Sherlock often says, “If you remove the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
Most of us are conditioned to think deductively like Sherlock – we remove the stuff that’s wrong, or the messy outliers, or the counter-intuitive, or the inaccessibly complex, and what we are left with, as long as there is enough of it, must be right.
We have a tendency to lazily rather than skilfully apply Occam’s razor – a principle that states among competing hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
There is a profound artistry in making things simple and elegant, but that’s a world away from making things simplistic and reaching for the most obvious or least complex option.
There’s a big difference between making something better and making it less rubbish.
Sherlock thinks deductively; he walks into a room where the event had already happened, there’s loads of information so he applies deduction to sift through it; it’s an efficient, logical way of thinking. However, it’s a reductive, filtering process of top-down logic that is only as good as the hypothesis you are exploring, the assumptions that you make and the questions that you ask.
Deductive enquiry begins with an observation of the system at large, makes guesses intended to drill-down and work out what’s going on at a more detailed level of reality.
By contrast, Dr Who thinks inductively; he gets in amongst the live action and makes a detailed, specific observation about one particular Dalek, and then extrapolates that detail out to something he can use to undermine and defeat the entire Dalek army.
Inductive thinking is an imaginative thought process based on concrete, sensory experience. It begins with discoveries based on reality with all of its messy detail and complexity and then extrapolates those discoveries to see if they make sense of the larger system.
In organisational activities we often see both types of observation & enquiry:
Deductive, top-down thinking would run a survey of their people/customers and then deductively reduce that generalised information to try to guess what’s going on at the level of experience.
Inductive thinking would go and observe the workplace or the customer experience and then extrapolate that concrete observation to make sense of what’s going on at a larger level.
Typically, creative agencies think bottom-up, understanding the individual first and engaging their imagination, whereas management consultants with MBA’s think top-down, looking at the data from the whole population first and making assumptions often without observation.
The challenge in working with humans is that, to be credible, we need to be in data-driven Sherlock world but to be pragmatic, effective and discover new insights we need to be in organic, experience-driven Dr. Who world.
Ideally we need think like both; can we be Dr. Who to make discoveries or create stuff, and Sherlock to test and measure it?