Book Summary – How to know everything by Elke Wiss

“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters only to us”

Sean Connery – Finding Forester.

This has gone viral on HackerNews, comments here

The author (a Dutch Philosopher who i dont know) has her say on this summary here

I enjoyed reading How To Know Everything by Elke Wiss so much, I’ve written a book summary. I’ll use a five-stage technique that Prof. Dave Sammon taught us on a recent research course at Cork University Business School. We describe the what, why, how, so what, and for whom (thanks Dave). I will then describe how I found the book, and give you some valuable takeaways from the text.

What is the book about? — At its simplest, this book deals with the art of asking questions. In reality, it’s about Socratic philosophy. It’s about our willingness to open our minds, close our mouths and listen. The concept is almost comically simple, but I found it genuinely profound.

Why read it? — We never learn how to ask good questions, we never learn how to listen to good answers. Have you ever asked someone’s name, and forgotten it a minute later? Ever asked a question that offended somebody without meaning to? Or waited for another person to stop talking so that you can speak? If so, this is for you, my friend.

How is the book structured? — There are five sections (with a summary of topics in brackets):

  1. Why we don’t ask good questions (we are more interested in scoring points, we are afraid to ask, we don’t know how to do it well)
  2. The Socratic attitude (show courage, become curious, embrace not-knowing)
  3. Conditions for questioning (be a good listener, ask permission, slow down)
  4. Questioning skills (question up and down, beware of using why, category errors)
  5. Moving from questions to conversations (following through, opening yourself up)

So what — we can choose to become smarter or dumber with each conversation – we often choose dumber. So that. I know people who are proud to choose dumber. What drives this mindset? Arrogance covering up a fear? An attempt to mask a feeling of inadequacy? Maybe they believe that every thought that pops into their head is so special, they need to show it off. They remind me of a cat dragging a dead mouse in to its horrified owner, looking for affirmation.

Every interaction should give us the opportunity to learn something, unless our mindset and habits block us. We can fix this – if we choose to. The book helps adjust us on three levels, each with increasing impact:

  • Technically – developing your understanding and sharpening your technique for asking questions.
  • Socially – helping you get more from interactions with others.
  • Internally – the most philosophical level. Reflecting on your internal attitude toward knowing and fostering the space for curiosity.

For whom? — this is for anyone interested in getting smarter, learning more, and not being a closed-minded oaf.

How I discovered this book. I’ve recently got my first set of reading glasses, and I feel like Superman (the eyesight, not the Clark Kent look). Everything is so vivid and colourful and incredible. The glasses have improved every situation except one (they don’t work well in the mirror). Anyway, over the years I’ve migrated to reading ebooks on either the Kindle store or O’Reilly (for work). Ebooks were convenient for me. I’d evolved past the need for a physical book made from a tree. I’m a digital guy now, a true modern man, leaving antiquity in my wake.

Actually, I’m none of those – it turns out I was half blind, so the tree fetishisation is back. Now that I can see the numbers on my credit card again, I’m lashing them out online and in person. Filling the house with paper books, I feel glorious. I go from room to room, randomly opening books smelling them, like a bisto kid. Or a dog. I don’t care if I’m becoming canine. I crave the new book smell.

In Hodges Figgis bookshop in Dublin (my favourite place in the city), I spotted the book I’m discussing. The bold title caught my eye as I came in the door. How to know everything, indeed! I picked it up and warily washed my eye across the table of contents. The title felt a cheap ploy. It’s in the same bracket as ‘improve your IQ by 20 points’, or ‘make every girl fall in love with you instantly’ or ‘get respect from your parents’. Impossible to learn from a single book. Or anywhere else. But, the more I leafed through the book, the more fascinated I became. I added it to the growing pile and brought it home. I told my mother I was reading this book. Her response was , “Mark, what do you need that for? I thought you knew everything already”.

No book for that.

Nine highlights/questions worth thinking about.

1. What is a good question?

The author is a practical philosopher and uses techniques from philosophy to help. She begins by defining her terms.

What is a Good Question?

  • A question is an invitation. An invitation to think, explain, sharpen, dig deeper, provide information, investigate, connect.
  • A good question is clear and born of an open, curious attitude.
  • A good question remains focused on the other person and their story.
  • A good question gets someone thinking.
  • A good question can lead to clarification, new insights or a new perspective.
  • A good question doesn’t give advice, check hypotheses, impose a perspective, share an opinion, make a suggestion or leave the other person feeling judged or cornered.

2. Six reasons we are bad at asking questions.

  1. HUMAN NATURE: Talking about yourself feels so much nicer than asking questions. We are too selfish and self-obsessed. Our ego makes us want to give advice as if we are a genius, rather than listen. We should stay away from the “I had the same experience“ story. We may intend to create a shared experience, but it often irritates and alienates the person telling the original story.
  2. FEAR OF ASKING: Posing a question can be a scary proposition. We are afraid of making other people uncomfortable. We are afraid that we will feel uneasy and are worried about clashes and unpleasantness.
  3. SCORING POINTS: An opinion makes more of an impression than a question. An answer makes a good impression, a question makes little impression. An opinion stops thinking, a question is where thinking begins.
  4. LACK OF OBJECTIVITY: Our ability to reason objectively is declining. Gut instinct dominates reason too often. There is an idea that freedom of expression means that we are unreservedly entitled to our opinion. It’s more than this. Freedom of expression includes a willingness to question our beliefs and accept criticism from others.
  5. IMPATIENCE: We think asking good questions is a waste of time. We think we lack time, instead we frequently lack the discipline and effort it requires to understand positions fully.
  6. LACK OF COMPETENCE: Nobody teaches us how.

Before you interrupt someone, ask yourself:

  • Does anyone need to know what my stance on an issue is?
  • Am I interrupting their story to tell my story?

3. The difference between ideas and opinions

Try to question ideas, and not opinions. If we question an opinion, the owner of the opinion can feel threatened. When something is an idea without an owner, we can boot it around, hurting no one, and learning more.

4. Separate observing and interpreting.

Observing and interpreting are very different. We regularly apply judgement to observation. We can start with a simple observation, ‘Evan needs to iron his shirt’. This can lead to another thought, ‘Evan is an untidy person’. And ‘in fact he is rather lazy and disorganised’. Instead, we should realise we have made one observation – ‘Evan has a creased shirt’. We must try to suspend judgement where possible, and if not, be aware of our judgement. This is not a new concept. Quite a few years ago, Epictetus said:

If a man wash quickly, do not say that he washes badly, but that he washes quickly. If a man drink much wine, do not say that he drinks badly, but that he drinks much. For till you have decided what judgement prompts him, how do you know that he acts badly? If you do as I say you will assent to your apprehensive impressions and to none other.

5 Empathy is a two-edged sword.

Showing empathy when asking questions feels like a human reaction. However, empathy is a complex topic. In the book ‘against empathy’ Paul Bloom argues that empathy is a force for good, but is biased towards people in our social group. It often helps used for those who look like us, the good-looking or children.

Cognitive empathy can be useful. This involves using reasoning to put yourself in another’s mental state. An example here is a doctor assessing the impact of a negative diagnosis before delivering it to the patient. Emotional empathy is different. We need to distance ourselves from another’s feelings so that we can function effectively. If a doctor uses emotional empathy, they may be so overcome with empathy for a patient suffering that they cannot treat them. Bloom argues that we should use non-empathic compassion (creating the desire to help) rather than empathy. Feeling another’s pain affects your ability to judge objectively. Compassion allows you to dig more deeply and ask questions about the other person rather than about you, which will allow you to help.

6. Good conditions for questioning

I found this part of the book most useful. I should print this part up and create t-shirts for everyone I meet.

Good listening is the key to getting the most out of good questions. Listening begins with setting your intention for a conversation. There are three primary intentions, which you can switch between in conversations:

  • The ‘I’ intention – what do I make of this? This is where you engage with the situation by considering what you would have felt or done in a similar situation. This type of position often triggers a fix, or advice.
  • The ‘You’ intention – what exactly do you mean? Listening with this intention reminds you that there is a lot you don’t know (the other person’s experiences or perceptions). You really try to understand the other person’s way of thinking. You never give advice or explain how you would have dealt with the situation. Your questions focus on getting deeper.
  • The ‘We’ intention – how are we doing? This is a meta position, observing you and the other person as if from above. You are conscious of how you are feeling and how the other person is doing. Is the conversation going in circles, how is the body language (relaxed, fidgety, tightening)?

Caution: if you decide to adopt the ‘you’ intention, make sure you don’t end up like a detective. Don’t cross-examine every person you meet – this can obviously get uncomfortable for the recipient. You may also find yourself in a position where something sensitive or uncomfortable comes up. A traumatic experience, or a divisive political stance, for example. Asking permission is a great way to ease into a conversation. The author recommends using the following question:

Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about that?

This makes sure that the other person knows what’s coming. They can change the subject or say no if they are uncomfortable.

7. How to improve your questioning skills.

This gets into the more technical skills of how to ask questions. The author proposes a fascinating technique, which she calls questioning up and down. Questioning up refers to abstract concepts and downwards refers to concrete facts and reality. This technique should allow a person to move downwards until they establish the facts, and the ‘critical moment’, a key point/statement/fact/attitude around which the entire conversation revolves. Then the questioner can repeat the data they have heard and move upward to establish the underlying beliefs.

Upward questions (towards concepts and underlying beliefs):

  • Why is that?
  • What do you mean by x?
  • What does x have to do with y?

Downward questions (towards facts, events, statements)

  • When did this happen?
  • What exactly did z say?
  • What happened from there?

The idea is to ask downward questions to establish the facts of a situation. Then move upwards to understand the beliefs and concepts that influence the person’s thinking.

8. Beware the ‘why’ question.

Many authors recommend using why as a starting point for a meaningful conversation. However, the book advises caution here. A why question can seem like a direct assault, like a detective shining a light into the face of a suspect. “Why did you vote for X party”? “Why do you associate with Y”? Instead, try to soften this effect by using what. “What is it about party X that causes you to vote for them”. “What makes Y a good person to hang out with”?

9. Six categories of questions to avoid.

  1. Loser questions – these imply that the other party is a loser. These are not questions, they are comments aimed at reducing the other person.
    • “Are you late again?” (loser)
    • “Have you finished that assignment yet?” (Loser)
    • “Did you forget to bring your coat?” (Loser)
  2. But questions – ‘but’ is an innocent word which can slip into a question. ‘But’ says I already have an opinion about this, but I’m not saying it directly. “But don’t you think you should have intervened in the situation”, “but don’t you think this piece of work needs re-doing?” “But don’t you think Mark is a bore”. Even without a negative, it can totally change a question. “But why did you include John” differs from “why did you include John”?
  3. Cocktail questions – where we ask a question, and keep adding more questions until it becomes a question cocktail. It’s difficult to get an in-depth answer because the question is so obtuse. “Why did you do that, and why then? Oh, and you added Mary, didn’t she work on this before? Did that end up well for her? What are you going to do next?”
  4. Vague questions – where it’s unclear what the questioner is looking for. This is often because they use a concept which is personal to them, like good, or high, or appealing. It’s difficult to know what the questioner means by those words. For example, “was the concert good?” may get a different answer from ten random participants. Instead of asking “Is that tower high”, ask “how high is that tower”, or instead of “was the meal tasty”, ask “how did the meal taste”?
  5. Unwarranted either/or question – giving only two options when there are more on offer. “Do you want to meet today or tomorrow?” (you may want next week or never!). “Are you a vegetarian or do you eat meat?” (you may be a vegan or pescatarian).
  6. The half-baked question – “Coley was up to his old tricks again.” “What do you mean? ” The question isn’t specific enough. Is it asking about Coley, or his tricks, or the word again? A more detailed starry can get complex. “Felice had a meeting with the team to discuss a new software architecture. First, Cormac disagreed with Johanna on the overall direction. Then Robert presented a whole new design, which nobody else has seen. He used a new library which has never been in production. I didn’t know how to react.” React to what? The design? The disagreement? The alternative design? That no-one had seen it before? The new library?

In summary, should you read this book? Well, it’s up to you. But I have a question for you. Are you willing to go through life missing the opportunity to learn more from every person you meet, or would you prefer to live in splendid ignorance?

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with three people who would appreciate it. Thank you so much.


