Abstract Language: Collaboration

“Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature.”
Josef Albers


Abstract Language: Collaboration

Collaboration is about getting more than you could imagine.

Let us illustrate with an example!

Pretend that you are a party planner. You are hired for a job and you have vision in your mind. You are thinking Old South with gentlemen and southern belles as a theme. Your client is from the south but now is in New York.

You plan for everything. You hire a string quartet to play the waltz. You hire some local dancers to dress up in hoop skirts and top hats to quietly dance in the background. You talk to the bartender about mint juleps.

In your mind, the centerpiece of the party is a big cake. You are thinking a tiered cake with two figurines on top like a wedding cake, but instead it is two dancers dressed in hoop and top hat. Charming.

You could tell the baker exactly what you want and you would get just that.

But, instead, you decide to use abstract language. You talk to the baker about the pride of the old south, how they tried to be genteel in a new world and the world of debutants and coming out parties.

The baker comes back in a few days with three ideas.

One is a cake that is tiered but instead there is space between the tiers held up by columns that look like they are from a mansion. In the spaces are small hand-molded chocolate figurines that look like a miniature ballroom.

Another is a huge chocolate cake and his idea is that at the end of party to douse the cake in brandy and set it on fire! It is the burning of Atlanta from Gone with the Wind and the guests will eat warm cake with melted chocolate.

The third idea is a very large cake on a lazy Susan that rotates. Small tubes run through the cake with propane to have tiny gas lanterns. It is a white cake but, when sliced, you see a chocolate silhouette of a woman in a hoop skirt.

You choose the first, maybe. But, what you got was far more than you could have imagined. This is because the baker has a much larger toolkit of ideas than you do because it is his area of expertise.

You are happy. The baker is happy to have been able to express himself and add in a novel way to the party. Both of you want to work together again!

I know that we live in a Starbucks World where we can get exactly what we ask for. But asking the expert on the other side of the desk for ideas when you make the final decision can bring you much more interesting stuff.

Learning to use abstract language, especially when you have a vision of what you want, is hard. It takes practice and a weighing of your fellow man’s capacity.

However, you do want a rich life full of surprises. Don’t you?

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