Enabling environment

From notes.andymatuschak.com : Enabling environment

An enabling environment significantly expands its participants’ capacity to do things they find meaningful and important.

Andy's arguments:

Andy mentions that Most games aren’t enabling environments which I find interesting because Games are inherently engaging mediums. But not all engaging mediums are enabling environments. Thinking back to Three engagement factors, a common pattern across the examples is the environment of curiosity: enabling environments provide a space and tools to navigate that space towards your own personal goals (and not the goals that the environment places upon you like in games or school)


  • Schools provide the goal of grades and the space of lectures, worksheets, and projects, but the goal of maximizing grades is not truly meaningful. This makes school a puzzle to achieve a goal that is not personally meaningful.

  • Y Combinator provides the space and tools. Network of people, access to investors, events, time to work on your project, investing.

  • Most games provide a goal, space, and tools and act as a sort of enabling sub-environment because they do "expand participants' capacity to do things they find meaningful and important" but those things are what the game _wants_ you to find meaningful and are not meaningful personally.

  • Great software (e.g Photoshop) gives you a canvas on which to work on and tools to manipulate that canvas. Allowing you to pursue your own goals, or formulate new goals in this environment.

  • Densely-connected evergreen notes build a space along with the tools of navigating and interlinking ideas which help to formulate new goals. The tools of connected notes are more nuanced and externalized (not stuck inside your mind) than regular note-taking which is what makes this a stronger enabling environment.

  • Minecraft was the first example I came up with for curiosity: the intersection between tools and space. The combination of these engages you towards creating your own goals and is one of the most productive and enabling forms of engagement.



  • What are the qualities to design spaces and tools for effective enabling environments?
  • How can engagement factors interface well with each other?
  • How can you use the model of creating an enabling environment to make different disciplines more enabling: education, software, writing.
  • Come up with my own definition of an enabling environment
    • An enabling environment provides the space and the tools for participants to come up with and work towards meaningful goals