Emerging from Hibernation on the 4th of April

I always wanted to reach the top page of HackerNews with this blog. It’s one of my favourite sites, full of amazing articles, a variety of viewpoints, and intelligent commentary (most of the time anyway). So, to my delight and friend’s surprise/horror, my last blog post reached number 2 on HackerNews, and stayed on the front page for a whole day. The article (here and HN link here) explains why no-one really understands Technical Debt, and is co-authored with the wonderful Paidi O’Reilly and Stephen McCarthy at UCC. We had 20,000 reads, hundreds of comments across multiple platforms, and Grady Booch introduced me to Philip Kruchten on Twitter. Let me rephrase, the guy who gave OO programming its name introduced me to the guy who invented 4+1 Architectural views. I felt like I was joining an exclusive blogging club. Heady times indeed.

To capitalise on this success, I posted nothing for nine months. Life became busy (I had Covid among other things), work became busy, so the usual 5% of the time I spend on writing, running and listening to music became 0.5% for a while. One reason work was so busy, Workhuman is becoming more successful almost every month. We officially became a tech unicorn (a private company valued at over 1 billion dollars) last year. This means that we are recruiting, building new teams and delivering product at record rates, so less time for my typed brain debris. If you are interested in joining us, have a look here. We have on-site, hybrid and fully remote roles. We also always seem to have loads of cake. Just saying.

That said, a paper that Paidi, Stephen and I wrote last spring and summer got published at the HICSS conference in January 2022. I will emerge from hibernation on Monday the 4th of April to talk about our paper, at a Cork University Business School conference.

The paper is here, and discusses the link between Technical Debt, social unrest and the environment. I would love to hear any feedback or suggestions for future research. You can register for the conference here. It’s free and features an outstanding lineup (and me):

  • Alan D Duncan – Gartner Distinguished Vice President
  • Gar Mac Críosta – Chairperson, Public Health Advisory Committee at Linux Foundation Public Health
  • Ken Russell – Principal – Ericsson Global Digital Transformation Office
  • Ruairi O’Callaghan – Director – Global Command Center at Pfizer
  • Sharon Jones – Director, Kee Jones Ltd

Technical Debt Is Not Debt; It’s Not Even Technical

Co-authored with Dr Paidi O’Raghallaigh and Dr Stephen McCarthy at Cork University Business School as part of my PhD studies, and originally published by Cutter Consortium’s Business Agility & Software Engineering Excellence practice on 22nd of July 2021

Take a minute and write an answer to the question, “What is technical debt?” Then read this article and reread your answer — and see if it still makes sense.

Technical debt is a common term in technology departments at every company where we’ve worked. Nobody explained technical debt; we assumed it was a fundamental property of the work. We never questioned our understanding of it until we discovered a paper by Edith Tom et al. entitled “An Exploration of Technical Debt.” Turns out, we didn’t understand it at all.

Now, one major concern in academia is rigor. Academics like to get deep into a topic, examine the nuances, and bring clarity. After thoroughly reviewing more than 100 seminal papers on technical debt, we saw it as an amorphous ghost, with enormous differences and inconsistencies in its use. Next, we began looking at it in practice, asking colleagues, ex-colleagues, and working technologists, but couldn’t find a satisfactory explanation for it there either. Ultimately, we went back to the original source to figure out the history — and get a sense of its evolution.

One thing that is agreed on: the term technical debt came from Ward Cunningham. Cunningham is the inventor of the wiki and a tech legend. In the early 1990s, his team was building a piece of financial software, and he used a metaphor from the world of finance to explain to his manager how the team was working. As he later explained in a paper at the OOPSLA conference in 1992:

A little debt speeds development so long as it is paid back promptly with a rewrite. Objects make the cost of this transaction tolerable. The danger occurs when the debt is not repaid. Every minute spent on not-quite-right code counts as interest on that debt. Entire engineering organizations can be brought to a stand-still under the debt load of an unconsolidated implementation, object-oriented or otherwise.

The metaphor quickly became part of standard technology discourse. Because the conference focused on object-oriented development, it took hold in that community. Popular tech authors such as Martin Fowler and Steve McConnell soon took it on, helping it become part of the broader language in software development. Today, the use of “technical debt” has become commonplace, from a mention in a single paper in 1992 to over 320 million results from a Google search as of July 2021.

Over time, Cunningham saw the term shift to signify taking a shortcut to achieve a goal more quickly, while intending to do a better job in the future. In 2009, dissatisfied with how the metaphor had mutated, he clarified the use of technical debt in a YouTube video. Cunningham disliked the notion that technical debt signified “doing a poor job now and a better one later.” This was never his intention. He stated:

I’m never in favor of writing code poorly, but I am in favor of writing code to reflect your current understanding of a problem, even if that understanding is partial.

But it was too late. By that time, the metaphor had outgrown his initial intent. It was out in the wild, excusing terrible decisions all over the globe. Technical debt now represented both debt taken on intentionally and the more insidious form, hidden or unintentional debt — debt taken on without the knowledge of the team. It had also moved past code and spread to areas as varied as technology architecture, infrastructure, documentation, testing, versioning, build, and usability.

Technical debt allows practitioners to look at tech delivery through the lens of debt. Is this an appropriate lens? Debt repayment has one vital characteristic: it is easy to understand. Debt repayment has three properties that are straightforward to grasp — principal amount, interest rate, and term (i.e., length of time to repay). But when comparing technical debt, there is no agreement on the principal, no agreement on the sum owed. There is no concept of an interest rate for technical debt because technologists individually evaluate each project as a unique artifact. Finally, term length isn’t a fixed concept in technical debt — in fact, Klaus Schmid even argues that future development should be part of the evaluation of technical debt.

Enormous effort and energy have gone into trying to calculate an accurate number for technical debt across many technology and academic departments. Unfortunately, trying to glue a direct mathematical representation to a metaphor seems to have failed. The idea of technical debt as a type of debt doesn’t hold up well in this light.

