The bucket-list – some home-truths

As I crawl closer towards launching the Patreon for what I’ve loosely nicknamed ‘the bucket-list‘, I perhaps ought to be blunt about this: it’s called ‘the bucket-list’ for a reason.

Lots of reasons, actually. And most of them pretty bleak ones, if I’m to be open about it.

The first reason is that – to again be blunt – I’m still burned-out on enterprise-architecture. And burn-out ain’t fun. Right now I’ve perhaps clawed it back up to maybe 30% productivity – and that’s on my good days. Which means that I have to be very careful about what I choose to do, otherwise I risk burning out entirely. Which would definitely be Not A Good Idea…

The second reason is that – to yet again be blunt – I’m gettin’ old. To give just one example, I’m just four years away from the age where I can only afford to travel if someone else is paying the travel-insurance. For someone who’s just gone through ten years of zero to negative income, that kind of puts the brakes on a lot of things. Literally.

Which brings me to the third reason, that – to once more be blunt – I’m skint. I’ve had a decade on almost no income. I’ve used up all of my reserves, almost all of my savings. Relative to almost any of my peers, I’m down by at least a million dollars / pounds / euros / whatever – solely because I’ve been trying to help make this field of enterprise-architecture into a profession, rather than a pathetic joke…

Blunt fact, though, is that most people in so-called ‘enterprise’-architecture still have little to no concept of the literal ‘the architecture of the enterprise’, but instead seem to be interested in just three things:

  • complaining about old IT that still mostly fails to deliver on its promises
  • chasing hype about shiny new IT that we know will mostly fail to deliver on its promises
  • selling hype to entice people to keep chasing shiny new IT that we know will mostly fail to deliver on its promises

Or, in short, most so-called ‘enterprise’-architecture is a hyped-up kitten chasing after the shiny red dot of a laser-pointer that they darn well ought to know they’ll never catch that way:

Which, yes, might be fun to watch for a short while, but otherwise pointlessly stupid for everyone involved.

And I’m utterly fed up with that kind of stupid

Especially as the effort of trying to get people beyond that kind of stupid has both driven me to burnout, and driven me all but broke:

Which brings me back to the purpose of this proposed Patreon.

In the comments-section of the previous post, ‘Still here, still busy‘, Peter Murchland kindly wrote the following well-meant advice:

I thought it might be helpful to start the “brainstorming” around what might be valued by different players as part of a subscription service.
For my part, I am not particularly interested in exclusive access or earlier access, but I am interested in:
a) your latest thinking because it provides an indication as to which aspects of EA are causing problems and which aspects are being addressed by leading thinkers
b) a quarterly update on emerging issues, whether they are issues you are addressing or simply issues you have found others are currently struggling with
c) latest articles and books in which there is strong content worth spending time reading and reflecting on
d) key issues emerging at events and conferences (especially because we don’t get the same exposure here in Australia)

But that’s not me. Not any more.

(If that is what you want, and want it done well, try following someone such as Joe McKendrick, for example.)

That’s not what this is about – for the simple reason that trying to do all of that is exactly what has driven me burned-out and broke. Or, to summarise my own experience, over the past decade, for each of Peter’s suggestions above:

  • ‘latest thinking’: vast effort to develop; zero to negative income
  • ‘quarterly update on emerging issues’: months of research for each; zero to negative income
  • ‘latest articles and books’ (by others): continual research; zero to negative income
  • ‘events and conferences’: two to four weeks each to develop; zero to negative income almost every time

For that specific scope, my only notable income has been from producing my own books on enterprise-architecture and the like. Each has taken typically six months to a year each to research, write, illustrate and publish. And the total income from all of my enterprise-architecture books so far averages around USD$1-2k per year. Do the math on that: it’s not exactly viable…

To be blunt, a Patreon isn’t likely to make much of a dent in that – not when the typical Patreon pledge works out as less than USD$10 per year. I know I do have a significant following in enterprise-architecture and the like, but for any level beyond the most casual of interest it’s probably still only in the high-tens to low-hundreds worldwide. Yet at that rate I’d need thousands of such ‘patrons’ to make a viable income via Patreon from the enterprise-architecture domain on its own.

Who don’t exist. Not yet, at least. Way too specialist a market. And even within that, most of the people who are interested in that part of my work are still right out at the leading edge of a subset of a subset of a market, where the mainstream of that market is being actively maintained as a meaningless mess.

Which is why I’ve had to stop doing much of anything that Peter suggests above.

Which is why I need to widen my market. A lot.

Which is why I’ve been rebranding myself as ‘a maker of tools for change‘ – such as:

A suite of tools for any kind of change, any context, any scope and scale. That are consistent in every context, scope and scale. That work the same way for every context, for every scope and scale. That are self-adapting for any context, any scope, any scale.

That’s a much bigger market. At the least, much larger than so-called ‘enterprise’-architecture.

A market that, via Patreon, might well be large enough to pay for the graphic designers and others that I need in order to make those tools more usable and useful for that market. And maybe with enough left over to maybe make it possible for me to have some kind of living too. Maybe.

But to continue to do what Peter asks for above? Nope, sorry. Can’t do it. I’ve been saying for years that I can’t afford to do that any more – and after yet more years since then on zero-to-negative income, I really can’t afford it any more. I need to change direction. No choice, now.

And to again be blunt, even ‘maker of tools for change’ is more about finishing off up my past work and making it more useful. It’s about other people’s futures, rather than my own. After too many years of too-selfless sacrifice for others’ futures, when they mostly weren’t even interested anyway, it’s almost at the point where I can’t be bothered any more. That’s the other reason it’s called ‘the bucket-list’: it’s time for me to move on. All of that decade’s-worth of work is now sitting in the trash-bucket, and if no-one’s interested in funding any of it enough to make it worthwhile to pull it back out of the trash-bucket, out into the trash is where it will go. Oh well.

But yeah, reality is that I cannot afford to keep chasing the sunk-cost fallacy any further on this – especially not endlessly until I kick the bucket myself…

So it’s become more like a public-service exercise for me right now. I do believe that all of the items in that ‘bucket-list’ will be genuinely useful to a lot of people – especially if we can put in the effort to finish them off. And if people do want it, and are willing to pay something real towards helping it happen, then yes, it’s worth finishing off. I do owe that to everyone, I’ll acknowledge that. But after, for me, a full-on decade and more of heartache and misery and relentless mockery and abuse about it all, you’ll understand why my heart isn’t much in it any more?

I’ll admit, too, that right now I’m much more interested in my other upcoming Patreon, on the Viner Codex project*, with its tag-line of ‘Weird politics. Weird plant-things. Weird battles in which nobody dies’. [*Note: right now the Viner Codex website is a very preliminary prototype, not ‘finished’!] More and more people now are saying that they’ve never seen a storyworld that’s anything like it, that it’s genuinely unique and new – and important to them, too. They want to see it succeed. By contrast, only rarely have I had that kind of response from anyone in ‘enterprise’-architecture, about my too-many-years of work there…

For Viner Codex, people get interested enough – excited, even – to want to get engaged in the story, to contribute their own examples and illustrations for the ideas that underly it. Such as, for example, these sketches by Joseph Chittenden, of an imagined ‘viner’-created irrigation-pump and plough:

And it’s actually fun – a lot of fun, for me at least, and for most others too. Which is more than I can say for most ‘enterprise’-architecture?

So yes, I’ll finish off that work on that ‘bucket-list’ of tools for change – if I can raise enough on Patreon and/or elsewhere to make it feasible to do so. But, no, I can’t and won’t be doing much more on any of Peter’s list of requests above: that’s not what that Patreon is about. I can’t afford – in almost any sense of ‘afford’, now – to do much if anything more on that any more.

Yes, I’ll keep my promises. Yes, I’ll continue to support the domain of real enterprise-architecture – the literal ‘the architecture of the enterprise’ – as best I can. You have my promise on that.

Beyond that, though, it’s time for me to move on to pastures new. I owe that at least to myself, before it becomes time for me to kick the bucket for real.

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15 comments on “The bucket-list – some home-truths
  1. Peter Murchland says:

    Tom – I was not asking you to do those things for nothing. I was listing the things that would be of value to me, that I would be prepared to pay for. This is “classic” business model “stuff”. Explore what you can offer that will be valued by the prospective customer sufficiently for them to pay the “price” you have nominated for the product / service you are proposing to offer.

    I was listing the things that would be helpful to me that I would be prepared to pay for if I knew they were:
    a) current
    b) reliable
    c) relevant (which means being compiled by someone who understands architecting enterprises as opposed to architecting IT)

    I floated the list to see if others would value those things as well, and sufficiently to pay your Patreon fee.

    I wonder whether something could be “learnt” from the Rust Report – which was published in Australia for many years, building a growing audience of CIOs, and others. It was always free – the income came from the advertising. I wonder what the size of your Tetradian audience is? I wonder whether there are companies who would appreciate giving visibility to their service offerings to this audience on a regular basis?

