How to Rock Two Different Styles of Reasoning, and Why

Many NLP Practitioners are more sloppy with their thinking patterns, than they'd like to admit, or... would even notice.

This statement, right up front, is likely blasphemous.

And yet, it's probably true -- in spite of our best intentions. Because the model of NLP does not spend much time covering two fundamentally different styles of thinking, of cognitive processing. This distinction isn't quite built into the model of NLP all that well. Shadows of this distinction show up in a variety of places, but its not directly clarified with NLP.

Certainly, however, we would all agree that cleaning up our thinking patterns is valuable, as that can affect where we focus our attention, time management, relationships, emotional state management, communication skills, and the list goes on. Managing our own brains is highly important! And in doing NLP work with people, we and they are more likely to be effective, if we gain some increased measure of self awareness, first, and then, later, more self-control, about how we think about things.

We as human beings all use both inductive, and deductive, reasoning.

We're all capable of it, to some degree. And most people switch back and forth, without ever knowing about this oscillation.

Oscillating back and forth without awareness, between inductive and deductive logic, is just sloppy. Especially for NLP Practitioners.

So what are these two styles of thinking or of logic, and why are they important?

Inductive Reasoning aims to induce, or prove, assumptions.

Inductive reasoning assumes something is true or false, and works backwards from that assumption to see if that can be proven or disproven.

Inductive reasoning is not yet concerned with the now. Inductive thinking works backwards, and tries to work its way back, from the end goal, to the current state.

This is why inductive reasoning is also known as backwards thinking. Not backwards as in invalid or senseless, but backwards, literally, working back from an endpoint to the current point.

Sometimes you can't find a way to get back to now, and essentially, that disproves the assumption or goal state.

Sometimes you can find a way to get back from the endpoint to the now, and then, you've got yourself a plan or a process that should be reliable.

The downside of Inductive reasoning is that it involves a lot of baseless guesswork. Which can be valuable in some situations, but not all.

Deductive Reasoning is aimless, only using what we know, right now, as a guide.

Deductive Reasoning is a process made famous by fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes would investigate something, and seemingly magically arrive at solving a crime. But Holmes didn't make guesses, and as a result, he was never wrong. Holmes used deductive logic, exclusively, and began with the initial clues, following them wherever they led. He didn't operate from assumptions, and wouldn't chase down hunches. He followed currently known clues, wherever they led, and over time, a preponderance of clues and evidence would lead to the correct conclusion.

As a result of the absence of guesswork in deductive reasoning, its also known as forward thinking, or forward logic or reasoning. Not forwards as in progressive, productive, etc -- not really. More like forwards as in starting from the current state, and taking one step in a useful direction as chosen by facts we currently know.

The downside of Deductive reasoning is that it potentially involves a lot of wasted time and effort, chasing down many currently known clues that may not be relevant. There is no intuition involved in deductive reasoning. None. So any NLP Practitioner quoting "intuition" as the source of their intervention work... definitely isn't using enough deductive reasoning... which may mean they didn't spend enough time gathering information before relying on that magical intuition.

Become Hyper-Aware of When You Use Each.

The biggest concern with these styles of thinking... for NLP Practitioners... isn't whether you use both, or not. Every human being can and will. It's that you may not be precisely aware when you switch back and forth between these two modes. And if you aren't, then I guarantee you're doing sloppy work, because your NLP interventions are fighting moving targets. I'll explain further:

When you ask clean questions of another person, without judgement, tone, or leading language, you're learning about other people's thoughts, deductively. And you really should be in a deductive mode, most of the time, when building a map inside your mind of what is going on in the other person's mind.

NLP's presupposition "The Map is Not the Territory" refers to how our inner maps differ from actual reality. For NLP'ers, we work effectively with others by building and operating through the maps we build of how other people think and feel. That process of Map-Building ought to be done very cleanly, as we build a map of how another person thinks. If we ask clean questions, we get clean answers, and the map we build in our mind of the other person's mindset, gets increasingly accurate.

But if ever we disbelieve a client's thinking and tease them to stretch their beliefs, mid-stream, before we've built a more accurate map, then their map has the potential to change before we and they were ready for an optimal change. And that means, their maps start to change, while we're still building maps. We end up mapping a moving target, which makes it impossible to build a more acccurate map, because its continually becoming less accurate as we ask unclean inductive questions.

And if we ever act on a hunch, thinking we know best, then, we've gone inductive without thinking about it, and now we're selectively trying to prove our hunch was right. Well, we may be close, but close isn't the same as "dead accurate." So hunches and intuition are often bad labels for not necessarily knowing when to go from deductive to inductive, or back and forth.

So now that we know that haphazard use of both leads to sloppy work, how and where is using both valuable?

It turns out that judicious intentional use of both styles of thinking... is essential in doing any kind of diagnostic work. Here's why:

A doctor that diagnoses you only deductively, will order 1000's of tests. Because they cannot move forward with any treatment until they have all possible clues about what's going wrong. Your finger is hurt? A deductive Doctor would reply, "Gosh, that could be at least 2700 different things. Lets find out which!"

A doctor that diagnoses you only inductively, will make enormous leaps with insufficient information available, and will not stop to gather the right kind of additional information. Your finger is hurt? An inductive Doctors would reply, "We need to get you into chemo immediately, its probably cancer!"

What would a great diagnostician do?

If you go to a great diagnostician, they're going to start by building a map of how you're unwell, based on your report and your presenting condition. They'll look at those symptoms and deduce any additional information they can pull together from the facts that present.

But that's just the start. Then they organize, using the information available, the 3-5 most likely possibilities. Once they have that list, they go inductive in their minds, briefly, and treat those few possibilities as the most likely ones.

From that small list, they start ordering any tests that would help prove or disprove any of the possible causes or conditions. They run that small subset of tests, and look at the results, now back to doing so deductively. And the cycle continues until a hopefully proper diagnosis is made.

So as you can see, judicious use of going back and forth is essential to great diagnosticians, who want to get as quickly as possible to an accurate diagnosis, with minimal time, money, effort, and testing.

Haphazard or Sloppy use of both styles of thinking leads to sloppy communication and work.

So use deductive logic when modeling and map-building. Use inductive reasoning for goal setting and planning for generating desired outcomes. And most importantly, learn to detect, in your mind, when you pop back and forth. And as you do so, ask whether the current shift will be valuable in your present context. If not, switch back! Be precise, intentional, and reap the rewards!