So is it technical? This depends on whether we consider only the originating action, or the consequences that follow. If an aggressor punches a bystander in the face, we consider not only the action of the aggressor (the originating action) but also the injury to the bystander (the impact of that originating action). Through this lens, technical debt can only be technical if we consider where it originates, as opposed to where it has an impact. Technologists take on the originating action; the business suffers the impacts of those decisions. Technical debt affects:

  • Competitiveness by slowing/speeding up new product development
  • Costs (short-term decrease/long-term increases in development cycles)
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Whether a company can survive

Once we realize that technical debt is a company-wide concern, we can no longer consider it technical, this label is too narrow and doesn’t communicate its significance. In fact, our current ongoing research shows that technical debt may even have an impact beyond the company, and we need to take an even broader view (its effect on society as one example). 

The most important takeaway: we must broaden our awareness of technical debt. In the same way that company executives examine financial cash flows and sales pipelines, we must communicate the consequences of taking on technical debt to this audience. Our most important challenge is to find a shared language to help business stakeholders understand the importance of unknown decisions made in technology departments.

Finally, look back at how you defined technical debt at the beginning of this article. Do you communicate the action or the impact? Is it suitable for a business audience? What is?

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with three people who would appreciate it.

You may also enjoy this article on how technologists make decisions

If you would like to work in Workhuman with talented people on some of the most interesting challenges in technology and society, please contact me, or browse open roles here.

Thank you so much, Mark.


Buffet-Style Architecture

The New World of Public Self-Governance

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

— Attributed to Henry Ford


The tendency to cling to the past when predicting the future is clear throughout history. This is as true today as it ever has been. Even in the future-defining world of technology, people still cling to anachronistic ideas.

To get the structure of the business right, a company must reorganise itself around empowered teams that can operate at speed. For technology architecture to play a pivotal role, it must leave the old workhorses of the past behind and move to modern transportation. Indeed, architecture must refocus on three core principles: (1) accelerated change, (2) decentralised decisions, and (3) public self-governance.

Why Does Any of This Matter?

Recall these three promising businesses that crashed and burned in the midst of major technological change?

  1. At its peak, telecoms giant Nortel had almost 100,000 staff members and celebrated over 100 years of success. In 2009, it filed for bankruptcy.
  2. In 1988, Kodak celebrated 100 years of existence, buying Sterling Drug for US $5.1 billion; in January 2012, it, too, filed for bankruptcy.
  3. In 2008, social network Friendster had more than 115 million registered users and was among the top 40 visited sites on the Internet. It shut down all operations on 14 June 2015.

All three businesses attempted to transform far too late. In each case, the company clearly saw a disruptive change emerging in its path. Early on, each business thought that the disruption was merely a fad and that size and history would offer protection from it. Ultimately, they all failed.

The world has not been slowing down since these companies found themselves in trouble; it has been speeding up dramatically. In his essay, “The Law of Accelerating Returns,” inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil explains that “technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense ‘intuitive linear’ view. So, we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate)”’

Kurzweil uses multiple cases to show that the evolution of technology is increasing at an incredible pace.

Incredibly Ray Kurzweil gave personal permission for use of the diagram above

The diagram above shows a good representative example, where computing power goes from the equivalent of an insect’s brain in the year 2000, up to a human brain’s in 2025, to all human brains by 2050. Supporting this type of exponential growth might be the single most important thing a company does for its survival. If a company can’t adjust quickly, it may have to shut its doors as new business strategies hand the advantage to competitors.

How Is EA Meeting This Challenge?

The answer to this question really depends on what “enterprise architecture” (EA) means. No single clear identity exists today for architecture in an enterprise. Indeed, the ISO/IEEE site lists 78 separate architecture groups with associated frameworks. These different groups aggressively defend their “one true answer,” recalling the poetic words of W.B. Yeats in “The Second Coming”:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

While inside the architecture community an argument over the best framework rages, to outsiders it resembles crows fighting over scraps at the dump. The winner is important to the crows and a few bystanders but relatively unimportant to the rest.

More important than architectural identity is understanding the value architecture brings today. The value of a sales division is clear: to bring in revenue; the finance division’s value is to manage the company finances, and so forth. A typical department knows its value proposition thoroughly. A member of a well-run department can explain its contribution in an elevator and still have time to discuss last night’s game before reaching the desired floor. However, it is rare for an architect to speak about architecture’s value to the company in clear business terms.

In the quest to uncover the value of architecture, academic research fares no better, showing that despite all expended effort, framework-based architectures have failed to deliver. Complexity and the increased rate of change in technology have transformed the business landscape, but architecture hasn’t kept pace. The following quotes from academia and industry groups provide some insight:

  • There exists no single comprehensive view of the ways an architectural practice might add value to an organisation. — Vasilis Boucharas et al.
  • Measuring EA effectiveness is often deemed difficult by both practitioners and researchers. — Wendy Arianne Günther
  • Useless at best, and harmful at worst. — Svyatoslav Kotusev

What Should Architecture Do?

Architecture should play a key role in creating the strategy for a digital business. But strategy alone is not enough. As famed organisational theorist Jeanne Ross notes:

“A great strategy is valuable only if a company is capable of executing that strategy. And whether or not a company can execute its strategy depends largely on whether it is designed to do so. In other words, it depends on business architecture — the way a company’s people, processes, systems, and data interact to deliver goods and services to customers.”

So, as we hinted to earlier, architecture must go deeper by focusing on three pillars: (1) accelerated change, (2) decentralised decisions, and (3) public self-governance.

The Three Pillars of Digital Architecture

1. Accelerated Change: Optimise for Speed

As we know, external change is happening at an exponential rate. This changes the speed of execution from a useful to a critical success factor. If companies aren’t readying themselves and getting their business architecture right today, they increase the chance of becoming irrelevant tomorrow.

Companies slow to change have always been at a disadvantage. My first-person experience of this comes from my time working at a small telecoms company in Ireland in the late 1990s, leading a team of three. Telecoms consumers began to ask for additional content, such as recommended listings, sports scores, and local weather. Providing this content meant that operators could charge more and increase revenue.

We spent five months building a new workstation platform that offered these new services and then flew to Nortel in Rochester, New York, USA, hoping to sell it. It turned out that a team of 50 people in Nortel had been working for two years to build the same platform and were nowhere near completion when we showed up. The key difference was that Nortel’s organisational structure slowed them down, while ours allowed us to move as fast as we could.

In the end, Nortel took so long in deciding whether to buy our software, we approached a telco directly and won the deal ourselves, in effect becoming a competitor. The world outside Nortel started to move faster than the world inside, but they didn’t notice until it was too late, contributing to the downfall of this once great institution.

