What if Logic is Actually a Roadblock to Innovation?
“Do you have proof?”
No doubt you’ve heard this phrase often. It comes out of the mouths of colleagues and managers at work meetings. And it signals the end of many discussions and cuts promising ideas off at the knees.
For the last four centuries, this need for irrefutable proof and hard data has had an impact across the globe. It’s helped build society as we know it today. Ironically, in 2020, it’s also halted innovation and creativity—leaving managers and every one of us with a toolbox short of some key tools at a time when we need new solutions to complex issues.
And yet it will be difficult to know just what to even demonstrate during and after this crisis. The data you have from the past will probably be of little value to you when it comes to planning for the future. Will our business model still hold? How will our clients adapt their behaviour? The situation is leaving a lot of managers and leaders feeling powerless.
In order for our organizations and society to emerge from this crisis—and even to come out the other side in better shape than before—we must find the right balance between two systems of thought: logical and dialectical thinking.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand where our need to demonstrate everything comes from—our desire for data or, at the core, our discomfort surrounding things that aren’t immediately apparent.
First developed by Aristotle, logical thinking was considerably advanced centuries later by great scientific thinkers like Galileo and Descartes. Aristotle’s formula for logic took the form of a syllogism (where if A = B and B = C, then A = C), which set the course for mathematics and modern science.
Institutions of higher learning were built on this thinking structure—including management and engineering faculties, which most of our managers and leaders have degrees in.
As a result, logic—both deductive and inductive—became the indisputable path to finding “the truth” in modern society. We must prove an idea and solution using data we already have in order for them to have any credibility. For many of us, it’s hard to direct our thinking any other way. But it also leaves us powerless in situations where future projections cannot be based on past data.
We forget that Aristotle also left us with another way of thinking: dialectical. This system involves the human capacity to come up with hypotheses thanks to debate and consensus—the opposite approach to data and mathematics. It’s through dialectical thinking that nuances form, and it was how the concepts of democracy and politics originally got their start.
While logic allows us to diagnose what’s already happened and better understand the phenomenon we observe, it’s dialectics that open the door to conceptualization and the exploration of future alternatives. Many great thinkers, in fact, believe it’s the origin of art and design.
This system of thinking makes creativity the basis for many innovations, and unfortunately no longer holds a prominent place in our institutions of higher learning. As a result, it is by and large misunderstood in society as well as our organizations—and it’s often simply rejected out of hand.
Finding a balance
It’s because of this that I believe our toolbox—as well as those of managers and leaders—is incomplete. As we look for solutions to problems more complex than we’ve ever faced before, we’re not leaving room to contemplate future alternatives and creative ways to achieve them.
Without leaving our collective vigilance aside, we must come to recognize that there’s a time for logic—for data and mathematics—and one for dialectics, consensus, and design. We must once again find the balance point between these two systems of thought. It’s imperative that we start thinking of alternatives to what we currently know, because challenges outside the norm will require solutions that, at first glance, will also appear outside the norm. We must not let our need for irrefutable proof smother ambitious ideas.
The next time a solution seems illogical to you, instead of evaluating it using logic, try applying dialectic thinking. Go ahead and develop the idea. Arrive at a consensus. You may be surprised at where it takes you.
My team and I are working hard to deliver practical, concrete tools to help you find the balance between these two ways of thinking within your organization—notably through Design Thinking. Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed.
Note: This opinion piece is not an attack on logic, mathematics, science, or any of my university colleagues. I fully recognize how important data is as an indispensable asset for society and our organizations. My goal here is to propose other means of innovation and creativity.
Photo credit: Léo Caillard