    • Tom G says:

      Many thanks, Peter. Some comments:

      “I was not asking you to do those things for nothing” – yes, you don’t. I know that, and I really do appreciate it. Sadly, however, most people in ‘enterprise’-architecture do expect me to do all of those things for nothing – either because they think I’m paid-for by someone else (as is true in most of their own cases); or because they believe that the absence of ‘Proprietary!’ labels everywhere means they’re entitled to rip it off and sell it on as ‘all their work’ (yes, certain big-consultancies, I’m looking at you…); or because they don’t think (which seems as endemic in EA as anywhere, when it darn well shouldn’t be…).

      “if I knew they were: a) current, b) reliable, c) relevant” – again, as I said in the post, you need someone like Joe McKendrick for that – someone with deep contacts throughout the entire space, and so on. Which isn’t me.

      I’m just me. And as the years have ground me down further and further, and the amount I can afford to do on no income has shrunk to less and less, I’ve become more and more withdrawn, less able to connect, less tolerant with people in ‘EA’ who just don’t get it and who can’t even be bothered to try. Those are home-truths too.

      It’s probable there’s now only one thing I can still do reasonably well, and that’s to think – think about how systems work, for example, and even more about how to find the right questions to ask of a system in order to understand its dynamics and suchlike. And I now have perhaps no more than three to five years left in which to finish off that part of my life’s-work. Given that I’m also still only barely starting to recover from a very bad dose of burnout, that forces some very hard choices about what I can do and what I can’t. Hence this post.

      “It [the Rust Report] was always free – the income came from the advertising” – good point, yet I don’t think that could or would work in my case (though it might take quite a long post to explain why? 😐 ). A Patreon and/or other-equivalents to provide enough investment to make it happen and support it through to the production/publishing-phase seems the only viable option now. (Higher-level Patreon investors would get their investment back as free/discounted materials and suchlike).

      (I’ll respond to other implications from the above after your next comment below.)

  2. Peter Murchland says:

    Just finished reading the “full post” – so I see your estimate of audience. So, the Rust Report idea won’t fly.

    But let’s work on the “audience” piece a little. Here is my focus and my take – every CEO, Executive, Manager and leader are the REAL architects of their enterprises. That is a huge audience. They are the people who need the thinking tools, the latest ideas, the latest hints and tips on what others are doing that is adding value, etc. They are time poor, thinking tool poor and overwhelmed with all the different ideas, practices, opportunities, not knowing which offer the greatest value.

    In this last week, I met with the Director, People and Transformation for a disability entity that needs to change radically. They know lots of the things they need to do, but have no real means of working out what to do first and what to leave until later. We have developed a business capability heatmap in a three hour session with her and another key Director of “core operations”. The comment they both made was – this is really helpful – it gives us a “structure” to work with – helping organise what they already know about their enterprise and the change it needs to effect. We will now conduct a 3 hour workshop with her Transformation Team, and then with Executive. Each of these are about helping them learn to use some pretty basic (in our world) thinking tools, but equally, very powerful thinking tools (in their world) – tools which could make the difference between surviving or not, given the change occurring in the disability sector in Australia. And … there are over 2,000 of these organisations in Australia. All facing radical change, all facing changes in business model and operating model, all having to re-architect their enterprises …

    • Tom G says:

      (Apologies, slight delay to take some time-off to deal with and block two of the most persistent ‘enterprise-architecture’ trolls on LinkedIn. I’ve had enough of that crap, for way too many years. Too much of ‘enterprise’-architecture is liked that: riddled with incompetents and IT-obsessives whose only interest is to prevent the field from ever being useful at all. Glad I’m out of that mess now. Bah.)

    • Tom G says:

      Peter – thanks again, and more comments:

      “every CEO, Executive, Manager and leader are the REAL architects of their enterprises” – yep. And they’ll run screaming at the first mention of ‘architecture’, let alone ‘enterprise-architecture’. So the wise tactic is to never mention either of those two terms at all. Hence an emphasis on ‘change’, or ‘transformation’, or something of that nature.