Today, companies must reorganise quickly so that they can move faster, keep up with the external rates of change, and avoid becoming the new Nortel. Optimising for speed means shortening the time from idea to implementation — from lightbulb to lights on.

2. Decentralised Decisions: Power to the Teams

Hurricane Katrina hit the US in 2006 causing fatalities, lost homes, and devastation in many towns and cities, including New Orleans, Louisiana. The agency with overall responsibility for disaster management was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Most agencies tasked with providing relief, FEMA in particular, did not do so adequately. The top-down chain of command was mostly useless when those on the ground needed to make immediate decisions. People felt disempowered and stifled by bureaucracy.

One notable exception was Walmart. Walmart shipped almost 2,500 truckloads of merchandise and medication to New Orleans before FEMA even began any relief efforts and provided trucks and drivers to community organisations. How was Walmart able to act almost immediately after the hurricane when the government agencies responsible for providing relief took days (sometimes weeks) to get to affected areas?

A key reason is Walmart’s decentralised decision-making. The company gives both regional and store managers authority to make decisions based on local information and immediate needs. As Hurricane Katrina approached, Walmart CEO Lee Scott sent a message directly to his senior staff and told them to pass it down to regional, district, and store managers:

“A lot of you are going to have to make decisions above your level. Make the best decision that you can with the information that’s available to you at the time, and, above all, do the right thing”.

On the ground, Walmart staff turned stores into emergency sleeping quarters, set up temporary police headquarters, and, in one case, ran a bulldozer through a store to collect undamaged supplies and give them to those in need. People could make life-saving decisions because they didn’t need to wait for permission. They already had permission as part of their job.

Today, in a world of accelerating change, companies must empower teams like Walmart did. To achieve this, decentralising the decision-making process is vital – it empowers individuals and reverses bureaucracy, which is toxic to innovation. As world- renowned business thinker Gary Hamel and his coauthor Michele Zanini note in Harvard Business Review,

“Bureaucracy is the enemy of speed … bureaucracy is a significant drag on the pace of decision-making in their organization”.

So, how does architecture enable decentralised decision-making, reduce bureaucracy, and accelerate work? Public self-governance helps answer this question.

3. Public Self-Governance: From Governance Blockades to Buffet-Style Decisions

Traditional technology governance resembles theatre, where various stakeholders play parts in a process that makes the actors feel satisfied. The decided lack of applause from the enterprise is telling.

Governance committees decide centrally, causing delays in work and frustration to parties awaiting an outcome. They rarely have the same level of information as the team on the ground. Of course, the committees can request more details, but this only increases delays. Occasionally, they assume knowledge and rule on matters in semi-ignorance, acting like an unaccountable early European monarchs.

The book Accelerate discusses highly sophisticated and complex technology projects. In considering the usefulness of a change advisory board (CAB) or central approval process, the authors found that:

“External approvals were negatively correlated with lead time, deployment frequency, and restore time, and had no correlation with change fail rate. In short, approval by an external body (such as a manager or CAB) simply doesn’t work to increase the stability of production systems, measured by the time to restore service and change fail rate. However, it certainly slows things down. It is, in fact, worse than having no change approval process at all”.

A central approval process is akin to a restaurant with only one server. The server can handle a few tables. As the company grows, the number of tables also grows. The order queue gets bigger and diners face a longer wait. Eventually, diners are upset, the food gets cold, the server is exhausted, and ultimately quits. We need instead to move to a buffet model, where diners can serve themselves, the food is hot, and a smiling server is on hand in case anything additional is needed.

Enterprises must move away from the old model of centralised decision-making to a model of public self-governance. Away from monarchy and toward democracy, giving teams the knowledge and authority to make decisions in the open.

What Is Public Self-Governance?

Public self-governance is a simple process, where teams ask themselves three questions after first stating the purpose of the proposal:

  1. Is there a positive return?
  2. Is this a Type 2 decision?
  3. Is this easily reversible?

If all three answers are yes, then the team makes the answers available internally and begins work immediately. This process increases the speed of decision-making, increases autonomy within teams, and creates a culture for innovative ideas to blossom. Team members are more engaged, and both they and the company reap any rewards that materialise. Let’s break these questions down.

A. Is There a Positive Return?

This question concerns the business case and is merely asking whether the ROI is greater than the cost. This simple question, however, has a deep impact, helping people at every level of an organisation consider ROI as they dream up new proposals.

B. Is This a Type 2 Decision?

This question considers scope and comes from Amazon. Jeff Bezos, in his 2015 letter to shareholders, explained the two types of decisions within Amazon: Type 1 are high-impact choices, while Type 2 are lower-stakes choices that can be more easily reversed. Amazon leaves Type 2 decisions to its teams.

With public self-governance, an individual at any level can make a Type 2 decision, which provides autonomy and allows immediate action. Type 1 decisions are made by senior stakeholders with consideration of a wider set of factors (e.g., risk, business environment, company performance, alignment with strategic goals). Training individuals to distinguish Type 1 from Type 2 decisions is part of an enterprise’s learning journey.

C. Is This Easily Reversible?

This question concerns complexity. If a proposal needs integration into existing systems, or requires new data, complexity increases. The higher the level of complexity, the greater the work needed to reverse the action. To answer this question, one must break it down further and consider the following three categories:

  1. Data. Is the data protected? Can it be retrieved and/or deleted?
  2. Integration. Are integrations or custom development required? Is this work easily reversed?
  3. Users. How does removing the feature impact its users?

The answers to all public self-governance questions should be openly available within the company, and the architecture group should perform continuous retrospective reviews. If any issue arises, or if any of the three answers is no, the architecture group then becomes a partner, helping to generate a business case and thoroughly work through the proposal. This proactive approach allows other teams without issues to move forward with no delays.

Public self-governance requires a culture that encourages experimentation and is tolerant of failure. If something is easily reversible, then it is low risk. If it doesn’t deliver as expected (i.e., less value, higher cost, more complexity), it can be halted, with lessons noted, and everybody can then move on to the next decision.

Other Considerations

Financial Purse Strings

“Negotiating budget exceptions — often necessary when a company has to move quickly — was also impeded by bureaucracy” — Hamel and Zanini

In most companies, costs will also need finance approval. Bureaucracy costs money; therefore, it is cost effective to give blanket approval to all proposals below a set maximum amount.

