and that others will probably need me to do – not least because, to again be somewhat blunt and bleak about this, I’m kinda running out of time… And whilst it actually is A Good Choice in its own way, I can’t afford to let it take up too much of my time – other things are important too, as we’ll see in a moment.

#4: Focus on software-based tools and apps for whole-enterprise architecture: Build a new business to design, develop, market and maintain all the tooling that’s need to make whole-EA a viable and well-supported discipline.

Assessment: This needs to happen – I’ve written extensively on this, and have a whole pile of notebooks full of handwritten notes and diagrams and data-models and suchlike on this, too. But the blunt reality is that I’m not the person to do it – or not the right person, anyway. (I could do it, sort-of – but not well, and far too slowly for the actual need.) I’m happy to help anyone who’s doing this – and even happier if they actually pay me for some of that help, too, of course. But for me personally, and probably for the discipline as a whole, doing the code and suchlike myself would be Not A Good Choice.

#5: Focus on making the existing tools, models and methods more usable: In other words, making them into a more consistent suite, with worksheets, spreadsheets, learning-modules and so on, so that they’re easier to learn and use.

Assessment: Yeah, this is what I should do: ‘my legacy’ and suchlike – and also that the real point of all of the work that I’ve done in the past decade and more was to develop better ways of tackling enterprise-architectures than were available to us from the existing IT-centric messes. I’ll have to admit, though, that my heart isn’t much in it: a vast amount of detail-layer design-work that I’m not that well suited for, and that, once again, would almost certainly bring me very little return. (Others, yes; me, no.) Oh well. But needed, sure – hence one that, whether I want it or not, had probably best be labelled A Good Choice.

#6: Focus on fiction: Describe the usage of some of the same ideas and tools as in all of my previous work on enterprise-architectures and the like, but repackaged into fictional form.

Assessment: This is the one approach to all of this stuff that actually seems to work: I like doing it, I seem to be reasonably good at it (though I always need to get better at it, of course), it connects with a far broader audience than the non-fiction material does, and – unlike with the non-fiction – people immediately get engaged, excited, and start making it their own. It’s true I would also need to clean up the non-fiction material in parallel with this, so that people can find out the full theory and practical methodology that’s behind what goes on in the story – but this is one I would definitely label A Good Choice.

And another final option:

#7: Walk away from the whole damn mess: Write the whole thing off as a bad mistake, throw it all in the bin, and go join the Grey Nomads somewhere…

Assessment: Okay, I know you might say that it’s kinda the coward’s way out, but in fact it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve actually had to do this, whether I wanted it or not. The work I’d done in both those previous cases was valid, and important, and useful, but there was a huge ‘anti-want’ for it in the culture of the time – just as there is for much of my current work on enterprise-architectures – and trying to fight against that kind of ‘anti-want’ is utterly futile. Right idea, wrong place, wrong time – that kind of mistake. (Yeah, I’ve had a lifetime of being good at those mistakes. Oh well.)

So yeah, I’ll have to admit that this one does still have its definite appeal – especially during my many darker moments… And it’s true, too, that when I look at my ‘bucket-list’, almost the only item on it is a long-held dream of taking a campervan halfway across Australia, grey-nomad style, to go visit Uluru and the Red Centre. But no, I do want to finish the work, while I still can: hence, for now, best label this not so much Not A Good Choice (because it probably is a good choice, eventually), but as Not The Right Choice Right Now.

So, when we add all of this together, what we get seems to be the following:

  • I’ll aim to work half-time on clean-up of the existing materials, and half-time on writing new fiction
  • other than what’s needed specifically for that clean-up, there’ll be no new tools or models – I have more than enough already, and they do cover all of the context for whole-enterprise-architecture, either directly or with open ‘hooks’ for other tools
  • if someone wants consultancy or training in whole-EA, I’d be happy to do it, at standard commercial rates – everyone needs to understand and accept that I cannot afford (in any sense) to work ‘for free’ any more
  • I will waste no more time on the idiocies of mainstream ‘enterprise’-architecture – if someone hasn’t yet understood and accepted the assumptions that underpin all of my work on EA, they’re not going to be able to get what it’s about in any case
  • I promise I won’t run away to join the Grey Nomads – not yet, anyway…

Fair enough? Any comments or suggestions on that? Over to you, anyway, if you wish.

7 Comments on “Decisions, decisions – and an anniversary

  1. What do you want your legacy to be? That will help you prioritize to three top things you can work on at the same time.

    I still think a course using visuals & motion graphics only would be a good legacy. Who is going to pave a path to help people understand your valuable materials and insight?

  2. What’s ur assessment of writing ur biography with all the failures along the way? Failures can be very useful for people to read about. You could combine this with your ability to write fiction. Therefore making it a fictional book largely based on your life but dramatized for dramatic purposes and to make points.

  3. Tom Enjoy your retirement. I retired at 66 (over 3 years ago). Perhaps if you had written an AI compiler that encapsulated your ideas it may have helped put your point across more succinctly.

    Oh wait, that is exactly what I did in the 1990s when I was in my mid-40s and that did not help me get my viewpoint across.

    Good luck.


  4. I can barely believe some of the things people have expected of you with so little in return. As always, I’m impressed by your commitment to have kept it up for so long.

    All the best Tom. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more to help. Perhaps I still can in some way, so I’m sure we’ll continue to communicate on that. I’m looking forward to publishing your article in the Enterprise Architecture Professional Journal. That should come out in the next few days, and perhaps it will help in some small way.

  5. Hello Tom,

    Have you ever thought of providing a for purchase mentorship/coaching program for Enterprise Architects (i.e., the whole of enterprise-style)? I submit that there are followers who are interested in carrying your work forward in practical terms. What better way to leave a legacy than to have people who can extend (and take forward) your knowledge and passion. I, for one, am keenly interested sir.


    • You’re right, Fred, this has to happen, somehow, and soon. But how would it work? What kind of content? What kind of delivery? What’s needed to make it worthwhile as a subscription or suchlike? And at what level of subscription?

      Right now, I don’t know how to this: do you have any suggestions / requests / whatever?

      Many thanks, anyway. 🙂

  6. Dear Tom,

    I highly appreciate your work; Enterprise as story is such a nice and warm book.

    When it comes to the big bang approach; I think that shift towards the real EA (in most cases) is matter of crawling forward and expanding circle of trust. Very much as Steven Crowley described in 7 habits.

    Ultimately, the matter of holistic (real) EA contra IT-centric as such is an issue of endorsement, i.e., depends on type of questions that architecture supports in answering. If there is a CEO that understands benefit of architecture than one can do a lot. If there is not even CIO or CDO then one has to find ways in which architecture supports business in best way. My humble assumption is that governance and governance chain is the key.

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