Monday, August 28, 2006


Levels Of Abstraction

One of the best veiwpoints to gather new ideas is by achieving an appropriate level of abstraction. For instance, in the 1950's, experts believed that the oceangoing freighter was dying. Costs were rising, and it took longer and longer to get merchandise delivered. The shipping industry experts downsized the crew and built faster ships that required less fuel. Costs still kept going up, but the industry kept focusing its efforts on reducing specific costs related to ships while at sea and while working.

A ship is capital equipment and the biggest cost for capital equipment is the cost of not working, because interest has to be paid witout income being generated to pay for it. Finally, an outside CONSULTANT globalized the challenge to: "In what ways might the shipping industry reduce costs?"

This allowed the shipping companies to consider all aspects of shipping, including loading and stowing. The innovation that saved the industry was to seperate loading from stowing, by doing the loading on land, before the ship is in port. It is much quicker to put on and take off preloaded freight. The answers were the roll-on/ roll-off ship and the container ship. Port time has been reduced by 3/4, and with it, congestion and theft. Frieghter traffic increased fivefold in thrity years, and costs are down by 60 percent.

Widening the problem by making it more abstract made it possible for the shipping companies to challenge assumptions, generate new perspectives, and uncover a new approach to the problem. According to his autobiography, Freud believed that one of the keys to his genius was his ability to widen problems and make them more abstract and complex. When he widened his problem space and made it more abstract, he would identify what he called his "missing links", he utilized his imagination, using what he called "free creation", to interpet the meaning of these missing links (gaps in information). These interpretations would sometimes lead to a new approach to a problem.

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