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Web of Abstraction: Guidance notes

How to use the Web of Abstraction:

  • Gather the team and explain the purpose of this task: to help explore and define appropriate problem statements, using different levels of abstraction. The aim is to generate several different problem statements, to help choose one(s) that resonate.
  • Ask the group for a desirable goal in relation to the challenge, beginning with “How might we…” or “How to…” Write it down on a post-it so the group can see it, and place it somewhere visible (such as a flip-chart, or wall,) with space above and below it.
  • Generate more abstract options for this initial statement in ‘2’, by asking “why do we want that?” Record responses to this as options, each one on a post-it, phrased as a question, starting with “How might we…” or “How to…” Place these post-its vertically above the original statement, and connect them to the original option that generated them.
  • Take one of these newly-generated options and, again, ask “why” we want it. Record further options on post-its, which will be more abstract, and place them vertically above the post-it that prompted them.
  • When you have enough of these more-abstract options, take the original option and ask “what is stopping us achieving this?” or “what is getting in the way?”. Frame these newly-generated comments as statements, starting with “How might we…” or “How to…”. Write each of them on post-its and place them below the original options. These will be more concrete options.
  • Take one of these new, more concrete options, and, again, ask “what is stopping us achieving this?” or “what is getting in the way?” As in step 5, write each new option, framed as a question, on post-its and place them below the question that generated them.

Return to: Clarify the challenge (tools to support problem exploration and definition)

Source: Hayakawa, S. I. (1979). Language in thought and action. 4th ed. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich