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Successification Toolkit: Making Abstraction more Concrete

Does the word "abstraction" make you feel a little uneasy? If it didn't - please let me know why it didn't because - it certainty did for me. Of course I'd heard about "abstraction" and I know what it means, but when I got exposure to it as term I needed to know around other people - woah. I'll be honest. I felt a little nauseous. For, it was around 2003 when I started my process of learning about the science of complex adaptive systems and I'd jumped into the deep end of the pool by reading scientific journals. All of the words and ideas were so disorienting but some how "abstraction" made me feel the most uncomfortable at the time.


Let's Talk About "Light Bulbs" Moments First


I can remember vividly my head hurting and my gut churning slogging thought this report. It was like every word was a different language, but it was written in English. Why was I don't this to myself? Well, somewhere along the like I had a "hunch" that one thing that made me successful was my ability to create simplicity out of complexity. I thought (at the time) I was a freak, so I hit my articles and never talked about it. I thought I was "weird" berceuse I like the elegance of mathematical concepts and the universality of that all makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself.


By the time I got to Forrester in 2008, I became incredibility interested other people "epiphanies" or "shared insights" or, what I like to call them - "light bulb" moments. There are different degrees of them, we will talk about that later - but for right now thing of someone sort of like Doc Brown in Back to the Future drifting off in thought sharing with Marty the origination of the "flux capacitor."


Sometimes, those "light bulb" moments (intuitions if you want to be specific about it) you have are expressed in different fields and they use different terminology. In others, well, they have a lot of terminology to describe it. In anything I've ever done that was successful (and it looks like a common pattern with other people I talk with) one of the critical success factors has always been separating out "the wheat from the chaff."


I've become fascinated with understanding other peoples "light bulb moments" and I talk about this all the time. I've gotten to ask: investors, CEOs, musicians, artists, salespeople, and lots and lots of business people about "light bulb" moments. What I know for sure is that 1) no matter who I speak with, a "light bulb" moment happened before a major success and 2) every one of those people were uncomfortable talking about it - the more well known they are, the less comfortable. Isn't this interesting? It's like they think you expect them to give you a specific answer, which they know they can't or are really worried you will judge them. They catch themselves always at the end of their statement and say things like "I don't know, does that make sense."




What Does a "Light Blub" Moment Sound Like in Real Life?


Here are a few ways people have expressed these moments to me. Some of these quotes are from relatively famous people but I won't share who here because it isn't really that important for this topic here.


  • It happens when I go to my absolute darkest places and I'm taking it out on my art, something just 'clicks' and everything changes"

  • "I see myself in a TV show and the episode is about me, but I'm there just watching it"

  • "I get visited by demons and then I have to appeal to God for help - somehow it comes - an the path is clear"

  • "Its the shower. I'm in there... suddenly its like time and space change and I draw out something in the steam on the door. I never have to take a picture of it berceuse I rarely forget it after I draw it. I did take a picture of it one time to share with a co-worker, and they looked at me like I was crazy, so I never did that again."

  • "I'll hold debates in my head and channel different personalities to force myself to argue for what I'm seeing. I've never told anyone that berceuse I'm scared people will lock me away as lunatic"

  • "I don't know how, or why... but I get so mad about something and I go into the gararge and physically punch the wall until the answer comes to me, and it always dose"

  • "I get this like hazy - so the ideas form as like dreams but... they aren't... cause I'm not asleep, but I'm not fully away...soo... its this "sense" - a misty, hazy image"

Here's a Brief Primer on the Human Minds


The human mind is a marvel of evolution, capable of processing vast amounts of information from our environment and internal states, interpreting it, and then acting upon it. This capacity isn't just about absorbing raw data but about making sense of it, forming patterns, and drawing conclusions.

  • Synthesis of Information: Every day, we are bombarded with sensory information: sights, sounds, tactile sensations, smells, and tastes. Our brains are adept at filtering out unnecessary data, focusing on what's important, and integrating different streams of information into a coherent experience.

  • Intuition at the Intersection: Intuition is often described as a "gut feeling" or an immediate understanding without conscious reasoning. Neuroscientificlly, these intuitive moments can be thought of as the product of the interplay betw


een the limbic system (emotive brain) and the neocortex (logical brain). Years of experiences, learnings, and patterns stored in our neural networks come together to give rise to these intuitive insights.

  • Symbols and Abstractions: Rather than processing every piece of information in its raw form, our brain uses symbols and abstractions to simplify complex ideas. Language is a primary example of this. Words are symbols that represent objects, ideas, emotions, and more. We also think in metaphors, allowing us to understand one concept in terms of another, more familiar one.

  • Broader Perspective on Abstraction: Abstraction equips humans with the remarkable ability to disengage from the present moment and to imagine, predict, and plan. Whether it's contemplating the mysteries of the universe, creating a piece of art, or devising a strategy for a business, the power of abstraction is at the core of our most profound endeavors.

  • In essence, the human brain's capacity for abstraction, synthesis, and intuitive insight underscores our adaptability and sophistication as a species. It's what has allowed us to innovate, create cultures, and shape the world around us.

The Social Dimming of Silence: Why We Hold Back Our "Light Bulb" Moments


At the core of human nature lies a paradox: while we're innately driven to connect and share with others, societal pressures often push us to conform and withhold our deepest insights. The question arises: Why do we, as intrinsically social beings, hold back from sharing our transformative "light bulb" moments?


The Deep Personal Fear: Trust & Vulnerability:


Psychology's Perspective: Dr. Brene Brown, a renowned social work researcher, has shed light on the intricate dance between vulnerability and trust. Her studies underscore that the act of sharing, which is intrinsically tied to vulnerability, can pave the way for profound human connections. However, when an atmosphere of trust is absent, the fear of judgment or shame often deters individuals from revealing their vulnerable side. Brown delves into these nuances in her compelling TED talk titled "The Power of Vulnerability."