Danger: Technologists in Control!

A word of warning: it is important to review answers to the public self-governance questions, continue an open dialogue, and support a learning culture. There is a difference between giving increased autonomy to technologists and abdicating any responsibility as a firm. The cautionary tale of Netscape should serve as a stark reminder of too much free rein given to technologists.

In 1995, the Netscape Navigator browser had over 80% of the market. Riding on this wave of success, Netscape began to rewrite the browser entirely, so it would support its newly created JavaScript programming language. Netscape intended to obliterate the all-conquering Microsoft, making Windows, according to Netscape VP of Technology Marc Andreessen, appear like a “poorly debugged set of device drivers.”

To the technologists in the firm, this was an obvious choice: rewrite the entire browser (i.e., the entire business) from scratch, removing old code and old bugs. It was just a matter of cleaning out the cobwebs to prepare for a new paradigm shift.

The full rewrite took two years — two years without new features, without meeting new customer needs, or dealing with competitive threats. By the time Netscape released its new Netscape Communicator browser, Microsoft Internet Explorer was everywhere, and Windows was the desktop platform of choice. Meanwhile, Netscape’s market share slid irreversibly, from close to 90% in 1995, dropping to 5% by the end of 2001. Netscape went from total dominance to a vague footnote. Plus, in an ironic twist, the new browser was buggy and slow compared to the old version.

AOL ended up purchasing Netscape in early 1999, and, by 2003, the company disbanded altogether, an ignominious end to what had looked like a brilliant future only eight years earlier. Here, Andreessen made a major decision solely on a technology basis. Referring to the public self-governance form, this was a Type 1 decision made as if it were Type 2. Netscape should have considered an array of factors, including risks, business strategy, and competitive threats. Ignoring these factors ultimately caused its demise.

As we see in the Netscape example, judgment is still necessary in making good quality decisions. Using public self-governance allows a business to scale its decision-making, but a business must also reinforce the learning culture so that staff members understand how to categorise their proposals and make better decisions.

Conclusion

To survive in this digital age, architecture must change. The old monsters of heavyweight governance, centralised authority, and long wait times are impediments in this new arena. Public self-governance breaks up decision hierarchies and speeds up technology decisions in the organisation. It encourages a business to move faster. This will have an enormous impact, allowing companies to adjust quickly to customer needs, changes in technology, and emerging business models. Public self-governance is a necessary step in setting a business up for success in this new era.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with three people who would appreciate it. Thank you so much.

This article originally appeared in Vol. 32, No. 9 of Cutter Business Technology Journal


To maximise or to satisfice, that is the question: the 3 lies beneath rational decision making

“Still a man hears what he wants to hear

And disregards the rest”

Paul Simon — The Boxer

I’ve yet to meet a person who claims to be irrational. Everyone is convinced that they make rational decisions — this idea is at the core of theories in economics, organisations, and technology. When faced with a decision, a rational decision maker:

  1. Defines the opportunity/problem
  2. Lists all the constraints (time, budget, resources etc)
  3. Searches for all solutions
  4. Chooses the solution that gives the maximum benefit

According to Stanford Professor James G. March’s A Primer on Decision Making, this model of decision making is called a maximisation

The idea of maximisation, the concept of a rational decision maker is based on 3 lies.

The first lie is that we can predict the future, that we can know every possible solution in advance. This is absurd — no-one can see into the future.

The second lie — we can predict how we will feel in the future about a benefit or consequence. The feeling we get after an event is rarely the feeling we had expected beforehand. To quote tennis great Andre Agassi from his autobiography.

‘Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last long as the bad. Not even close.’

The last lie is the biggest one of all — that we have the time and brainpower to search for every potential solution that exists. The first problem here is a lack of time. If we fully worked out each decision we had to make in our lives, we would have no time for anything else. The courses of action are infinite. A minor change at one level can unleash a butterfly effect of consequences for every level below. The second problem concerns our brainpower. We are incapable of comparing complex outcomes because we suffer from problems of:

  1. attention — too much noise
  2. memory — our limited capacity to store information
  3. comprehension — difficulties in organising, summarising and using information
  4. communication — different people (cultures/generations/professions) communicate information in different ways.

Because of these limitations, we simplify decisions by:

  1. replacing the problem we face with a simpler one
  2. decomposing problems to their component parts and solve these, hoping to solve the full problem by doing so.
  3. seeking patterns and then following rules we have previously established instead of looking for new possibilities
  4. narrowing the problem to a ‘frame’ — narrowing the decision choices available for selection. Frames come from early individual experience, recent frames used come from friends, consultants, and writers.

The legendary Herbert Simon tells us that instead of using a rational strategy, most decision makers ‘satisfice’. This means we compare alternatives until a ‘good enough’ solution is found, then we choose that option. If there is a better alternative, we rarely chose it because we stop thinking about that decision and move on with life. We often fool ourselves into thinking we are maximisers — finding the best solution after an exhaustive search. In reality, we are more likely to satisfice, and move onto the next item on our agenda.

In organisations, situations become more complex. A decision may involve a group of people. The process may continue for a predetermined time, rather than stop when a satisfactory outcome is reached. There may be situations (usually simpler decisions) where the organisation maximise.

To quote March:

“Decision makers look for information, but they see what they expect to see and overlook unexpected things. Their memories are less recollections of history than constructions based on what they thought might happen and reconstructions based on what they now think must have happened, given their present beliefs.”

We think we make sound decisions, but in reality our ability to be rational is bounded by the constraints of time and cognition. We are not rational creatures.


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This piece has also been published by the Cutter Journal here under the title ‘The 3 Lies of Maximization’


Are you foolish enough to innovate?

“Stay hungry, stay foolish” — Steve Jobs

How can you make a great breakthrough? How can you start the next era-defining business, write the next great song, create the next political movement? To do any of these, you must be more innovative. So where do you start?

Legendary Finnish architect Eero Saarinen sat one morning staring at a broken grapefruit peel, the remains of his breakfast. He was in the middle of an enormous project, designing a new airport for one of the world’s great cities — New York. Staring at the fruit peel, a vision suddenly grabbed him. He would design the airport shaped like a split grapefruit peel. One of the most groundbreaking pieces of architecture — the TWA terminal at JFK airport — was the result.

