Inductive, Deductive, and Abductive Thinking

Roger L. Martin in explaining how traditional firms differ from design firms1, mentions inductive, deductive, and abductive modes of thinking. The last one new to me.

Traditional firms utilize and reward the use of two kinds of logic. The first, inductive, entails proving through observation that something actually works. The second, deductive, involves proving – through reasoning from principles – that something must be. [...] Any other form of reasoning or arguing outside these two is discouraged and, at the extreme, exterminated. The challenge is always, ‘Can you prove that?’ And to prove something in a reliable fashion means using rigorous inductive or deductive logic.

Designers also use and value inductive and deductive reasoning. Designers induce patterns through the close study of users and deduce answers through the application of design theories. However, designers value highly a third type of logic: abductive reasoning. Abductive reasoning, as described by Darden professor Jeanne Liedtka, embraces the logic of what might be [emphasis mine]. Designers may not be able to prove that something ‘is’ or ‘must be,’ but they nevertheless reason that it ’may be.’ This style of thinking is critical to the creative process.

Martin explains abductive reasoning with the example of the Aeron chair, which Malcolm Gladwell also uses in Blink. The Aeron would never had happened if it weren’t for abductive thinking, as inductive as well as deductive thinking spoke against it.

1 Robert L. Martin, ‘Creativity That Goes Deep,’ BusinessWeek.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on August 30, 2005. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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