In 1960 Theodore Levitt wrote “Marketing Myopia” which questioned which level of abstraction was right for businesses to match their capabilities with the desires of customers:
Those behind the railroads are in trouble not because the need for passenger transportation has declined or even because cars, airplanes, and other modes of transport have filled that need. Rather, the industry is failing because those behind it assumed they were in the railroad business rather than the transportation business. They were railroad-oriented instead of transportation-oriented, product-oriented instead of customer-oriented.
In the dot com boom this was taken to absurd extremes, but I’m finding it using as a tool for product development, considering different levels of abstraction as an idea-generation tool. For example, we might generate different ideas for Sony as a portable cassette player business, a portable music business, a portable entertainment business, a ubiquitous entertainment business, and so on. Each time you go up a level, the possibilities also branch out.
But I figure someone must have already done this. Does it already have a name?