The Neuroscientific Angle: Our brains are hardwired to detect and respond to threats. The amygdala, an almond-shaped cluster in the brain, plays a pivotal role in these emotional responses. When faced with potential judgment or criticism, the amygdala can induce a fear response, prompting individuals to retract and withhold their insights.


The Power of the Group: Conformity & Fear of Ridicule:


Sociology’s Insight: Irving Janis in the 1970s introduced the concept of "groupthink", which suggests that individuals, in their quest for group harmony, might conform to collective decisions, even if they deem them irrational. The underpinning reason? The deeply entrenched fear of ostracization or ridicule.


Biology's Evolutionary Explanation: From an evolutionary lens, our ancestors thrived on group solidarity. Being part of a tribe or group provided protection against threats and augmented survival chances. Consequently, evolutionary pressures have ingrained in us a fear of ostracization, making us wary of behaviors that might set us apart from the group.


The External Glare: Seeking Validation & The Reductionist Outlook:

Through the Psychological Prism: Some individuals tend to view their life outcomes as largely influenced by external entities, be it societal norms or authoritative figures. This "external locus of control" propels them to seek affirmation from external sources, often sidelining their intrinsic beliefs or intuitions.


Neuroscience’s Contribution: The prefrontal cortex, a segment of the brain associated with higher-order functions, has been linked with conformity. When external feedback clashes with personal beliefs, this region springs into action, nudging individuals to realign their perspectives in tune with prevalent norms.


Understanding these multifaceted influences, drawn from disciplines spanning from psychology to neuroscience, is paramount. It elucidates why we often hold back from sharing our personal insights. By recognizing and addressing these barriers, we can pave the way for environments that champion diversity of thought and encourage the free flow of "light bulb" moments. The Catch? We are Social Beings Conditioned to Conform


So What, Santucci?


Abstraction" is akin to a gateway drug—it's an introduction that can radically shift your perspective. If you approach it with a growth mindset and a "beginner's mind", its value becomes rapidly apparent. Yet, if you're always chasing a definitive "answer", you'll struggle with complex adaptive systems. These systems are riddled with paradoxes and require collaborative emergence rather than individual solutions.


Consider the paradox of the "light bulb" moments: individuals find success following these epiphanies, yet they hesitate to share them. If anxiety stifles the sharing of even these foundational insights, how can we ever hope to collaboratively address more complex issues?


What is Abstraction?

In a scientific context, abstraction refers to the process of reducing the complexity of a system by focusing on its high-level structure, essential features, or general principles, rather than its specifics or detailed constituent components. It involves filtering out - or "abstracting away from" - certain details to simplify patterns and relationships. This approach allows for better understanding, modeling, and analysis of complex systems or concepts.

Abstraction, as described, is a fundamental concept in systems thinking, as well as in various other disciplines such as computer science and art. The essence of abstraction, which is to distill a system down to its most essential features by removing layers of detail.


Relatable Metaphors?


Simplicity Over Detail: Think of a tree. Instead of focusing on every leaf, branch, or texture, just picture its basic shape. That's abstraction.


Zooming Out: Like zooming out on a camera, abstraction helps us see the bigger picture without getting bogged down in minutiae.


Essentialism: If you had to describe a bustling city in one word, you might say "busy" or "lively." That's abstraction at play, focusing on the core essence and leaving out specifics.


An Example



In this abstraction - by plotting out the altitude level of various people involved thorough a sales process and then plotting out time as a series of decision-making steps a customer may go through creates a different from of reference for a traditional sales play. The non-linearity is obvious and intuitive, making it the reality conforming salespeople more obviously. This helps with decision-making in these general areas.


Stakeholder Engagement: By mapping out at which stages specific stakeholders are involved, you can ensure timely engagement of the right people, optimizing buy-in and support.


Resource Allocation: Understanding who is involved at different stages can help in assigning resources, be it personnel time, budgetary considerations, or other organizational assets.


Communication Strategy

This abstraction aids in designing tailored communication plans. Different stakeholders might require varied types of information, and knowing when they're involved can optimize communication efforts.


Risk Management: Anticipating potential challenges or bottlenecks is easier when you know which stakeholders are engaged at particular stages. It allows for proactive measures to address issues that might arise with specific groups.


Sales and Marketing Strategy: For sales teams, this map can inform them about which stakeholders to approach during different campaign phases, ensuring a targeted and effective outreach.


Project Timeline Planning: By understanding the non-linear nature of the sales campaign and the involvement of various stakeholders at different times, project managers can create flexible timelines that account for potential changes in stakeholder engagement or decision-making.


Training and Development: If certain stakeholders have key decisions at specific stages, targeted training can be provided to them in advance, ensuring they are well-equipped to make informed choices.


Feedback Collection: The abstraction indicates optimal times to gather feedback from different stakeholders, ensuring continuous improvement in the sales and implementation process.


Change Management: When organizational changes are needed, knowing when key stakeholders are involved can aid in implementing those changes more smoothly, with the support of influential individuals at the right moments.


In essence, this abstraction provides a strategic roadmap for navigating complex sales campaigns, allowing for informed decision-making, optimized stakeholder engagement, and the flexibility to adapt to dynamic situations.


Bottom Line

It takes a lot of discipline and effort to create a distilled view of reality like this, but it's possible to do so if you remind yourself the purpose of an abstraction is to serve as a foundational model to identity broader patterns and observe how a system behaves. In this case, the system would be a complex sale. Abstractions are helpful in creating models of real world settings and allow other people to contribute idea in constructive ways and not provide "the answer"

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