Thursday, August 2, 2012

Abduction, anyone?

If you're not a regular reader of BusinessWeek you may have missed the January 14th (2010) missive in their regular Innovations column. Here we have one that is close to the heart of many project managers:
the accidental nemesis to a really new-to-the-world idea, or as the authors put it: the 'accidental enemy'

In their column, entitled "Innovation's Accidental Enemies", authors Roger L. Martin and Jennifer Riel , academics at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto , posit that too many executives manage when they should lead: to wit, they rely too often on inductive and deductive reasoning.  They fail to embrace abductive reasoning when confronted with a never-done-before idea for project excecution.  In doing so, they become the accidental enemy of a radically new idea.

What, say you, is abductive reasoning?  It's the third leg of inductive, deductive, and abductive reasoning.  One only needs to search a bit in Wikipedia to get the ideas.

Inductive and deductive reasoning are the two we're most familiar with; they align rules and data--either the rules beget the data, or the data begs the rules. These situations are a traditional manager's view of putting the enterprise's rules with the situational facts.  Nothing wrong with that---some of my best friends are inductive or deductive reasoners--but even though one or the other works well in many situations, they don't always work when innovation is the order of the day.

  • Innovative ideas many times do not comport with established rules.  That lets out deductive reasoning. 
  • Innovative concepts are often free of facts, and seemingly lack cohesion and coherence among the available data.  That lets out inductive reasoning.

So, what do you do when faced with seeming unrelated facts or ideas that don't appear to connect? Abduction reasoning may be an approach.  To reason abductively is to postulate or hypothesize a situation that might be rational or consistent for what is known, but it may require a few leaps over the missing. Thus, it may be necessary to fill in the plot holes, as it were.

Haven't we heard endlessly about connecting the dots?  Well, having a skill, and a tolerance, for the emergence of a new idea by abductive reasoning is key to having visionary foresight. In an article in Strategy+Business, authors Tim Laseter and Saras Sarasvathy call making something out of seemingly nothing (or a lot of somethings that don't seem to relate) "constructive transformation". (I've not heard that one before, but I'm always open to a new idea). According to their idea, constructive transformers:
"... use the vagaries of fate to help them proactively shape their environment."

The genius of innovators is not to let their management impulses overwhelm their instincts to inspire, motivate, and empower.

Marc Andreessen--innovator and venture capitalist extraordinaire--said something similar in a recent interview: the mission of technology companies is to innovate, in effect: to continuously renew, even if it means to renew with legacy destruction.

Recall this witicism from RAdmiral Grace Hopper [esteemed software leader who, among other things, invented the 'bug']:
"Things are managed; people are led"