Analytical Thinking and Design Thinking (part 1)

“Most people, in business and elsewhere, have done very well on judgment thinking. Such people are rarely aware of the need for “design thinking”. They find it difficult to conceive that there is a whole other aspect of thinking that is different from judgment thinking. It is not that such people are complacent. It is simply that they do not know that there is another aspect to thinking”. — Edward de Bono

Most of us with a business (school) background are very familiar with deductive reasoning, somewhat familiar with inductive reasoning and not at all familiar with abductive reasoning. This very much reflects what is emphasised in business education and in practice.

  • Deductive reasoning starts from the general (rules, laws, etc.) and then moves to the particular (or from cause to effect). This leads to logical conclusions.
  • Inductive reasoning starts from detailed empirical reality and moves to general ‘plausible’ principles.
  • Abductive reasoning starts with (incomplete) observations and moves to possible hypotheses (“guessing”).

Now, analytical thinking emphasises mostly deductive reasoning and some inductive reasoning but no abductive reasoning. It also focusses on exploitation (refinement and efficiency) and on reliability (consistent, predictable outcomes).

Design Thinking emphasises mostly abductive reasoning, and it focusses on exploration (search, risk, innovation) and on validity (outcomes meet desired objective). (e.g. Brian Leavy, Strategy and Leadership, 2010:3)

In the business world analytical thinking is king and, admittedly, it has provided businesses with key insights. However, without design thinking, innovation and competitive advantage becomes evermore shallow. Companies are wise to create processes, which encourage design thinking as well: a balancing act of both analytical thinking and design thinking.

Part 2 will provide an example of a “design thinking” process.

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