• Softerware - techniques as technology

    Last updated Sep 15, 2023 | Originally published Sep 8, 2023

    As we develop our techniques and practices in knowledge innovation, we tend to find certain workflow patterns that we do over and over again. Knowledge workers are increasingly finding ways to augment these patterns with automations, macros, shortcuts, and other such tool add-ons. In the process of developing and refining these patterns with automation, we are writing “softerware”. Softerware is the layer of practices and protocols between us — users — and the tools we are using to achieve our goals.

    For instance, my approach to literature review is basically a semi-systematic literature review (Okoli, 2015). When I have a research interest that I’ve not explored in detail before, I begin by searching the same several databases with the same search techniques, opening each potentially-interesting item in a new tab until I’ve reached some point of saturation (e.g., I am no longer finding interesting-looking items relevant to my interest at the time). Then, I’ll go through each tab, screening each article more critically. If an article passes my screen, I’ll then add it to my collection of literature on the subject by saving it (and its metadata) with Zotero, and finally I import the newly-collected items into Bookends.

    There’s a lot of hand-waving there, but the details don’t really matter. What I’ve highlighted in the above description of my workflow are the elements of softerware: the events where what I do depends especially on how I do it. These events are important because, over time, that causal relationship runs in both directions. Over time, I change how I do something, and that influences what I do.

    Another important feature of softerware is that it tends to be unpublished. These workflows are crafted in private, perhaps not explicitly or even intentionally by the worker. So the best softerware in the world may not be known to anyone but the person who made it!

  • Note-taking apps (and practices) do make us smarter

    Last updated Aug 26, 2023 | Originally published Aug 26, 2023

    Platformer’s Casey Newton published an interesting piece on note-taking apps yesterday: Why note-taking apps won’t make us smarter.

    It’s a fairly rich piece in that it clearly lays out a number of challenges experienced by people participating in knowledge management and innovation. These challenges — such as the fundamental idea that these tools should be designed to help us think, not just to collect things — are important.

    However, I have to disagree with the headline.

    Does a hammer1 make someone stronger?


    But you can do a lot more with a hammer than you can do with your fists.

    Same goes for note-taking apps.2

    These are simply tools3 that offer us different ways to work with the material of our thoughts — our notes! — to shape them into whatever we want to.

    But, as many have described already, it’s how we use the tool that matters.

    What won’t make us smarter is to do what Casey describes in the article:

    I waited for the insights to come.

    And waited. And waited.


    This was originally published in a Mac Power Users forum discussion.

    1. …There will come a day when my hammer metaphor is bent so far that it breaks, but today is not that day. ↩︎

    2. And same goes for our note-taking practices, which is often overlooked in articles like the OP but, as many have already discussed here, is the thing that actually matters. Latour and co. had it right. It’s not the person, and it’s not the tool, it’s person + tool. Or: we shape our tools, and they shape us. ↩︎

    3. Or thinking environments, even. ↩︎

  • AI is the new plastic

    Last updated Jul 18, 2023 | Originally published Jul 18, 2023

    Data was the new oil, and now AI is the new plastic.

    From user yabones on HN, discussing media companies’ blatant strategies for using “AI”-based text generators to spam content for Google Search Engine Optimization.

  • Permissionless integration

    Last updated Jul 3, 2023 | Originally published Jul 3, 2023

    In a recent blog post, kepano writes about the power of files for enabling users to have access to and use of their data in the long-term:

    File over app is a philosophy: if you want to create digital artifacts that last, they must be files you can control, in formats that are easy to retrieve and read. Use tools that give you this freedom.

    File over app is an appeal to tool makers: accept that all software is ephemeral, and give people ownership over their data.

    This reminded me of a related insight I had about files over apps a few years ago: the friction-free power of permissionless integration.

    User data should be like a piece of wood on a workbench: you can pick up hammers, drills, screwdrivers, nails, paint, saws, and all kinds of other tools and materials and make that wood into what you want. No special access or permission is required to cut or sand or shape that block of wood. You just pick the right tool for the job and do what you want. It’s your wood, your workbench, and your tools.

    Digital tools should be built so that users can work with their data in the same fashion. Apps should be able to interact with one another to help users shape and learn from their data — their notes, models, drawings, spreadsheets, or whatever — without needing special interfaces to do so.

    This is possible with files. Using files (especially files with open, standard file formats) removes the need to develop special ways of working with user data.

    On the other hand, app-specific data structures create friction and lock-in. To read and change your data in one of these apps, you need to deal with exporting and importing, or only use tools that have been custom-designed to work nicely together (i.e., via an API). Use one of these tools to create and save your data and suddenly that data can only be shaped by a limited selection of other tools.

