Exposed brick scrapes out just enough space in the cellar off Brussels’ central square to make room for 10 tables and a kitchen dispensing mussels, fries, and beer. I got in today from Dubai. Tomorrow, a workshop followed by a train ride through the Chunnel to London. 

What I most love about what I do is that I get paid to learn.

In Dubai, for example, Roger Martin, author of Playing to Win, told me, “No good idea was ever proven ahead of time with data.” And that thought has been infecting my thoughts like a virus ever since, unraveling much of what I learned as an engineer or McKinsey consultant.

You see, inductive reasoning says that if you know two points on a line, you can reasonably guess the points in between. Deductive reasoning says that if you know those two points, you can predict what that line would be if it continued.

In school – whether you study business, science, engineering, or philosophy – you are taught to break down the world through inductive or deductive logic.

But what if you are seeking to create something completely off the line, of no logical relation to what is already there?

In that case, you need an entirely new form of thinking. One that is still not taught in schools. You need to apply “abductive” reasoning.

Abductive reasoning is a form of thinking in which you start with observations, then seek to find the simplest, most likely explanation. You are not looking for the truth or for a rule that is true; you are seeking a good-enough explanation that may be true.

You cannot know if that new product idea or app or pricing structure of innovation will work. You cannot prove it. But … you can give it a try and see if it works. You can tinker, create a prototype, put it in people’s hands.

Is that how history’s greatest innovators – from Leonardo da Vinci to Thomas Edison – did it? They did not PROVE their ideas would work, the just tried it. When it didn’t work, they tried again … and then again … until they landed on a solution that did.

If you are venturing into the unknown, stepping off the line that represents what is already known, you need to shun inductive or deductive reasoning. When your boss says “prove it” you need to say, “I can’t prove it and that is what makes it so exciting.” You need to apply abductive thinking.

I think this beer cellar is invoking the philosopher in me. Time to get back to my mussels.