Abductive and Adductive Reasoning

A few posts ago, I talked about how an organization's development and innovation processes should be different, as they have different goals.  I then talked about how differences in perceptual skills are better determinants of successfull innovators than the organizational discipline in which they reside.  At this point it may be useful to step back and look at the fundamental differences in the thought processes that enable people to be successful in the development and innovation processes.

As the development process requires a high degree of reliability and certainty, thought processes that involve inductive and deductive reasoning are most appropriate.  Inductive reasoning determines rules by moving from specifics to generalities.  For example, if every time we touch ice it is cold, we can then make a rule that all ice is cold.  Deductive reasoning determines conclusions by moving from generalities to specifics.  For example, if we know that all ice is cold and we are told that an object is made of ice, we conclude that the object will be cold.  Both of these types of reasoning work hand-in--hand, and can be proven or disproven by observing or experiencing additional examples.

In contrast, the innovation process requires the creation of highly plausible hypotheses and solutions that are not readily observed or experienced - at least not in the current context.  The thought processes most applicable in these circumstances are abductive and adductive reasoning.  These types of reasoning require that intuition and creativity are applied to observed and experienced facts.

Abductive reasoning determines plausible hypotheses.  For example, abductive reasoning would be used to determine hypotheses for why ice would be cold.  Further investigation beyond external observation would be required to prove or disprove each hypothesis proposed.  Adductive reasoning determines plausible solutions.  For example, depending upon why ice is cold, we may develop new solutions for how to make ice.  Each solution would need to be tested through experimentation.  Both of these types of reasoning also work hand-in-hand.

We can see how different types of reasoning are applicable in different situations.  We can also see how different types of reasoning are important in any functional discipline in an organization.  Both innovation and development groups need multidisciplinary teams. When selecting people to work in either group, it's much more important to assess how they approach identifying and solving problems than which discipline they come from.