    I’m sorry, your subscription for this pen has expired. Please use another Ink Pro-compatible pen or resubscribe for just $3/month per pen (billed annually).

    This creates some ferocious friction. Imagine picking up a piece of paper with your latest grocery list on it. You go to add “Bananas” to that list … only you don’t have the pen you first wrote the list with, and none of your other pens will work with that sheet of paper. Then, when you find the original pen, your monthly subscription to it is expired, and so anything you wrote with that pen is now read-only.

    That’s a scary thing. Remember, we shape our tools, and our tools shape us.

    Being shaped by tools you haven’t shaped is not something anyone should want.

  • ∎ The Serendipity of Streams - Reading Session 202306081350

    Last updated Jun 8, 2023 | Originally published Jun 8, 2023

    The Serendipity of Streams

    A neat article about the structure of (digital) streams of information and their propensity for serendipity and innovation.

    A stream is simply a life context formed by all the information flowing towards you via a set of trusted connections — to free people, ideas and resources — from multiple networks.

    What makes streams ideal contexts for open-ended innovation through tinkering is that they constantly present unrelated people, ideas and resources in unexpected juxtapositions. This happens because streams emerge as the intersection of multiple networks.

    This means each new piece of information in a stream is viewed against a backdrop of overlapping, non-exclusive contexts, and a plurality of unrelated goals. At the same time, your own actions are being viewed by others in multiple unrelated ways.

    As a result of such unexpected juxtapositions, you might “solve” problems you didn’t realize existed and do things that nobody realized were worth doing. For example, seeing a particular college friend and a particular coworker in the same stream might suggest a possibility for a high-value introduction: a small act of social bricolage. Because you are seen by many others from different perspectives, you might find people solving problems for you without any effort on your part. A common experience on Twitter, for example, is a Twitter-only friend tweeting an obscure but important news item, which you might otherwise have missed, just for your benefit.

    [In a stream, t]he most interesting place to be is usually the very edge, rather than the innermost sanctums.

    Not sure I agree with this. The author is binding a bunch of factors into “interesting,” but the truth is that there are different kinds of power here, and whether you want to be in the center or at the edge depends on what you’re trying to do.

  • On serendipity and knowledge

    Last updated May 30, 2023 | Originally published May 30, 2023

    A great debate in the philosophy of knowledge (where knowledge is defined as “justified true beliefs”) is known as the “Gettier problems.” The debate is this: if you think you know something, and that something turns out to be true, but not for the reasons you thought … does it count as knowledge?

    I tend to agree with the pragmatic view of Gettier problems. Basically, the only thing that matters is whether used knowledge is fruitful for the reasons that the knowledge was justified, true, and believed.

    This has implications for serendipity. In serendipitious observations, the knowledge we generate was not necessarily justified or believed a priori. Only in retrospect does the “knowledge” become useful.

  • A PopClip extension for highlighting text in Obsidian

    Last updated Mar 24, 2023 | Originally published Mar 24, 2023

    A simple extension for PopClip that will present an “insert highlight” icon when you select text in Obsidian.

    name: Highlight
    required apps: [md.obsidian]
    requirements: [text, cut]
    - title: Highlight # note: actions have a `title`, not a `name`
      icon: iconify:ant-design:highlight-twotone
      javascript: popclip.pasteText('==' + popclip.input.text + '==')
  • Theory of Systemic Change and Action

    Last updated Mar 7, 2023 | Originally published Mar 7, 2023

    Theories of Change are one of the fundamental tools of changemakers and program evaluation (Mackinnon, 2006). However, when addressing wicked problems (Rittel & Webber, 1973), theories of change are too reductive and linear to properly account for the systemic phenomena, structures, and dynamics that perpetuate the issues we’re trying to address (Murphy & Jones, 2020).

    Theories of Systemic Change and Action (ToSCA) are a systemic design tool that combine theories of change with systemic understanding. The result is a theory of change that is useful for understanding, communicating, and evaluating systemic change projects.

    Here’s a rough guide to develop a ToSCA:

    1. Model the system (e.g., with causal loop diagrams; Kim, 1992).
    2. Develop systemic strategies from the model.
    3. Reorganize the modelled phenomena. From left to right:
      1. Capability building and resource mobilization for the initiative (Inputs)
      2. Inteventional activities the initiative will take on (Activities)
      3. Immediate outputs of those activities (Outputs)
      4. Results of those outputs on the overall system (Outcomes)
      5. Downstream effects of those outcomes on higher-system structures (Impacts)
    4. Reiterate on step 3 as necessary.

