Startups Direly Need More Abstraction

July 29, 2016

4:00 pm

Using the concept of abstraction in our daily lives might sound a little odd at first. After all, it is a little… abstract. How applicable is it to real life? In a recent article, Vesper’s Jimi Smoot breaks down just how essential the abstract is to daily living.

He starts with a few choice examples: Breathing is an example of a totally abstract principle. We do in subconsciously, never thinking about it, never multitasking. Piloting an airplane relies on abstraction, too, as a handful of dials and knobs represent all the complex tasks that a pilot doesn’t need a PhD in order to use. Have you ever looked inside one of those things? It’s like a labyrinth of buttons with every wrong move being life or death.

Abstraction strips away complexities to leave the relevant: Take action A to accomplish task Z without thinking about steps B to Y in between. The fastest path between two points is a lot faster when you take a shortcut.

The actual term comes from software engineering. As Wikipedia puts it, the process “works by establishing a level of complexity on which a person interacts with the system, suppressing the more complex details below the current level.” But Smoot teases out the greater meaning:

“Businesses are complex, but we create abstraction by finding metrics to track and manipulate. Raising kids is complex, so we create abstraction by hiring help. Keeping our body healthy is complex, so we abstract by eating the right things and exercising.
The more complex the system, the more critical it to find some way to abstract away the details.
What will you abstract next?”

This is particularly applicable advice to startup founders and other entrepreneurs: Cutting your burn rate and repeating what works are ever-growing necessities. How can you remove the unneeded complex items and tasks in your daily process? By making abstraction a priority, that’s how.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He’s based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state’s slogan: “sayWA.” In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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