🪴 Scaling Synthesis

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I don't want my tool to tell me how to think

Last updated April 28, 2022

Authored By:: P- Brendan Langen, P- Rob Haisfield

# Advanced tools can be seen as too opinionated.

Opinionated tools for thought can feel restrictive at the point of entry, limiting the user’s ability to work at the speed of thought.

One participant told us that Roam Research was too opinionated when she tried it. You need a course to use it properly and end up indoctrinated into the Roam way of thinking. Her way of thinking is different, so there was a consistent mismatch. In her words, she just wants to inundate her notes with crap but have it all searchable.

Another participant told us that too much inferred structure from his tools slows him down because that would force him to think about structure. For example, Roam derives its structure from indentation and wikilinks. If he had to think about that while he was brainstorming, it would disrupt his flow. He far prefers the agnostic structure of Miro and its infinite canvas because he can just structure by drawing without worrying about if it will fit properly into his “system” later.

Inferred structure necessarily encodes assumptions about what user behavior means. Not every user shares those assumptions.

The learning curve of most advanced tools adds friction to adoption. Roam Research’s Daily Notes paradigm feels significantly different from Obsidian’s blank page format. Further, if someone has a system already in place in another tool, the opportunity cost to migrate their structure is high.

Ultimately, this comes down to the fact that people are different, and the stage of work we’re in drives the tools we want to use. Some of us want a zoomable canvas. Others want an outliner. Even more of us want to move between these interfaces and a blank page structure, depending on what the current task demands of us. We operate in different contexts over different stages of work, and while our tools are moving towards flexible interfaces, there is still too much of a one-size-fits-all approach in current user interfaces.

Expert users tend to prefer tools that either share their opinion or are neutral enough to enable them to impose their opinion onto the tool, and not vice versa.