    The resulting diagram will look somewhat like an iceberg model (Stroh, 2015, p. 46] on its side: visible events and behaviour are on the left, while the actual patterns and structures in the system fall to the right.

    The ToSCA can then be simplified as necessary to suit different needs. For instance, if presenting the model briefly to a potential funder, you may want to collapse major feedback loops into one element on the model with a “loop” icon. This way you can still show inputs and outputs on that loop while obscuring the complexity within it for the purposes of the presentation.

  • A Case Study of Theories of Systemic Change and Action — The Ecotrust Canada Home-Lands initiative

    Last updated Mar 7, 2023 | Originally published Mar 7, 2023

    In this presentation, we reported on a case study of the Ecotrust Canada Home-Lands initiative. Lewis and I worked with Ecotrust Canada to understand the challenges they were addressing from a systemic design lens and, using that approach, to develop a theory of systemic change and action for the initiative.

    An interesting development in the work was the development of a novel systemic evaluation technique: resonance and dissonance tests. The tests were designed as a way of testing our understanding of the system without interrupting or intruding on the processes of the initiative. The general idea behind resonance and dissonance tests is to identify a set of phenomena in your understanding of the system and to search for disconfirming evidence that those phenomena are complete and accurate. So, for instance, if you think a key phenomenon in the system is “community distrust of bureaucracy”, look for examples of the community trusting bureaucracy. If you can’t find any, it increases the integrity of the theory you’ve created.

  • Systemic Evaluation

    Last updated Mar 7, 2023 | Originally published Mar 7, 2023

    Systemic evaluation is the developmental evaluation (Guijt et al., 2012) of systemic change.

    Techniques for systemic evaluation combine conventional principles and tools of developmental evaluation with concepts from systemic design. These techniques provide changemakers with the ability to assess the accuracy and completeness of their theories of systemic change and action (Murphy & Jones, 2020). They also allow evaluators to examine the progress of systemic strategies (Murphy et al., 2021).

  • Leverage theory

    Last updated Mar 7, 2023 | Originally published Feb 24, 2023

    We seek leverage to find the best ways of making change.

    Leverage points are places in systems where a little effort yields a big effect (Meadows, 1997). They are also ideas that help us grab on to strategic ways forward when we’re working in complexity (Klein & Wolf, 1998).

    Acting on leverage points may accelerate systemic change towards progress and reform, but acting on the wrong ones may instead accelerate systemic change towards regression and deformity. Well-designed leverage strategies may be catalyzing or even transformative, but poorly designed ones may merely be futile (figure 1).

    One way of finding leverage points is to think through your system with reference to Meadows’s (1997) 12 types:

    Table 1. Twelve types of leverage points, in order of increasing power (adapted from Meadows, 1997).

    Twelve types of leverage points, in order of increasing power Example
    12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards) Wages, interest rates
    11. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows. Current levels of debt/assets
    10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures) An individual’s financial structure (e.g., fixed costs and incomes)
    9. The lengths of delays, relative to the rate of system change How long it takes to find a higher-paying job
    8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against Rising costs of living vs. fixed income
    7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops Recession causing reducing spending
    6. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information) How aware you are of impending recession/future rising costs
    5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints) Who suffers as a result of poorly-managed recessions
    4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure Central banks, Ministries of Finance
    3. The goals of the system GDP Growth
    2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system—its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters—arises Growth above all
    1. The power to transcend paradigms Sustainable development, flourishing

    Another approach, which may be complementary to the above, is to model the system as a causal loop diagram (e.g., Kim, 1992) and then to conduct leverage analysis (Murphy & Jones, 2020) on the model.

    An understanding of leverage in a system allows us to generate systemic strategies (Murphy & Jones, 2020). These strategies can also be adapted into Theories of Systemic Change (Murphy & Jones, 2020).

    # Background

    Donella Meadows (1997) popularized the idea of leverage in systemic change with her essay “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in Complex Systems.” She proposed a typology of phenomena in a system, suggesting that acting on certain types of phenomena are higher-leverage than others.

    In an article published in the Contexts journal of systemic design, I challenged Meadows’s (1997) paradigm, proposing a few other possible ways of viewing leverage. My aim was to link the search for leverage directly to the design of powerful strategies for systemic change, and to propose a few ways forward in advancing our understanding of leverage in complex systems.

  • Using leverage analysis for systemic strategy

    Last updated Mar 7, 2023 | Originally published Jun 21, 2020

    The map represents your current mental model of how this system works.

    Leverage analysis examines the patterns of connection between phenomena (using algorithms adapted from social network analysis and graph theory) in order to present relative rankings of the phenomena of the system.

