Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Abstraction

Howard Gardner, in his book Extraordinary Minds, concluded that exceptional individuals have, “A special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses (Dweck,Mindset).”

There is a stark contrast between awareness and arrogance.  Arrogance is taking the perspective that your strengths make you better than others.  Being keenly aware of your strengths can make you exceptional and possibly mad.  This is my take on Gardner’s now famous prescription in Extraordinary Minds.  Can and the possibility of madness are where I find myself existing at times unfortunately.  Dr. Andy Brothers introduced me to the concept Abstraction (of qualities) recently.  His introduction to such a concept was said in passing, but intrigued me enough to consider it beyond a simple concept.  The general concept is characterized by an individual only focusing on, almost obsessing over, the smallest variable in an experience so much that the majority becomes meaningless and intangible.  An example would be the student who received a B on a paper in comparison to the rest of his class and obsesses only on the fact that it is not an A.  They give no credence to the fact that a B is actually an accomplishment and although obviously some errors were made that stopped them from achieving perfection it is still an accomplishment to be proud of.  Another example would be a person who finds a way to disarm any compliments and only focus on his areas of weakness.  This can also be seen in those who only see the bad, only see the negative, and only see areas of discrepancy.  

Again the general idea is that this person is aware of weaknesses, but cannot bring themselves to see the strengths.  The thought and condition that plagues me is how can we move past abstraction into exceptional or becoming extraordinary?  Exceptional individuals with extraordinary minds have the capacity and potential to been aware of weaknesses and strengths.  Only when an individual is able to identify their strengths equally as much as their weakness can they realize their potential.  Our culture is, and unfortunately so, based on weakness focusing or as I like to call it mediocrity.  Most employers have measurements and reviews for employees that focus on areas where they can improve only; giving little focus to the individual unique strengths they may exhibit.  We have been taught that fitting a mold and doing many things average is the goal.  I suppose this is fine in an industrial age where continuity on simple production is required, however, we have moved far beyond that age, but cannot escape its logic.  The industrial age logic still has us working 8-5 hours, it still has performance reviews that focus solely on areas where a person can improve, and still have companies that actually discourage individuality.  These shackles of past logic must be shaken in order to free us to become extraordinary.

In order to become extraordinary and exceptional individuals we need to reject mediocrity and understand that while improvement in areas is always a good thing, focusing on strengths first is more optimal.  It is acceptable to be aware and identify your own strengths.  It is actually key to change your frame of mind in a way that discovering what your strengths are becomes most important.  Once you can identify your strengths you can become aware of how to use them most effectively.  This brings us back to abstraction.  Because we have bought into this old world ideology we have devalued strengths and thus push them away or allow our focus to shift quickly to weaknesses.  We abstract all the good and focus on the minute, finite amount of bad.  We dismiss positives and embrace negatives.  Embracing our strengths will make us exceptional, not running from them.  I will be the first to admit I abstract often and find myself only focusing on improvements and areas that need focus, weaknesses that must develop.  While progress is always a good thing, sometimes, especially in the case of only focusing on progress, so much that you cannot see the good in front of you, is an impediment of the very progress one desires.  Abstraction is the extreme we need to avoid if we are to become more than ordinary and mediocre. 

Do you find yourself abstracting often?  How can you move past this?  

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