Past Trends rarely lead to a new idea…

From Observing to Wondering… Design Thinking opens up a new way of looking at things!

from observing to wondering

I trained as an engineer. My experience (working with some cool designers – a few of them from frog design) quickly taught me to unlearn a few fundamental tenets of engineering practices, and instead embrace some contrasting methods from the radically different approach of design thinking. The first shift in my approach occurred in the mid-2000’s when I learnt the power of moving from a vertical (first) thinking to horizontal (first) thinking. The second shift started a few years thereafter, and it has taken me beyond the realm of conventional reasoning.

Over the years (in part due to my scientific training), I have learnt to combine deductive (top-down) reasoning i.e. applying theories and premises to specific instances, with inductive (bottom-up) reasoning, using observations to build hypothesis and theories. The focus has always been conformance to theories or hypothesis, and the goal is to discern patterns, connect dots and build correlations.

But, I have grown to believe that at times we have to go against the rational extrapolations of data and rely on anecdotal observations and instincts. Many-a-times I find that both deductive and inductive reasoning fail miserably.

In today’s era of data explosion, where we are constantly looking for past trends and data patterns, I have started to question the very goal of looking for conformance and patterns. I have started – instead – to search for those samples of data that break the pattern and wonder why? I know it disrupts conventional wisdom – but I find that it gives me space to think beyond accepted norms, anticipate new circumstances and look for new possibilities. It is quite possible that my interactions with designers has reinforced my own rebellious and contrarian attitude… and given me the confidence to break tradition and opt for design approach of ‘what if…?’ So what if I am currently starting with an incomplete set of observations… I can come up with not just one but several possible explanations. Of-course these are limited by the available information and are often based on conjecture and designed by my imaginative faculties. But it may be the starting point for a very different hypothesis, which can (of-course) be tested over time.

If I had any initial doubts, they soon eroded when I found support from a credible source – an American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (sometimes known as the father of pragmatism) has argued that no new idea could be proved deductively or inductively using past data and in his writings he introduces abductive reasoning, characterised as guessing and an inference to an explanatory hypothesis. He compares the different modes of inference and explains that deduction proves that something must be; induction shows that something actually is operative (it never proposes a new idea for its conclusion); abduction merely suggests that something may be (and seeks a new hypothesis to account for facts).

We have seen ourselves that we can hardly ever explain a new idea using past trends and data patterns… a new idea usually takes form when an observation does not fit into an existing model and we try to make sense of the ‘surprising’ observation by coming up with one or more explanations and slowly arriving at the best explanation.

We tend to forget that data is about past, emerging trends are about the future? And that’s where the problem with conventional thinking lies. Design thinking has extended my outlook with the what-if approach and trained me to move beyond simply observing to start imagining, wondering…

I love thinking about ideas freely… and observing them take shape!

This article is a page from my diary: UnLearning, more specifically an interesting section on ‘Embracing elements of Design Thinking’.

This article was first published at @LinkedIn on September 04, 2016.

 

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