    These rankings are entirely dependent on the structure of the map. All phenomena are equal, and all connections are equal. It is theoretically possible to encode the degrees to which one phenomena influences another in strict mathematical terms and formulae. In turn, we could represent the map as a systems dynamics model and use it to simulate the behaviour of the system. However, this is usually impractical, especially with imprecisely-understood or hard-to-quantify concepts (e.g., what exactly is the rate of change in wildlife due to climate change, or how exactly does culture influence conspicuous consumption?)

    For this reason, using leverage analysis is a fuzzy procedure. It depends on your intuition. Fortunately, the goal of leverage analysis is not to inductively estimate how the system will change, nor deductively falsify hypotheses about the system. Instead, using leverage analysis for strategic planning involves abductive logic: the generation of creative, useful conclusions from a set of observations.

    The goal here is to look at the model as it is rendered and to think creatively about strategic opportunities. Broadly, this means asking several questions:

    • “What is missing?”
      • If some major gap in the logic of the model is missing, it means that the associated phenomena haven’t been adequately discussed in this process. Why is that? What might it mean for strategic planning?
    • “What must be true?”
      • If this is how the system currently works, what must be true about how it should work?
    • “Where do we work?”
      • Based on your organization’s strategic capabilities and advantages, what phenomena do you hold influence over? How do the effects you have on the system relate to these phenomena?
    • “What do we aim to influence?”
      • In other words, what phenomena do you really want to change? In what way should they change?

    These questions can be answered via the following process.

    # Developing Systemic Theories of Change

    The systems map represents a kind of high-complexity theory of change: it describes how all of these phenomena interlock and respond to one another. We can therefore use leverage analysis to weave systemic theories of action:

    1. Identify the goal phenomena. What do we want to influence? What’s the ultimate impact we aim to have?
    2. Identify the opportunities within our control. What phenomena are we already influencing? What could we be influencing without developing a lot of new capacity?
    3. “Walk” the paths on the map between your chosen opportunities, any possible high-leverage phenomena, and your goals. As you do:
      1. Identify any key strategic options along the path. What kinds of activities or programs could you engage in to influence these phenomena in the right way?
      2. Identify any feedback loops. How do these paths grow, shrink, or maintain balance over time?

    The chains of phenomena (and any loops they connect with) that result from the three steps above are the seeds of systemic strategy. Use them to identify key intervention points for programming (e.g., how might you take advantage of high-leverage phenomena? how might you address bottlenecks?), signals for monitoring and evaluation, and to communicate your theory of change/theory of action to others.

  • Systemic strategy

    Last updated Mar 7, 2023 | Originally published Mar 6, 2023

    Systemic strategies use system phenomena, structure, and dynamics to help changemakers achieve their goals. These goals may simply be some specific outcome or objective, or they may include systemic change.

    One approach to designing systemic strategies is:

    1. map the system
    2. analyze the system for features of leverage, possibly using leverage analysis
    3. identify any “goal” phenomena: the events or behaviours you seek to change
    4. identify any “intervention” phenomena: things you have direct influence over
    5. “walk” from the the interventions to your goals to identify a theory of change, incorporating the features of leverage you find along the way

    Each pathway you walk forms a strategy tree.

    Are there other interventions that lead to the same goal? These are different roots for the same overall strategy.

    Strategy trees can be combined into a strategy “forest”. A strategy forest is a collection of paths from interventions to goals in the system. Strategy forests can be assessed for different qualities to gauge which strategies an initiative should pursue.

    1. Different strategies that share common interventions may be the easiest to invest in and implement.
    2. Combinations of strategies that are the self-perpetuating (e.g., that contain feedback loops that will innately drive their success) may be more valuable to pursue.
    3. These forests can also be tested (e.g., with wind-tunneling; @VanderHeijden1997Scenarios-Strategy-Strategy-Process, p. 23) to identify the best combinations of strategies to follow.

    Once strategies have been selected, identify the capabilities or resources that need to be invested in/mobilized in order to effectively target the chosen interventions, and set up systemic evaluation processes to continually test the completeness and accuracy of your strategic theories and to assess progress towards achieving the strategies’ goals.

  • Towards a theory of leverage for strategic systemic change

    Last updated Feb 24, 2023 | Originally published Feb 24, 2023

    My article “Leverage for Systemic Change” was recently published in the inaugural edition of Contexts, from the Systemic Design Association.

    The article ultimately proposes a few key directions for a research agenda on leverage in systemic design (see the table below).

