Play with Abstractions



Moving between the concrete and the abstract is a fundamental aspect of Observation. This Observation Axis enables you to see things differently and make surprising connections (see also: Fuse).

When you Observe a subject through abstract glasses, you can focus on traits that might be masked by too many details otherwise. Abstraction, by definition, simplifies what you Observe, whether it is a random subject you encounter or a problem you are trying to solve. The new traits you reveal and the inherent simplification might be where you discover things that will lead to a creative insight or send you into further, unexpected exploration.

Abstraction is a spectrum and a space. There are multiple levels of abstraction you can apply and infinite dimensions you can abstractify — each level and dimension will provide you with a different set of insights. Moving between them can often be insightful by itself.

actionable steps

No matter what you observe, explore it by applying different Abstraction Levels and different Abstraction Dimensions. Notice new traits and various associations. Consider their impact on how you perceive the observed subject.

Apply this practice both to physical subjects and scenes and conceptual ones like ideas.

As you play with different Abstraction Levels and Dimensions, consider them as metaphors that could be applied to other contexts and domains. This could become the basis for unexpected Fusions.

Don’t get hooked on one Abstraction Level and one Dimension, even if you find it useful. Continue to move on the Abstraction Spectrum and in the Abstraction Space.

Consider the difference in what you Observe as you change Abstraction Levels and Dimensions. The difference itself can be the source of valuable insights.


Example 1

Consider how children play with ordinary objects and turn them into something new and exciting, like turning a cardboard box and using it as a boat, a castle, a spaceship, or anything remotely resembling a box. What enables this mental creation (which is obviously imaginative), is first stripping the subject of the play from its concrete details. Forgetting what the box was designed for and the concrete features that make it nothing more than a box is the key to turning it into something fantastical.

Example 2

One of the most known Creativity tests involves trying to find as many uses for an everyday object. This challenge requires you to move between different levels of abstraction — to ignore some of the details.

Example 3

An effective way to generate innovative solutions to a problem is to strip it of some details and turn it into a more abstract problem. Sometimes, the devil is in the details, but often, the solution reveals itself when ignoring them.

Example 4

Observe an everyday object. Describe it in writing or draw it using different Abstraction Levels. This is an excellent exercise for practicing abstract observation and moving between various Abstraction Levels.

further exploration

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