As a leader, it’s essential to be able to think clearly about the issues facing your organization, and to plan appropriately. But it matters HOW you think.
In this article, you’ll learn about the difference between two key approaches to reasoning - inductive vs. deductive reasoning. We'll also provide inductive and deductive reasoning examples. You’ll also learn when each kind of reasoning is most appropriate.
What Is Inductive Reasoning?
Let's start with an inductive reasoning definition. Merriam Webster's definition of inductive reasoning vs. deductive reasoning suggests that inductive reasoning is about probability, or the likelihood of a conclusion being true. It's got to do with reaching a determination based on what you observe, using the specifics to move to a general conclusion or theory.
For example, if you see a line around the park for a smoothie van and notice that most people are placing the same order, you'll believe that the item they're ordering is pretty good. You might try it yourself. In other words, inductive reasoning relies on observing patterns to draw conclusions.
Since it moves from observations to theories, some people call inductive reasoning a bottom-up approach. Inductive reasoning is useful because it encourages people to work with a range of information. But a major weakness is that if your observations are limited or incomplete, it's unlikely that you'll draw valid conclusions.
Inductive Reasoning Examples
In business, many good problem solvers use inductive reasoning, without being aware that's what they're doing. See if any of the following inductive reasoning examples and resulting decisions sound familiar:
- You notice that the people who are most successful in your company did a certain type of degree course. You decide to target people following that same course in your next recruiting drive.
- You realize that employees who attend internal training courses that include short, instructive videos are more likely to successfully integrate the training. You decide to ensure that all future training includes this component.
- You notice that every time you carry out a particular type of job, you end up spending 10% more than the amount in your proposal. You decide to increase the projected cost by 10% in future proposals.
- You realize that when prospective customers see success stories from past customers, you're more likely to close a sale quickly. You start including customer success stories in every presentation to new prospects.
When Is Inductive Reasoning Used?
In thinking about inductive vs. deductive reasoning, it's worth knowing that there are different types of inductive reasoning. Indeed lists three types:
- Inductive generalization. You draw a conclusion about a situation based on observations of past similar situations.
- Statistical induction. This is drawing conclusions based on statistics.
- Induction by confirmation. You draw conclusions based on assumptions.
A good way to show or assess inductive reasoning skills is to use the STAR method. The acronym stands for situation, task, action and result. It provides a format for detailing observations, conclusions, and how those worked out,
What Is Deductive Reasoning?
To compare inductive and deductive reasoning, let's look at a deductive reasoning definition. Deductive reasoning works the opposite way round to inductive reasoning. Instead of moving from specific observations to draw a general conclusion, deductive reasoning derives a conclusion based on accepted facts. In other words, it starts with a theory or hypothesis, then sees if the facts support or contradict the theory.
One common form of deductive reasoning is the syllogism. This is also used to test the validity of a deduction. A syllogism consists of a major premise and a minor premise, which together allow you to reach an inference or conclusion. For example, you could say:
- all octopuses have eight tentacles
- a squid is a type of octopus
- therefore, a squid has eight tentacles
The above example relies on the first two statements about groups of animals being true to draw a conclusion. But even having two correct statements doesn't guarantee that you'll reach the right conclusion. For example, if you said:
- Emus are birds
- Emus can't fly
- therefore, all birds can't fly
The conclusion is wrong even though the premises are correct. It's an overgeneralization.
Deductive reasoning takes a top-down approach and is a useful tool, both in business and in life. It's a great way to use logic to make decisions, but it relies on the premises being correct.
Examples of Deductive Reasoning
Here are some deductive reasoning examples:
- You know you've got a meeting with someone from Brazil. You know that Brazilians speak Portuguese. Therefore, you greet your Brazilian visitor in Portuguese. You may also choose to have documents and presentations translated in case that's needed.
- You want to book a vacation. You need approval from your manager. Your manager isn't contactable today. Therefore, you can't book your vacation today.
- You know that men between 18 and 25 are your best customers. You know that men in that age group are interested in your experience products. Therefore, if you market those products to that age group, your sales are likely to increase.
When Is Deductive Reasoning Used?
In our exploration of inductive and deductive reasoning, we've already looked at syllogism as a type of deductive reasoning. But there are a couple of other types worth noting.
Affirming the antecedent (also known as modus ponens) means that if A is true, and A implies B, then B will be true. If Jim goes to work on Thursdays, and today is Thursday, Jim is most likely going to work.
The opposite of this is modus tollens, which means that if A implies B and B isn't true, then A isn't true. So, if Jim goes to work on Thursdays, and he's not at work today, it's probably not Thursday.
To use deductive reasoning effectively, it's important to:
- understand and analyze your data
- make an initial assumption or hypothesis
- test and validate that hypothesis with a possible solution or answer
- decide whether your conclusion is valid
Which Type of Reasoning Is Better?
Having looked at several examples of inductive reasoning vs. deductive reasoning, you might wonder which type of reasoning is better. The answer isn't that straightforward. In the main, we tend to use the different types of reasoning in different circumstances, but it's not always that clear cut.
Most people use inductive reasoning a LOT for day to day choices, such as what to wear to the office based on the weather, what mode of transport to take, and similar decisions. And within the office, you might use inductive reasoning to decide on what kind of training might be most useful for employees planning on moving to certain roles.
In contrast, deductive reasoning is excellent for deep problem solving and big decisions. If you plan to revamp your website to drive more sales, or identify what's likely to increase customer satisfaction, deductive reasoning might be useful.
And of course, you can use both inductive and deductive reasoning for a well-rounded approach to solving issues in your business.
Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning: Improve and Show Your Skills
Want to improve and showcase your inductive and deductive reasoning skills? Here are some tips. First, establish a baseline. Job Test Prep has a free inductive reasoning skills test and a deductive reasoning skills test. According to their recommendation, you should be able to complete both tests in less than 30 minutes. This will give you a good idea of where you stand.
Wikijobs suggests several ways to improve your skills. To become better at inductive reasoning, you can:
- Try to become more aware of the patterns and trends all around you.
- Test and improve your memory.
- Improve your emotional intelligence.
- Use what you've learned to try predicting the outcomes of situations and see if you're getting better.
Improving your deductive reasoning is all about:
- asking more questions to get as much information as possible about situations and events.
- focused listening and observation.
- running through scenarios and breaking situations into different parts to see if potential solutions occur to you.
- using puzzles to stimulate deductive thinking
Showcase Your Inductive and Deductive Reasoning Arguments
Whether you're using inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning, or both, you'll likely have to set out your thoughts, observations, conclusions and hypotheses to help with company decision making. One option for doing this is to create powerful PowerPoint presentations.
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Use Your New Reasoning Skills
You've learned what inductive reasoning is, seen some inductive and deductive reasoning examples, and have learned how to develop your capacity in both types of reasoning. Over to you now to make better decisions at home and in the office with your upgraded skills and knowledge.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in April 2022. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.