    Table 1. A research agenda for leverage theory in systemic design

    Research area Research questions Existing research Possible studies Possible contributions
    Dimensions of leverage - Is Meadows’s (1997) typology complete?
    - What other features of the “physics” of systemic change might matter?
    - System characteristics (Abson et al., 2017)
    - Conditions for systemic change Kania, Kramer, & Senge, 2018)
    - Other types of phenomena (e.g., bottlenecks, signals; Murphy & Jones, 2020)
    - Relative leverage: chaining leverage points (Fischer & Riechers, 2019)
    - Relative leverage: the context of the changemaker (Klein & Wolf, 1998)
    - Recursive leverage
    - A systematic literature review (Okoli & Schabram, 2010) of leverage points, especially using forward citations (Haddaway et al., 2022) from (Meadows, 1997)

    - Understanding the nature of leverage and other mechanisms of change potential in systemic change
    Methods for leverage - What methodologies are best to identify and select leverage points?
    What kinds of evidence will help validate leverage?
    - How might systemic designers design theories of change (Gregor & Jones, 2007) for leverage theories?
    - How might systemic designers limit indeterminism (Lukyanenko & Parsons, 2020) in leverage theories?
    - Meadows’s (1997) typology’s order of effectiveness
    - Leverage analysis [Murphy & Jones, 2020]
    - Assessing potential for change (Birney, 2021)
    - Surveying practitioners in systemic design on how they identify, assess, and address leverage points to identify common habits and best practices - How to identify phenomena useful for leverage
    - How to evaluate and compare possible leverage points in the analysis phase
    - How to evaluate the effectiveness of chosen leverage points with evidence gathered from implementations
    Strategy with leverage - How is leverage best used in developing strategic plans for systemic change?
    - How are leverage-based strategies best presented and communicated?
    - How are leverage-based strategies best evaluated and measured?
    - Systemic strategy (Murphy & Jones, 2021)
    - The epistemic benefits of a leverage points perspective (Fischer & Riechers, 2019)
    - Identifying conditions for systemic change (Kania et al., 2018)
    - Relative leverage: chaining leverage points (Fischer & Riechers, 2019)
    - Relative leverage: the context of the changemaker (Klein & Wolf, 1998)
    - “Systemic change labs” tracing and comparing the impact of interventions using different kinds of leverage
    - How to use leverage to develop better strategies for systemic change
    - How to account for relative context in the design of high-leverage strategies
    Execution on leverage - What are the best ways to target different kinds of leverage for systemic change? (E.g., how might we help actors in a system track all of the relevant paradigms?) - Fruitful friction as a tactic for transcending paradigms (Buckenmayer et al., 2021)
    - Systemic change happens via multiple dimensions of change (Mulder et al., 2022)
    - Design Journeys offers several chapters on taking action after identifying leverage points (Jones & Ael, 2022)
    - “Systemic change labs” tracing and comparing the impact of interventions using different kinds of leverage - How to design innovations for each type of leverage

    Some other key takeaways:

    • The concept of “leverage points” dominates modern discussions of leverage, but as Meadows (1997) herself proposed, that is just one paradigm we can use to view the best ways to produce systemic change.
    • There are good and bad kinds of leverage points! See figure 1.
    • A few promising insights about leverage have been proposed recently, such as the notion of “chains” of leverage points (Fischer & Riechers, 2019) and the idea of assessing potential for change (Birney, 2021).

    Leverage points can be futile, catalyzing, or transformative, and they progressively reform or regressively deform our systems.

  • How to learn the most from the Obsidian community

    Last updated Feb 14, 2023 | Originally published Feb 14, 2023

    1. Think of a curiousity or a question
    2. Search!
      a. … the web (e.g., via the unofficial Obsidian community search engine) b. … the Forum for information ( use the forum’s Advanced Search capabilities)
      c. … the Discord server ( learn more about power search tools in Discord here)
    3. Ask on the Discord or the forum! (Make sure you review the list of channels in Discord to find the best place to post.)
    4. Get more ideas and start again at (1) 😉

    If you learn to make the most of the different pools of knowledge, you can always find rich answers — and you’ll ask better questions, too.

  • A Keyboard Maestro macro for quickly and easily opening published notes in Obsidian

    Last updated Feb 10, 2023 | Originally published Oct 27, 2022

    Similar to Notes/A Shortcut for quickly and easily opening published notes in Obsidian, this macro makes it easy to jump from viewing a published note on the web to editing it in Obsidian.

    Don’t forget to switch Mainframe to your vault’s name!

    Download the macro here.

    I have it tied to a Stream Deck button, but you can configure it to trigger however you’d like.

