habit zero #089



Yesterday, I concluded my reflection on the Insights I had captured with the following statement:

Don’t judge your abstractions by evaluating their validity. Use them to capture creative Insights. If some of these Insights work — use them.

And with that cryptic message I promised a follow-up today. So, here’s the thing…

Abstractions are useful. When you take a step back from the concrete details of a problem and see it abstractly, you are able to see more possible solutions. The solution space becomes larger the more abstract the challenge is.

Let’s say you are managing a group divided into two physical sites — each on a different continent. You realize this imposes a challenge. There’s the time difference, the geographical distance, maybe a language barrier, and possibly cultural differences — all are potential issues when you need to work seamlessly as one team.

Now, you can certainly try to address this challenge by analyzing its concrete details. But let’s try to abstract it. The first abstraction that came to my mind was Building a Bridge.

At this point one might ask: is this a valid abstraction? Are there better abstractions to this concrete challenge? There might be. But let’s put these questions on hold, and just flow with Building a Bridge.

Here are a few insights I came up with associatively when I thought about building bridges:

  • Most bridges are permanent: they are there 24/7 — they are not being built just when you need them.
  • I thought about the viral photos of the Golden Bridge in Vietnam with the giant hands that seems to hold it.
  • I saw a crane in a construction site, and although there was no bridge being built there, the structure of the crane reminded me of a bridge, so I took its photo.
  • And with the help of Google Photos, I found a photo I took during a vacation in Italy — a photo of Alpine Slides — which the image search algorithm recognized as a bridge for obvious reasons.

So, I have four Insights: a thought, a memory of a photo I saw on the Web, an Insight from a deliberate creative exploration, and a photo from my family vacation I found thanks to Google’s search algorithm. All four were inspired in one way or another by the Building a Bridge abstraction. None of them was derived from the concrete problem I wish to solve: overcoming the geographical distance between the two parts of my team.

And this is exactly the right time to consider if there’s anything in these Insights that can work in the context of my concrete challenge.

A 24/7 communication channel (as opposed to having to set up a meeting) might be a good idea. Imagine an always-on video conference room where people can simply walk in and use as a collaborative work space across the two remote sites.

How about creating joint, exciting experiences — an idea inspired by the alpine slides although they have nothing to do with bridges. And on that note, the idea of a vacation abroad might be applied: what if people will host one another in their homes when visiting the remote site, instead of just booking a hotel room?

Some of these ideas might be trivial. Others might seem infeasible or just bad ideas. That’s exactly what I mean by analyzing what can work. If I’m lucky, I might find one or two to be worth considering further. If I’m not, I’ll just have to try again, maybe with a different abstraction.

The point is that I wouldn’t have thought about many of these ideas if I was drowning in the details of the concrete problem. I used the abstraction as a portal to a whole new space of possibilities. So, the question “is the abstraction valid?” is not really relevant. If it can help me come up with Insights and ideas, it’s good enough. You know what? It’s even perfect! I rather spend my time on analyzing the concrete ideas I came up with instead of questioning the validity of the abstraction I used.

So, to summarize, here’s the creative exploration approach to ideation:

  • Phrase your challenge as an abstract opportunity
  • Look for Insights inspired by the abstract phrase
  • Use the Insights to come up with ideas for the concrete challenge
  • Analyze the feasibility and effectiveness of the ideas
  • Repeat as needed

Oh and did I mention we have an entire Ideation channel designed to help you do that?

now it is your turn… be creative!



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