Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Abstraction Quotient

The idea of abstracting ideas seems to be haunting me off late. The journey was triggered by the team member's difficulty to reconcile new ideas. The words and perception seemed alien, you and I go through it when we visit an alien culture that is a tangent to our taboos or read a book from an avant garde author.

We’ve seen Intelligence Quotient quantifying one’s ability to see patterns, to predict the eventuality of sequences, word associations and such, crucial elements in problem solving.

We’ve also learned about the adaptive nature of humanity in paraphrasing and mirroring emotions through Emotional Quotient, a yard stick if I may simplify for empathy.

So what if there’s another form of intelligence, beyond numbers, beyond untying a knot, and beyond looking at problem solving at a linear or emotional level but a 3 dimensional creative level.

Hence the idea of ‘Abstraction Quotient’ the ability to aggregate and conceptualize ideas and reframe it contextually and seeing the idea through to its eventual application.

Perhaps ‘Abstraction Quotient’ already exists because of its close association to creativity, as the product of abstraction can be creative in nature. But I need to emphasize the other element, “reframing” the abstraction and the “application” of the thinking as you’ve brought the problem to a different contextual reference point.

What do I mean by that?

The news of China’s growth fuelled by domestic demand is currently lauded by financial analysts. Within a standard economic context of supply and demand, the creation of goods, the consumption of it, and through that, monetary transactions that propagate into a seemingly perpetual cascading chain of creation and consumption. The doubling of money as this happens adds to GDP figures and everyone is happy.

Reframing happen when you see that one cannot create out of thin air; raw materials and energy is required in order for transformation to happen.

Both requires genesis, thus it begets the question of whether this cycle is sustainable. When framed, then the answer is a resounding no. Put it simply, China is harnessing resources from nature and turning it into a ‘virtual’ concept; i.e. money, which allows the industry to turn even more raw materials into products – ad infinitum. Sadly, resources are finite.

To me, that’s scary, as I’m abstracting further that China has turned solid, tangible objects into virtual concepts that only exists in our head -> the value of money (ok, a bit of a stretch).
To extend the example; do you know the “flow” of your business i.e. the flow of “value” from raw materials to product and services? This idea by Shingeo and Toyada from the famed “Toyota Production System” (some may balk at reading this with their latest foobar) is supremely elegant.

Shingeo was looking at how he could take raw materials to finish products within the shortest time and with as little waste as possible. The smoother the flow, the faster and more efficient the organization becomes. He looked at continuously improving processes, skills, personnel, and ergonomics in an unending task of optimization. Fundamentally, Shingeo was a master at abstraction. He saw the relationship, between “flow” and “waste” as well as the need to eliminate waste. His paradigm was game changing – inventory was waste; can you reduce inventory and yet still meet the variable demand of customers was his problem statement. He saw that if the company can achieve sublime, supreme efficiency, the production system can be expediently ramped up and thus inventory as a buffer can be kept to a minimum. Better yet, interruptions in supply when inventory is low are not an issue or a problem; it is merely an indication/symptoms that there are inefficiencies to be ironed out throughout the organization.

So try to take that into the context of your organization, your business.

Do you sufficiently understand the ‘flow’ of value through your business? Can you harness it, dam it, control its direction, unleash a torrent or even uncover new spring wells of value.

Abstract your answer.

Try it.

Can you see the abstraction...?

p/s: To the well read or googled, you will find that Abstraction Quotient was coined by Shipley (1941) as a measure of cognitive impairment of shell shocked war veterans as well as psychotics. Cute.

Source: “A Convenient Self-Administering Scale for Measuring Intellectual Impairment in Psychotics”, Shipley and Burlingame, American Journal of Psychiatry .1941; 97: 1313-1325