    See a screenshot of the macro

    A screenshot of the macro shown in Keyboard Maestro’s editor.

  • ∎ The Last Answer - Isaac Asimov - Reading Session 202301282203

    Published Jan 28, 2023

    If you were an amoeba who could consider individuality only in connection with single cells and if you were to ask a sperm whale, made up of thirty quadrillion cells, whether it was one or many, how could the sperm whale answer in a way that would be comprehensible to the amoeba?

    𖠫 The Last Answer - Isaac Asimov

  • ∎ Data Science and Prediction - Dhar - 2013 - Reading Session 202301271312

    Last updated Jan 27, 2023 | Originally published Jan 27, 2023

    In situations where we are able to design randomized trials, big data makes it feasible to uncover the causal models generating the data.

    The author doesn’t make this point very big but it is actually quite important. There are many cases in which it is unethical to undertake a conventional scientific study of certain phenomena… Even though we know that those phenomena are happening anyway. If the data is collected “naturally,” however, we may be able to trace and track patterns in these data without putting ourselves in precarious ethical situations

  • ∎ Mexico bans solar geoengineering experiments after startup’s field tests - Reading Session 202301191446

    Last updated Jan 19, 2023 | Originally published Jan 19, 2023

    The company, called Make Sunsets, conducted the field tests without prior notice or consent from the Mexican government.

    This is one of the scary consequences of democratizing technology: volatility. It is getting easier for small teams to take big actions without oversight.

    And this is a well-intended initiative. The opposite of this would be ecological or environmental terrorism against businesses or governments perceived to be direct contributors to climate change, which surely will happen as climate change advances and people get desperate.

    At least this test was small:

    Iseman says he launched two balloons in Baja California last year, each carrying less than 10 grams of sulfur dioxide. That’s a tiny amount of the compound that’s typically released into the air by fossil fuel power plants and volcanoes in much larger quantities — so the release isn’t likely to have had much impact.

    The business model is interesting:

    Founded in October 2022, Make Sunsets started with the grandiose vision of releasing enough sulfur dioxide to offset global warming from all the world’s CO2 emissions annually. It’s already selling “cooling credits” for the service at $10 per gram of sulfur dioxide — even though it has yet to achieve any measurable impact and can’t guarantee that releasing sulfur dioxide at a bigger scale wouldn’t trigger any unintended problems.

    This has obvious parallels with Climeworks, who was recently paid by a few big tech companies to pull carbon from the atmosphere. It is hard to imagine this business model working at scale, though… surely there is a kind of prisoner’s dilemma at play that will keep every company from chipping in. Perhaps we need regulators to require businesses to purchase credits like these to properly recognize the environmental costs of business.

  • A Templater script for updating file titles and dates in YAML

    Last updated Dec 15, 2022 | Originally published Dec 15, 2022

    This Templater script gives the current Obsidian note a proper YAML title, date, and lastmod field. This facilitates integration with Quartz/Hugo.

    It requires MetaEdit (as well as Templater, obviously).

    Update file titles and dates with this Templater script

    let file = tp.file.find_tfile(tp.file.title)
    const {update} = app.plugins.plugins["metaedit"].api
    const {getPropertyValue} = app.plugins.plugins["metaedit"].api
    const {position, ...rest} = tp.frontmatter;
    let content = tp.file.content;
    let newFileContent = content.split("\n");
    let isYamlEmpty = Object.keys(tp.frontmatter).length === 0 && !content.match(/^-{3}\s*\n*\r*-{3}/);
    /* reset selection to the top of the document to make sure the action doesn't clear any text */
    let editor = this.app.workspace.activeLeaf.view.editor;
    if (editor.getSelection === "") {  // no text is selected
    } else {
    async function updateCurrentFile(someContent, someFile) {
    	someContent = someContent.join("\n");
    	await app.vault.modify(someFile, someContent);
    let propNameForLastModified = "lastmod";
    let fileLastModifiedDate = "\"" + tp.file.last_modified_date("YYYY-MM-DD\THH:mm:ss") +"\"";
    if (isYamlEmpty) { // No YAML yet
    	newFileContent.unshift(`${propNameForLastModified}: ${fileLastModifiedDate}`);
    	await updateCurrentFile(newFileContent, file);
    } else if (rest.lastmod === undefined) { // YAML exists but no date field
    	newFileContent.splice(1,0, `${propNameForLastModified}: ${fileLastModifiedDate}`);
    	await updateCurrentFile(newFileContent, file);
    } else { // YAML exists and a date property exists
    	await update(propNameForLastModified, fileLastModifiedDate, file);
    /* Now we can assume YAML exists, so let's add the rest of the metadata */
    let propNameForDate = "date";
    let fileCreatedDate = "\"" + tp.file.creation_date("YYYY-MM-DD\THH:mm:ss") + "\"";
    if (rest.date === undefined) { // YAML exists but no date field
    	newFileContent.splice(1,0, `${propNameForDate}: ${fileCreatedDate}`);
    	await updateCurrentFile(newFileContent, file);
    } else { // YAML exists and a date property exists
    	await update(propNameForDate, fileCreatedDate, file);
    let propNameForTitle = "title";
    let fileTitle = "\"" + tp.file.title + "\"";
    if (rest.title === undefined) { // YAML exists but no title property exists
    	newFileContent.splice(1,0, `${propNameForTitle}: ${fileTitle}`);
    	await updateCurrentFile(newFileContent, file);
    } else { // YAML exists and a title property exists
    	await update(propNameForTitle, fileTitle, file);
    new Notice (tp.file.title + "'s title is now " + fileTitle + ". Last modified date metadata updated to " + fileLastModifiedDate + ".", 2000);
  • Finding Leverage for Systems Change—Toward a modern theory of leverage in systemic design - A talk at ST-ON

