Sandra Geitz shares her thoughts with us about “free futures and pasts thinking” in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
This post ponders our habits of thinking and doing, and whether we can open ourselves to see and act on potential futures.
What enables and what inhibits us to think of possible futures?
What ifs seems to be freely imagined by the young. So what happens to our early innate abilities as we mature? Is it that we develop habits and rules of thumb to contain the complexity of our lives? Habits help us deal with overwhelming choices and pathways. Is that we notice that particular strategies work more often? More successes, and less embarrassments or failures are the result of sticking within certain rules and habits? Does training and schooling further embed our proven methods and shortcuts? We keep within these deep grooves of thinking and doing, often unable to imagine other or better ways of thinking and doing.
How to think and do with time and experience?
The diagram attempts to distil my own experiences and learnings, using abduction for problem-solving, designs and intuitive insights, using science of induction or probabilistic inferences, as well as deduction and intuitive judgement via experience. It also is based on Ackoff’s (1989) knowledge hierarchy from specific data, information, knowledge, to the wisdom of the universal. And, it includes and visualises concepts of design thinking versus science by Roger Martin (2007) and Doerfler and Ackermann’s (2012) intuition studies. Abductive, Inductive and Deductive thinking, adapted from Ackoff (1989), Martin (2007) and Doerfler and Ackermann (2012).
When I’m open and curious, fearless and playful, I recognise I’m more likely to use abductive thinking. This involves deeply noticing and observing phenomena, pondering what if and what might be, to generate potential or preferred futures. It is seeing new patterns and connections through those vast reams of data. This mode of thinking and doing aligns with problem solving within uncertainty and design thinking. It envisions a potential known outcome, and explores various pathways of what and how we may arrive at this future state.
Very rarely, in situations where I know many inputs what and their outcomes, I may use induction to infer how they relate together. At first this thinking appears similar to abduction, but it needs large samples and probabilistic conditions to infer the how. From my experience, it is easy to develop the wrong theory, as data is rarely valid for probability,.
Most often, in known environments, I’ll choose deduction to reach the desired outcome using known inputs what and methods how. This thinking generates predictable outcomes from known approaches. It just works (most of the time). I use this thinking so often, it becomes automatic habit or intuitive. In areas of considerable experience, I’m so confident I just know the outcome looks right or not. Intuitive judgement of experience.
So what, if we judge with time and experience?
The visual provides the clue. Deduction works when environmental conditions are stable and known, if connections between inputs and their outcomes are known and predictable. Deduction is established and validated in practise over the years from theories of induction if there is a stable environment/
And if the environment becomes turbulent or uncertain? Then, what if thinking becomes the best approach. Trouble is, it is directly opposite to intuitive judgement by experience. It requires us to put aside our wisdom and experience that worked in our pasts. We need to delve into data and emerging details, to become curious and child-like, exploring unknowns and novelty. Deeply uncomfortable, yet essential practise.
Ackoff, Russell. (1989). From data to wisdom, Journal of Applied Systems Analysis,16(1), 3-9.
Doerfler, Viktor & Ackermann, Fran. (2012). Understanding intuition: The case for two forms of intuition, Management Learning, 43(5) 545-564. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from http://mlq.sagepub.com/content/43/5/545
Martin, Roger. (2007). The nature of the schism between the design view of business & the business view of design, SMMRSD. Retrieved March 21, 2015 from http://summarised.co.za/