The abstract and the concrete

I recently made a stupid book recommendation to a friend. The book wasn’t stupid but my recommendation was.

The more I read the more I see patterns repeating between things, and after a while I develop the ability to move from the abstract to the concrete and back.

Take for example the idea of antifragility, that as humans what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. You can read it in abstract form through a book like Antifragile, or in concrete psychology context in a book like the upside of stress.

Same applies to success. The abstract form can be found in probability books. Being successful is a matter of increasing the probability. The concrete comes in books like Grit, Mastery, or outliers.

Another recent example is complex systems. You can study them from the abstract mathematical chaos theory, or by concrete examples like marriage and studying companies.

The thing is people have different abilities when it comes to moving between the abstract and the concrete. If you are always abstract, you might be a non-doer. If you are always concrete, you may not understand how things apply in a different context.

My book recommendation was stupid because it was too abstract for that person. I confused them with the group of people I mostly hang out with, as they almost read the same things I do and we keep oscillating between the abstract and the concrete.

The first rule of communication is know your audience. I should take more into consideration how concrete or abstract I should be when I am communicating to someone. And you should too.


When I was working for I asked why we are not linking certain parts of the website. The answer I got was that we already experimented and it leads to dropping conversion, as users get distracted and drop out of the funnel.

My current manager links everything. In every document there are links to every other mentioned document. It is like an internal company wide web. At the beginning I was so annoyed by it. Especially when he asked me why something isn’t linked. I later realized it is a good habit and saves a lot of time wasted searching for the right document[1].

In my yesterday’s blog post[2], I didn’t link text to web pages I am referencing to not distract the reader. I put them at the end as footnotes.

I think important work emails should be treated the same. Linking too much in important communication distracts the readers and leads to less people getting the message. Also having too many links dilutes the value of links (if you have 20 links in a single email probably none of them will get clicked).

Unfortunately in big companies people optimize for being correct over being persuasive. This leads to overlinking. Persuasive communication requires less details. Correct communication is boring. Having a good balance is the key. And it is hard.

[1] Actually Google drive search is the only Google product where “Search” doesn’t work. You write the exact document name and it autocompletes something else.