    Last updated Nov 14, 2022 | Originally published Nov 2, 2022

    I presented a follow-up to Leverage is Fractal, Relative, and what else? We need a theory of leverage in systemic design at Systems Thinking Ontario in mid-November: https://wiki.st-on.org/2022-11-14

    To design for leverage is to identify the most powerful opportunities for innovation in systems change. In this talk, I presented a brief history on the origins of leverage theory — especially Donella Meadows’s “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System” — and covered recent developments in designing for leverage. Then, I outlined some challenges to our current understanding of leverage, calling for a modern theory of leverage in systemic design. I concluded with some ideas on what might be addressed by such a theory.

    Here’s the slides!

    The discussion following the talk was exhiliarating and so productive. You can watch the talk and the discussion on Youtube.

  • Why the grass is greener: Making sure that shiny new alternative tool is actually going to help you

    Last updated Nov 3, 2022 | Originally published Nov 3, 2022

    “The grass is always greener on the other side.” The popular idiom discourages whoever’s listening from seeking out alternatives, suggesting that other options always look better from wherever we’re currently standing. But it has a funny problem: nobody ever explains why the grass is greener on the other side.

    That’s because it isn’t. The truth is that your side is just yellower/trampled on/eaten… and that’s because you’re on it.

    Moving to a different place will be fine at first. Then you’ll use it, too, and eventually it’ll look the same as where you started.

    (In this metaphor, you’re a goat. 🐐)

    In workflow design, in addition to the novelty of “shiny new object,” new and alternative tools are great simply because they don’t have the cruft you’ve built up in the old tool. That cruft might be noisy notes, a lifetime of guilt-inducing task management, or even just bad habits and behaviours. The problem isn’t the tool. It isn’t you, either. It’s you and the tool.

    So, after switching, the problems seem to go away… only to re-emerge (possibly in a new form) later because the issues are generated by your usage, not by the tool.

    The solution is to fall in love with the problem, not the (shiny, potential) solutions.

    1. Determine what your issues actually are, and try to figure out why they’re happening.
    2. Then, abstractly identify how you might be able to mitigate the problems.
      • Don’t say “I’ll use Bunch,” say “If I standardize certain work spaces on my computer, I can develop muscle memory for using those workspaces, reducing distraction and allowing me to spend less cognitive energy on finding everything I need to get engaged.”
    3. Last, identify some tests or success conditions that will tell you whether the solution is actually working. This’ll help minimize irrational perspectives on how well the honeymoon stage is going.

    Only after taking those three steps should you choose a tool. Find something that can implement the abstract principles you’ve articulated, and be sure to follow-through on the tests.

    In doing this, you’re actually creating and implementing a rough design theory. You’re using design science to make your work as easy and engaging as it can be! High-five for that.

  • Automatically download Reminders into your Obsidian notes with Shortcuts

    Published Nov 1, 2022

    Want a quick, hands-free, one-step method to capture reminders and tasks into Obsidian? Take advantage of Reminders, Shortcuts, and Shortcuts’s automations feature.

    This Shortcut will extract all reminders currently incomplete in a given list and append them to your daily note.

    Here’s a screenshot of the full Shortcut

    Download it and set it up (i.e., answer all of the configuration questions). Then, create Shortcuts automations (via the Automations tab in Shortcuts) that run on whatever triggers you want (e.g., “Whenever the Obsidian app is opened” and “9am”). Add a “Run Shortcut” action to that automation, then select the shortcut you’ve just configured.

