Abstract One of the major assumptions in Artificial Intelligence is that similar experiences can guide future reasoning, problem solving and learning; what we will call, the similarity assumption. The similarity assumption is used in problem solving and reasoning systems when target problems are dealt with by resorting to a previous situation with common conceptual features. In this article, we question this assumption in the context of case-based reasoning (CBR). In CBR, the similarity assumption plays a central role when new problems are solved, by retrieving similar cases and adapting their solutions. The success of any CBR system is contingent on the retrieval of a case that can be successfully reused to solve the target problem. We show that it is often unwarranted to assume that the most similar case is also the most appropriate from a reuse perspective. We argue that similarity must be augmented by deeper, adaptation knowledge about whether a case can be easily modified to fit a target problem. We implement this idea in a new technique, called adaptation-guided retrieval (AGR), which provides a direct link between retrieval similarity and adaptation needs. This technique uses specially formulated adaptation knowledge, which, during retrieval, facilitates the computation of a precise measure of a case's adaptation requirements. In closing, we assess the broader implications of AGR and argue that it is just one of a growing number of methods that seek to overcome the limitations of the traditional similarity assumption in an effort to deliver more sophisticated and scalable reasoning systems.