By Roland Arhelger — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46423333

So, how did Saarinen do it? He took on an idea that would have seemed ludicrous to most — something outside the ordinary. How do we follow Saarinen’s lead?

In the seminal book ‘A Primer on Decision Making‘ — Stanford Professor James G. March tells us that there are the three ingredients in a company needed for innovation: slack, luck and foolishness.

Slack is the difference between the outcome chosen, and the best possible outcome (say a successful product sold 1 million, but could have sold 10 million with a different decision). In an organisation, more slack means more innovation. How do you know if there is slack in your company? If you continually exceed targets, you are in the right place. Beware, slack can change. When performance in an organisation exceeds aspirations, slack accumulates, and when performance decreases, slack decreases. 

Luck is necessary for successful innovation. Luck can come in many guises, the right timing, a breakthrough in a related industry, new staff creating the ‘right’ chemistry in a team. Because innovations which provide breakthroughs are difficult to identify in advance — a very promising idea can fail miserably — some level of luck is necessary for an innovation to take hold.

Foolishness produces major innovations. It is the most important ingredient. Ordinary ideas don’t make great breakthroughs, an ordinary idea preserves the existing state of affairs. Organisations need to support foolish ideas even if they have a high probability of failure. This requires a high tolerance for risk and a culture that promotes innovation over conformity.

As someone in an organisation, what can you do to be more innovative? There are three things — you must:

  1. favour high-quality information over social validity
  2. understand your risk tolerance
  3. be foolish.

People in an organisation seek social validity over high-quality knowledge, according to March. Organisations are social systems, all social systems require a shared understanding of the world. In any organisation, there are ambiguities in meaning exists between people. Different people have different interpretations of reality. These ambiguities and interpretations threaten the social system. To combat this threat, mechanisms emerge to create a shared understanding among all participants. We

  • edit our experience to remove contradictions. 
  • seek information to confirm decisions.
  • forget disconfirming data.
  • remember previous experience as more consistent with present beliefs than was the case.
  • change beliefs to become consistent with actions.

A preference for vivid stories emerges, with lots of detail (which is often irrelevant). This allows people to process lots of extra information. The amount of information processed increases confidence, it does not increase accuracy. Beware of detailed stories — these stories give the decision makers what they want — to see the world with more confidence rather than more accuracy.

Every innovator takes risks. To get more innovative results, you must take some level of risk. It’s important to understand your risk appetite when making any decision — it is driven by:

  1. Personality — your natural trait towards risk taking
  2. Reaction — your ability to take variable levels of risk depending on the situation. Decision makers are more risk averse when the outcome involves gains, and more open to risk when it involves losses.
  3. Reasoned choices — you may make a reasoned choice depending on the situation. For example, if you need to finish first in a contest it requires a very different approach than creating an internal partnership with another department.
  4. Reliability — risks taken are affected unconsciously because of unreliability. The situation may suffer from a lack of knowledge, breakdown in communication, trust, or structure. The greater the ignorance, the greater the variability of outcome, the greater the risk.

Finally, for innovation to occur, you need to be foolish. So, what does foolish mean in this context? Innovative ideas take a concept that flies in the face of ‘common knowledge’ and transforms everything around it. However, there is great social pressure in organisations to create a feeling of safety for all and proceed with ideas that give a ‘comfort level’ across the whole group. Anything outside this is considered foolish. A simple check on your idea is — if it doesn’t seem foolish to others, chances are that it’s not likely to be a bold enough vision. A true innovator is treated as a fool when they propose a breakthrough — as the following famous examples show:

  • “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” — workers whom Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist in his project to drill for oil in 1859
  • “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” — David Sarnoff’s associates response to his urgings for investment in the 1920s
  • “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
  • “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO

It is easy to be a cynic and costs nothing to criticise. It is hard to be an innovator. First off — you need to be conscious of how you make decisions. You must be in a supportive organisation. You must take risks and appear foolish to some people. Pray for some luck.

But what is life for, if not to try? Life is to be lived, and every brilliant innovation comes from a person just like you. How many innovations have we lost because it was easier not to rock the boat, because it was easier to listen to the crowd, easier to do what we have always done before. We must grasp the nettle and fight the urge to be safe.

As Irish playwright Samuel Beckett famously said — “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”


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How Technology Architects make decisions

Or why you might spend a fortune on a red car

Chinese translation available here

The remarkable Herbert Simon won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 and the Turing Medal in 1975. Reading about his life gives me a panic attack when I consider how little I have achieved in comparison. He published ‘Administrative Behaviour’ in 1947, and I started reading it in 2021. I started by treating it as a relic of World War II era business, a history book. It quickly filled me with horror as Simon explained business, thinking and decision making in ways which seemed obvious after reading them, but I had never even thought of. I immediately felt weak. I felt like a total imposter. How had I never read Herbert Simon before? Why had nobody told me? It panicked me for days. I dropped a reference to the book into every meeting for weeks. That practice soon calmed me down. It turns out almost no-one I know had read it either.  

Early in the book, Simon talks about how each department in an organisation has one job. They take in information and turn it into decisions which are executed (either by them or another department). He introduces the concept of Bounded Rationality – how it is impossible to evaluate an almost infinite set of possibilities when making a decision. Instead, we must choose a smaller ‘bounded’ set of assumptions to work within. 

Back in the actual world of architecture, I have always boiled the job down to either a) making decisions or b) provide information to help others make decisions. I’ve only ever had a vague sense of how architects make decisions, even though it’s been my job for the majority of my career.

In a fantastic paper published in 2014, “EA Anamnesis: An Approach for Decision Making Analysis in Enterprise Architecture”, Georgios Plataniotis, Sybren de Kinderen and Henderik Proper explain the importance of capturing decisions made about architecture. They go further, arguing that capturing the reasons for a decision and alternatives considered is just as important. Documenting the rationale when a decision is made gives it context, explains the environment at the time, and helps inform future decisions. 