    🎉! Whenever the shortcut is triggered, the reminders in the designated list will be added to your daily note.

    You can now say e.g., “Hey Siri, add ‘Pick up milk’ to my Obsidian list,” and that item will (eventually) be added to your daily note.

  • A Shortcut for quickly and easily opening published notes in Obsidian

    Published Oct 27, 2022

    If you publish your notes to the web in any way and you are on iOS/macOS, here’s a simple shortcut that lets you quickly and easily open a note from your website in Obsidian:


    See the shortcut in action

  • RSDx and RSD11

    Last updated Oct 27, 2022 | Originally published Oct 21, 2022

    # Talks and workshops at RSDx and RSD11

    Recently I helped host a set of workshops and sessions as a part of RSDx, an online series developed as a part of the Systemic Design Association’s conference programming and as an addendum (or perhaps pre-dendum? I don’t understand Latin, I’m afraid) to RSD11 (more on that below).

    I designed one of the sessions, a workshop addressing the question “How should systemic design’s scholarship system work?” The session featured provocations from my friends and colleagues Lewis Muirhead, Stephen Davies, Marie Davidová, and Birger Sevaldson before groups split up to develop some design principles for supporting scholarship in systemic design. It was based on one of the discussion papers I authored for the conference:

    Then, the 11th Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium was the following week, held at Brighton University in the UK and everywhere you can connect to the Internet. I had a couple of contributions:

  • ∎ Design Science Dysfunctions - Listening Notes 20220525

    Published Oct 26, 2022

    # Notes from listening to “Design Science Dysfunctions,” an episode of This IS Research

    • Recker, Berente, and Gregor identify three problems with design principles:
      1. Design principles rarely build on existing work (They should be developed over extensive amounts of research (eg review articles), not one-off papers)
      2. Design principles are rarely very surprising or useful (“the UI has to be easy to use”)
      3. They often depend too much on context → indeterminacy
    • Interesting: even though (to her chagrin) she is the “[Design] Theory” person, Gregor doesn’t always include or look for a design theory in design science research. She said “A theory is just a body of work” in defense of why she doesn’t sometimes include a full Design Theory.
  • About

    Last updated Oct 26, 2022 | Originally published Jul 5, 2017

    # Hi.

    A profile photo of Ryan.

    I’m Ryan. I work at the intersection of technology, psychology, design, and the application of those disciplines to the advancement of education. I use design and systems thinking to search for strategic opportunities for change.

    I’m currently pursuing a PhD in Management (Information Systems). I hold a Master of Design in Strategic Foresight & Innovation from OCAD University and a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Psychology and Computer Science (Software Engineering) from Memorial University.

    My wife works in Geriatric medicine, and our greyhound has switched from a bad career in racing to a comfortable one in treat quality control.

    This site is a place to share my work and to help me connect to people like you.

    # Need Something?

    I’m a professional systemic designer available to support systems change projects, especially through helping develop systems-informed strategy. Reach out!

    # Site info

    This site is built on Quartz via Obsidian.

  • A simple method of appending or prepending to a section in a markdown file

    Published Sep 28, 2022

    This Keyboard Maestro macro demonstrates how to insert text into a specific section in Markdown.

    The core idea is simply to replace a heading with the heading plus the new content and some new lines in between.

    A Keyboard Maestro macro for inserting text into a section of a markdown document.

    Download the macro here.

  • Popclip Extension for highlighting in DEVONthink and PDF Expert

    Last updated Sep 19, 2022 | Originally published Sep 19, 2022

    The Popclip Extension below makes highlighting selected text quick and easy in both PDF Expert and DEVONthink. (If you use something else to review PDFs, it should be trivial to edit the script to use that application and its menu items instead.)

    # PopClip Highlight
    name: Highlight
    required apps: [com.devon-technologies.think3, com.readdle.PDFExpert-Mac]
    icon: symbol:highlighter
    applescript: | # pipe character begins a multi-line string
      tell application "System Events"
        set frontApp to first application process whose frontmost is true
        set frontAppName to name of frontApp as string
        if frontAppName contains "PDF Expert" then
          tell application "System Events"
            tell application process "PDF Expert"
              click menu item "Highlight" of menu of menu bar item "Annotate" of menu bar 1
            end tell
          end tell
        else if frontAppName contains "DEVONthink 3" then
          tell application "System Events"
            tell application process "DEVONthink 3"
              click menu item "Highlight" of menu of menu bar item "Format" of menu bar 1
            end tell
          end tell
        end if
      end tell Popclip Extension for highlighting in DEVONthink and PDF Expert