The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive AdvantageIn developing a design-thinking toolbox, one skill that must be added is abductive thinking.  First, I know.  I had to add the term to my dictionary.  A concept introduced by Charles Sanders Pierce in the twentieth century, here’s the idea:

“It is not possible to prove any new thought, concept, or idea in advance; all new ideas can be validated only through the unfolding of future events.  To advance knowledge, we must turn away from our standard definition of proof–and instead stare into a mystery to ask what could be.  The answer, Pierce said, would come through making ‘a logical leap of the mind’ or an ‘inference to the best explanation’ to imagine a heuristic for understanding the mystery (p. 25, The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage).”

That’s a lot…I know, but you need to get this.  This is HUGE!  And it affects all of us, or at least the many of us who are part of organizations that are more comfortable doing again what used to work, even though we know deep down that it is not really working anymore.

Here’s where abductive reasoning comes into play.  Standard operating procedure for most organizations is to fall into the trap of analytic thinking.  Proof that something ought to be done is based on past results.  This becomes the default because intuitive thinking, “knowing without reasoning,” is too scary.  It’s about protecting against the outcome that you can’t possibly know.  As Glen Frey said in Life in the Fast Lane, “Are you with me so far?”

It leads to “worshiping at the altar of reliability (p. 24)” as opposed to pursuing validity.  How does this come into play?  If in your organization you find yourself defaulting over and over again to “we’ve always done it this way” and shying away from exploring new opportunities…then you’re probably settling for reliable over the hard work of searching for validity.

Design-Thinking: Abductive Reasoning
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  • Mike Wardell

    There seems to be some synergy with this concept and the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop originally popularized by John Boyd in the 80’s Especially the feedback loop with unfolding reality. Just a thought.

  • Mark Howell

    Thanks for jumping in Mike! Agree with you…first tripped across the feedback loop concept with Senge’s Fifth Discipline. Very much part of abductive reasoning and willingness to begin to test heuristic before it becomes an algorithm.