October  2007     Edition 30
Abductive Thinking and Creativity

Abductive Thinking - No it’s not about aliens

, but the concept is alien to many.  Up until now we’ve talked about Deductive and Inductive Logic.   There’s another “thinking” mechanism that many believe is part of the foundation of Creativity.  It’s called Abductive Reasoning.  Here’s the short version.

Deduction goes like this;

  All marbles in your bucket are red.  If you pick a marble from your bucket, it will be red.  If the premise is true, the conclusion must be true.

Induction goes like this;

  You have pulled 10 marbles from a bucket, and they have all been red.  You plan to pull out another marble.  It will probably be red.  The outcome has a probability associated with it.  Almost all of our thinking is based on Induction.

Abduction works sort of the other way around

.  You find a red marble.   You observe that there is a bucket of red marbles on the other side of the room.   You conclude that the red marble probably came from the bucket with red marbles.   It’s a guess, but not based on either deductive or inductive logic.  There is no direct evidence, no set of experiments, no direct cause and effect, but a hunch, a guess, a feeling, a “relationship” that is “seen”.    In HeadScratching we call this process “Association”

We teach this by asking ….”Given an outcome, what could, in the world of both possibility and impossibility, cause this”.   You have to clear your prejudice of assumptions about the world and how it works, and also have an enriched and deep understanding of the subject.

This brings us to Creativity and Abduction.

  In order to use abductive thinking to create, you need a very deep knowledge base, sometimes called preparedness..   It is theorized that your ability to use abduction is related to the level of knowledge you have about the subject matter.  Looking at it another way … Most creations do not come from a blank sheet, but by pulling a picture together from the pieces that are known.  So if you’re going to be able to create a picture, you need to have a good knowledge of a lot of pieces.

Ah, but there is a catch to this theory.

   People who have spent many years gaining knowledge usually also have many years of experience in using it.  The more experience you have, the more difficult it is to break out of your deductive and inductive view of the world, so abduction won’t work well and won’t easily happen.   It’s believed to be the reason why breakthrough creativity, especially in technology,  usually happens in younger adults without the world of experience, but with a depth of knowledge. 

Does this mean you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

  Well first let’s get something straight!  I would be considered an “old dog”, but I would like to think I can learn plenty of new tricks.  Woof Woof.   The key here, especially when Critical Thinking for Creativity and Innovation, is to be able to put your accumulated biases, and assumptions, aside.  We call that emptying your bucket (See  The #1 Thing).

The Takeaway.
   Abductive thinking … the leap from knowledge and observations to a guess, a hunch, leading to an explanation, theory, or new invention.  This requires a deep knowledge, and an openness to new assumptions.

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