      Also, every architects’ role is that of decision-support, not decision-maker. Too many would-be architects think they’re the decision-makers, when in reality client is the one with the authority to make the decision. Always. If architects attempt to usurp that authority, they’ll be (rightly) kicked out of the damn door. The problem is those clients will likely slam the door in our faces too. Which means they wont get the advice they need to make viable decisions. And don’t, all too often. This darn well matters…

      “That is a huge audience” – yep. If I cling on the enterprise-architecture, my only audience is people who actually want EA to work for real throughout the whole-of-enterprise – which is still only a tiny percentage of nominal ‘EAs’. If I shift the focus to ‘making tools for change’, my effective market is ‘anyone who has to deal with just about any kind of change’. Which is just about everyone, really. 🙂 Hence a key part of the reason for the shift.

      “They are time poor, thinking tool poor and overwhelmed with all the different ideas, practices, opportunities, not knowing which offer the greatest value” – yep. Hence again another key part of my shift in focus, from ‘tools for enterprise-architects’ to ‘tools for anyone involved in change’. The tools I’d developed had always been fast – for example, the TOGAF rework I did some years ago (see my book ‘Bridging the Silos’) made it possible to do a real ADM-like cycle for real outcomes in under an hour. The key aim of all the newer core is to help people find the right questions – again, fast. (Using someone else’s answer (e.g. ‘best practices’) means it presupposes that the question it answers is right for that context – which often isn’t the case…)

      Also, importantly, all the tools are largely context-independent (one of the core aims is to identify what the context actually is); work the same way in just about every context, scope and scale (i.e. are fractal – but that’s another word that tends to scare off execs); and all work together cleanly. And also, maybe even more important, ‘play nicely’ with just about every other tool, whilst providing clear means to identify where to use and not-use each of those other tools. In which case, all the tools that execs and others already use still work in the same way as before, but now work even better, because how and where to use them now makes sense. Which also answers your point about “not knowing which [ideas, practices, opportunities] offer the greatest value”.

      “They know lots of the things they need to do, but have no real means of working out what to do first and what to leave until later” yep. (again… 🙂 ) But with the kinds of tools that you’re using –
      such as your business capability heatmap – they now have something that’s fast, clear, and really does help in making sense of what’s going on. In which case, my task is to make sure that my tools will play nicely with yours – for example, moving from your heatmap to something like SCORE, to map out how to use those capabilities and priorities to open up new possibilities; and then perhaps Enterprise Canvas, to make the capabilities actionable as services. (See also the post ‘The bucket-list – a keyword-schema‘ for a way to use keywords to link between tools.)

      The ‘sales-pitch’, perhaps, is that the tools act as visual-checklists to guide conversation and exploration. It’s all about providing ‘Just Enough Guidance’ in a context that is always necessarily uncertain.

      “And … there are over 2,000 of these organisations in Australia. All facing radical change, all facing changes in business model and operating model, all having to re-architect their enterprises” – yep. (again again… 🙂 ) It’s a huge need. Huge. And very, very real.

      Oh, and there’ll likely be a need for mainstream ‘enterprise’-architecture in there somewhere. I’m not denying that; nor that the tools from that domain will have very real usefulness there. (For those concerns, at least, if usually not for elsewhere…)

      There’s a lot of work to do. I’ll do it a lot better by abandoning ‘enterprise’-architecture’s idiocies and trolls, and moving towards people who actually want and need worthwhile change to happen.

  3. Is there a business model canvas for Enterprise Architecture as such?

    I don’t’ see this market. However helping CxO level Executives with their transformation, using EA tools is IMHO a viable business model.

    Good Enterprise Architects can describe the value for the client in other words then their method and tools. We don’t ask what type of typewriter you used for writing your business novel.

    • Tom G says:

      Thanks, Casimir.

      “Is there a business model canvas for Enterprise Architecture as such?” – not really, no. Enterprise Canvas was my attempt to link BMCanvas and suchlike with a whole bunch of other themes, such as Viable System Model, Five Elements, ISO9000 and a whole lot more (see ‘Metaframeworks in practice, Part 5: Enterprise Canvas‘). But really it’s just a way to model services within their context, and a visual-checklist about service-viability (see ‘Enterprise Canvas as service-viability checklist‘).

      “I don’t’ see this market” – agreed: neither do I.

      “However helping CxO level Executives with their transformation, using EA tools is IMHO a viable business model” – yep. That’s what I’m aiming for. Except not just CEOs, but actually anyone who needs to deal with change or transformation, any context, any scope, any scale. That’s definitely a larger market. 🙂

      “Good Enterprise Architects can describe the value for the client in other words then their method and tools” – yep. Though actually my aim is more that clients should be able to describe the value in their own words. Somewhat of a subtle difference, but rather important? 🙂

  4. Terrance says:

    Wow Tom. You sound very bitter and that is sad. I am glad to hear you are trying to change direction. It sounds like you have a challenge monetizing your ideas and skills. That is an area I have had significant success over the years. Your skill is just as valuable.