The paper describes four strategies used to make Enterprise Architecture decisions. Each decision is an attempt to decide on the best alternative among competing choices. They split decision types into the following buckets :

  • Compensatory. This type of decision considers every alternative, analysing all criteria in low-level detail. Criteria with different scores can compensate for each other, hence the name. There are two types here:
    • Compensatory Equal Weight – criteria are scored and totalled for each potential option, the option with the highest total signifies the best decision. 
    • Compensatory Weighted Additive (WADD) – here a weighting is given for a criterion to reflect significance (the higher the weighting, the higher the significance). The weighting is multiplied by the score for each criterion, then each alternative is summed, the highest total winning. 
  • Non-Compensatory. This method uses fewer criteria. The two types are:
    • Non-Compensatory Conjunctive – alternatives that cannot meet a criterion are immediately dismissed, the winner is chosen among the survivors. 
    • Non-Compensatory Disjunctive – an alternative is chosen if it complies with a criterion, irrespective of other criteria. 

Say you were buying a car, and you had the following criteria: fuel efficiency, colour, cost, and ease of parking (as scored below). 

CarFuelColourCostParkingTotalFuel x2 Weighted Total 
Car A9Black64191828
Car B6White105211227
Car C4Grey41018822
Car D1Red1810211

The four strategies might look like this: 

  1. Compensatory Equal Weight – in this case you pick the highest unweighted total – Car B
  2. Compensatory Weighted Additive – because you drive long distances, you apply a double weighting for fuel mileage and pick the highest weighted total – Car A 
  3. Non-Compensatory Conjunctive – because you live in a city, you discard any car that isn’t easy to park (at least 7/10). This leaves a choice between C and D you chose the highest score between them – Car C 
  4. Non-Compensatory Disjunctive – you fall in love with a red car – ignore everything else – Car D

Compensatory decisions are suitable when time and resources are available to   

  • gather the right set of alternatives, 
  • evaluate each alternative in detail
  • score each with consistency and precision. 

Non-Compensatory decisions are necessary when

  • there is time stress
  • the problem is not well structured  
  • the information surrounding the problem is incomplete
  • criteria cant be expressed numerically
  • there are competing goals
  • the stakes are high
  • there are multiple parties negotiating in the decision. 

A level of pragmatism is important when choosing a decision strategy. Using Simon’s concept of bounded rationality, compensatory decisions can never be fully worked out. Some level of assumptions are necessary, otherwise the work needed to make every business decision is almost infinite. However, within a set of ‘givens’ (given we need to decide by Friday, and given budget is x, and given resources available are y, and given etc) the weighted additive method (WADD above) has proven effective in my experience. The framework forces decision makers to consider each alternative clearly, as opposed to a clump of criteria mashed together. It also forces all parties to agree a set of weights, helping the group agree on the hierarchy of importance. These processes improve communication between parties, even when they disagree on the choices of criteria and weights. 

A strange magic happens during negotiation of the scoring, as parties try to force their choice. The mental mathematics going on inside heads is a dizzying. I have witnessed all types of behaviour, from people determined there be no change, to an exec wanting an inflight magazine article to form the basis for all future strategy, to a head of a business unit wanting us to use his nephews school project as part of the solution, all the way to one mid 40s executive, who got so annoyed with the debate, that he started jumping up and down and stamping his feet because he wanted his decision, and “that’s what I’ll get”. 

Start now


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Since first posted, this article has been subsequently published by Architecture and Governance magazine here


Slides and links from the IASA BIL-T Conference

I am delighted to speak at the IASA BIL-T Conference (you can still register here), particularly given my earlier post about how we can make the best of the Covid Situation. Please drop me a line here or on Twitter of LinkedIn if you’d like to discuss, well, anything really.

Please thank a healthcare worker here . It only takes a couple of seconds, and gratitude helps both the giver and the receiver.

This is the essay from Ray Kurzweil on the Law of Accelerating Returns, detailed and fascinating. It will change the way you think about change! His paper on how his predictions have fared is fun and astonishing in parts here
The book Accelerate is a must read on building and scaling tech organisations and is here 

Merrill Chapmans book on Tech disasters is ‘In Search Of Stupidity’. It is hilarious and horrifying, and is available here.

The Cutter Journal article I wrote on Public Self Governance is available for free (after you enter your name and email) here .

Make it a great summer!


Conference Slides from the UCC Technical Debt presentation

I was delighted to present at the Information Systems Mini-Conference in UCC on Friday the 19th of June 2020. My research is concerned with Technical Debt and its impact on an organisation.

It was hosted by Cork University Business School and the Fantastic Dr. Paidi O’Reilly, with presentations from Dr Stephen McCarthy, Elaine Beare, Michael Twomey, Kieran O’Driscoll, Bernard Swierczyna, Kenneth Russell, and Keith Burton.

If you should like to discuss my research, technical debt or technology at workhuman, please get in touch via the contact form, Twitter or LinkedIn (preferably) here.


Rapid Change Reading List

Thank you to everybody who attended my talk at AtlanTec Virtual Festival of Technology. Particular thanks to the organising committee for putting on such a fantastic Virtual event. It was a great pleasure to talk about Rapid Change, a subject I am passionate about. There were a few requests for the reading list, so I’ve included the links below.

The most important link is the essay from Ray Kurzweil on the Law of Accelerating Returns, detailed and fascinating. It will change the way you think about change!  . 
His paper on how his predictions have fared is fun and astonishing in parts. 

The book Accelerate is a must read on building and scaling tech organisations

Merrill Chapmans book on tech disasters is called ‘In Search Of Stupidity. It is hilarious and horrifying, and is a truly wonderful history of tech disasters

The Cutter Journal article I wrote on Public Self Governance is available for free (after you enter your name and email) here .

One last word. Three days before the publication of my article in the Cutter Journal, the editor got in touch and asked if I had permission to use Ray Kurzweil’s diagram. I was in a panic, and I knew that there was no way I could get permission in time. I would have to replace it myself and rewrite the section, then have it re-edited and fact checked, probably missing the deadline and my opportunity. Getting published in this journal was an enormous deal to me as so many people who I look up to have published there (Kent Beck, Ward Cunningham, Alistair Cockburn to name a few).

I emailed the Kurzweil site and went to bed depressed. I awoke the next morning and found that Sarah, who works for Ray, had sent me a note telling me that Ray had given me permission to use the diagram. All he wanted in return was a copy of my article. 

Ray Kurzweil, visionary, genius, gentleman.