This concept helps us see the "double-edge sword" nature implicit in much of our thinking, and therefore also of our profound insights. 

Abstraction might seem obvious enough, but let us trouble it a bit. Abstraction can help us think and understand, connect and transcend. Abstraction can also hide violence and suffering,lean toward reductionism, and erase the full complexity of what is. Thus we do use abstractions in our work and we also face and bring awareness to what abstractions obscure.

At the personal or internal layer, abstraction helps us connect ideas together into more and more abstract categories. Abstraction can also allow us to focus on some elements to highlight while diminishing others. And, as said above, we must bring our awareness to what is being diminished and how we make those choices. Shadows abound!

For us, abstraction somehow feels like it might dance with embodiment to open the way for thrivability. 

What does abstraction mean to you and how would you relate it to thrivability? 

Abstraction in relationships can help us see the patterns of our interactions: the way we keep trying to have the same conversation over and over. Abstraction can be a pathway to seeing the interconnection of all things in relationship: we all change, we are all perfectly imperfect, and we all want to belong.

And, relationship lives in the specifics of how people fit together. Abstraction in relationship can feel dehumanizing (it isn’t even me, I am just a foil for your issues). 

How do you engage with abstraction in your relationships? Do you feel comfortable with a different level of abstraction than someone else does? Do you have tricks for navigating that difference? Landing on similarities? 


Abstraction in organizations lets us standardize operations and procedures to make them replicable and reliable. Templates, frameworks, codification in general helps us to find generalized ways of working together so we don’t dedicate all our time to the specifics of each case. Of course these abstractions also smooth over differences which can feel less personal as well. (The German-Korean philosopher, Byung-Chul Han, explores our obsession with smoothness in his book, Saving Beauty.) 

We can increase efficiency and innovation with abstractions, but we can also lose the sense of human to human, drowning in bureaucracy. (Thinking here of David Graeber's Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy.)

How do you find balance between abstractions and specifics in organizations? 

We can better understand systems through abstractions too: what are the inflows and outflows, the catalysts and governors. Meta baby. Go meta. And again, abstraction can lead us astray, losing the crucial details of this system, this actor, this instance, but it doesn’t have to.

How do you keep the specifics of this moment and place alive when looking at systems?