    We all have our challenges in life (I have been battling cancer) the trick is to avoid being bitter and to look for what you have learned and what you are grateful for in your life. Focus on the good things and ask for help from the people you know. I am not an EA but I do know how important the subject is if we want to succeed in life and business.

    • Tom G says:

      Thanks, Terrance. And not bitter, no. More just a deep sadness.

      There’s a beautiful Welsh word that describes this: heraeth. “A quiet grieving and longing for what has never been, what is not, and can never be”. Classically mistranslated as ‘homesickness’, which has some validity but seriously misses the point, in the same way that ‘bitter’ would.

      Oh, and it’s not the first time, by the way. Four times in my life now I’ve done a decade’s-worth of major work to change an entire industry. Each time I’ve paid the very real penalty of being on, even driving, the forefront of that change. Even so, there’s a good chance it won’t be the last time I do it.

  5. Peter Murchland says:

    > “Is there a business model canvas for Enterprise Architecture as such?” – not really, no.

    Of course there is! If we can’t articulate the customers, the channels, the value proposition, the activities, the partners with whom we engage in EA, then we are not practicing what we preach!

    • Tom G says:

      Agreed (strongly) that there’s a need for a clear business-model for EA, and a myriad of ways to use BMCanvas both within and on EA. But I’m not sure that’s the question here?

      I interpreted Casimir’s question as asking if there was an equivalent of BMCanvas built from an EA perspective – which is where my work on Enterprise Canvas (aka Enterprise Service Canvas) might fit in.

      I’m probably wrong, of course. 😐

  6. Peter Murchland says:


    A few thoughts for your consideration …

    a) CEOs and Executives will run screaming at the mention of “architecture” – yes, absolutely. But they don’t run screaming if you engage with them about the business “model” or their operating “model”, each of which are key architecture artefacts that they understand to varying degrees. There is no need to mention the word “architecture”. In fact, having used the words business model, operating model, organisational structure – I have had several Executives say to me “Oh, you mean the architecture of our enterprise!” – then, I know that I can safely use the word!

    b) This is just one of many examples of the manner in which EA is a thinking and decisioning tool, which requires a particular mindset, but not so much of a particular language. It is about recognising and applying patterns. This has been very strongly reinforced for me through encountering the systems engineering community at INCOSE – who well understand the SE is simply a mindset – and hence, ESE (enterprise-as-a-system-engineering) is also simply a mindset – which we and they know full well, based on our substantial heritage from systems thinking.

    Beyond that, I think we are on the same page – Interface operates around several different taglines:
    a) taking a holistic approach to people and systems change
    b) developing next generation leaders for next generation enterprises
    c) developing people-savvy, systems-savvy leaders

    All of this is about supporting the enterprise transformation lifecycle or the change lifecycle, or the enterprise lifecycle, or the … anyhow, it’s all about change, as you say.

  7. Peter Murchland says:

    > Hence again another key part of my shift in focus, from ‘tools for enterprise-architects’ to ‘tools for anyone involved in change’.

    This is a great example of how aligned your and my thinking is – and why I am co-owner of Interface with Julie, who has an HR, OD, leadership development, neuroscience background, and Kim, who has a psychology, people change, business change background.

    It is also a great example of:
    a) the use and impact of language – if every executive, manager and leader is recognised as an architect – then there is no change in orientation in focusing on EA vs on change leaders
    b) the extent to which this is a mindset issue

    A refinement that may be needed in your thinking … using your example of my use and valuing a heatmap … you have suggested that the next step might be for me to use SCORE … what if I am already doing “SCORE” but with a different label?

    How do you evaluate the gaps in any leader’s change thinking toolkit such that value can be added by addressing that gap (making sure the gap is not simply a nomenclature issue)?

  8. Peter T says:

    Tom – When are you back down under? Are you allowed to work here anymore and is there anywhere you would NOT work. E-mail me privately.

  9. I hope you move from heraeth to happiness. I have not followed you long or much, but reading thru your bucket-list, I did buy a copy of “Real Enterprise Architecture” as I want to see what that is, actually. I work in IT Architecture, which you talk about, but have been trying to move it little by little including pieces of WHY and WHO into the sea of WHERE and WHAT. I would encourage you to keep on making people pay for your work. Or using advertising on your sites as that can provide some stream of data.

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