Abstract topics often form a part of group discussions in top B-schools. In this article, we shall try to understand the various strategies to handle the challenges in discussing an abstract topic. Given below is a 5-point strategy to do well in an abstract topic:
Understand the two-fold challenge
- Abstract topics are more challenging because they are perception based. The topic may be interpreted in different ways by different participants and hence may lead to a lot of confusion with respect to the key discussion points in a limited time span.
- On one side is the pressure to come out with diverse ideas, on the other hand is the pressure to take one thread forward for discussion. While diversity in ideas is indicative of a group with progressive thought process, it may lead to cross discussions and undesirable interventions if not channelized well.
Follow the inverted funnel approach
- This helps at the onset to think out of the box. The objective in the beginning of the discussion is to create a pool of ideas for subsequent discussion.
- Stretch your thought process to think divergently. It is suggested that you note down all the ideas as they come to you in a quick sequence. Once the list is before you, apply prioritization technique to assign a sequence to the ideas for discussion.
- Don’t be too judgmental about your ideas. This may prevent you from accepting the other’s point of view. In discussions on abstract topics, perception may act as a barrier; you are required to be open minded to receive the various points of view.
- Let us take an example to illustrate the inverted funnel approach. Assume that the topic for discussion is ‘Red or Blue?’. Now the discussion can take divergent tangents. On side, it may be linked to Coke and Pepsi, which denotes red and blue colors respectively, as used by these companies in their promotional campaigns and corporate identities. On the other side it may refer to the book authored by John Gray, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’, where Mars is Geographically a red planet and Venus is a blue planet. Yet another dimension of the topic may be linked to the scientific phenomenon of ‘vibgyor’, the spectrum where red and blue are at two different frequencies, wavelengths and speeds, but they still co-exist to make white light, which is the essence of life! Hence the discussion may happen on different dimensions of red and blue.
Treat topics in a lateral manner
- Try exploring multiple implications of the topic. The beauty of an abstract topic is that it may be viewed in different ways by different people, which may enhance the overall scope of discussion.
- Even topics which are apparently non-abstract may extend abstract vibes. For example, in a topic like ‘Do aliens exist?’, the conventional pattern of discussion may keep it limited to possibilities of life on planets other than the Earth, but stretching the topic laterally may get the discussion to the interpretation of the word alien as ‘foreigner, misfit or non-conventional’. Hence the discussion may stretch to understanding of aliens as people who leave an indelible mark on the minds of others, either through their achievements or acts of shock.
Follow the funnel approach
- It is not possible to discuss all ideas in the given situation. While the inverted funnel approach helps you to think laterally and widen the gamut of discussion, it is recommended that you start converging on specific discussion points after a while.
- Prioritizing the ideas and assessing their contextual fit may enable you to converge meaningfully and do justice to the topic in the given time. It is recommended that you discuss two or three ideas based on this priority list.
Manage time effectively
- Ensure forward progression of the discussion, rather than repeating certain points time and again. You need to appreciate the importance of adding value in a given time frame; so repetition may dilute the weight in your point.
- New ideas should not be encouraged at the last minute, as this is time for recapitulation & summary and introducing a new point at this juncture may disturb the time equilibrium.
Keeping the above in mind, it is suggested that you may distribute the time available for discussion in the ratio 3:5:2, among diverging, converging and recapitulating.