Dialectical Enquiry

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History of Dialectic Inquiry (Dialectics)

Dialectic Inquiry or Dialectics has a long history during which the meaning and understanding of the terminology changed. In Asia, the idea that everything is made of opposites, yin and yang, goes back to I Ching around 3,000 years ago, and the Taoist master Lao Tzu around 2,500 years ago. Taoism holds that change is the only constant. Taoist philosophy also learns that "gradual change results in a sudden change of form (hua)". Also around 2,500 years ago, in ancient Greece, Heraclites had the idea that all change comes through the struggle of opposites. The Aztecs also held the idea of the earth is made of opposites. The Lakotas in North America shared this belief. In Plato's dialogues, Socrates typically "argues" by means of cross-examining of someone else's assertions. In this way he draws out the inherent contradictions within the position of his opponent. Aristoteles compared Dialectics with Rhetoric (the art of convincing others), saying that dialectics are dealing with an upright looking for the truth. For an unknown reason, the idea of everything being made of opposites died out in the western world, until Kant and Hegel revitalized the idea of dialectics at the time the industrial revolution was beginning. Finally Fichte made the implicit triad existing in Hegel's work explicit, by clearly distinguishing between Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis, and this idea was subsequently extended by Marx and Engels.

What is dialectics? Definitions

Dialectics is a process for handling (seemingly) opposing forces (paradoxes). Here are some definitions:

dialectic inquiry dialectics
  • A logical process of arriving at the truth by putting in juxtaposition contrary propositions; a term often used in medieval philosophy and theology, and also in the writings of Hegel and Marx.
  • A philosophical term applied to methods of debate or argumentation that seek to prove or disprove the truth of something by the rules of logic or the laws of reasoning.
  • A thinking and communication process based on change through the conflict of (seemingly) opposing forces (paradoxes)
  • Compare the picture to appreciate the important difference between dialectics and a trade-off (~mix), a dilemma, a puzzle, and an average.

Benefits of the Dialectic Inquiry Method

Strategy, Management and Business Ethics are all complex by nature. Dialectics offer a number of advantages to those that must deal with this inherent complexity, and with these seemingly contradicting forces (tensions).

De Wit and Meyer (Strategy: Process, Content, Context) mention the following advantages of taking a dialectical approach to strategic paradoxes and complexity (instead of treating the tensions as puzzles, dilemma's or trade-offs or taking the average):

  1. A range of ideas can be exploited
  2. Help focus on points of contention (critical points)
  3. Provides a stimulus for bridging seemingly irreconcilable opposites
  4. Provides a stimulus for creativity (trying to find a synthesis, which is better than the trade-off between the opposites)

A method resembling Dialectics is the Devil's Advocate Approach. This method is also useful in exposing underlying assumptions, but has a tendency to emphasize the negative, whereas dialectical inquiry is a more balanced and harmonious approach.

Book: Bob de With and Ron Meyer - Strategy: Process, Content, Context

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Book: Barry Johnson - Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems

Book: Charles M. Hampden-Turner, Fons Trompenaars - Building Cross-Cultural Competence..

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Forum discussions about Dialectical Enquiry - Dialectics. Below you can ask a question about this topic, share your experiences, report a new development, or explain something.

🔥 Hypothesis Driven Approach to Strategy Consulting
An hypothesis is a testable statement about the relationship between two or more variables or a proposed explanation for some observed phenomenon. It can include the initial assumptions, or it may be ...
Comments8 comments
topic Paradoxes in Management
As pointed by Eisenhardt, a Paradox is the simultaneous existence in the organization of two (seemingly) inconsistent states, such as “empowerment and conformance”: “old and new” (Eisenhardt 2000:...
topic Consequences of a Dialectical Worldview
The essential characteristic of the dialectical method is that it considers historical and social phenomena in continuous movement. It explains the laws that govern economic and social structures, the...
topic Paradoxical Leadership
An interesting recent article on dialectics argues that good leaders should not focus so much on being consistent in their decision making, sticking to their commitments, and remaining on message. The...

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Best Practices

The best, top-rated topics about Dialectical Enquiry - Dialectics. Here you will find the most valuable ideas and practical suggestions.

🥇 Dealing with Paradoxes in Organizations
Organizations are paradoxical in lots of ways and executives have to decide what to do with the intrinsically contradicting nature of many managerial issues. It's useful to distinguish two (paradoxic...
Comments5 comments

🥈 Reflective Urgency: Critical Thinking AND Acting Quickly
The best way to respond to situations depends. One should avoid: Responding (too) quickly to particular situations bears the risk of overseeing important information that could generate collater...
Comments8 comments

🥉 Dialectics Business Case: Toyota
3 professors of Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy in Tokio claim that the immense succes of Toyota is as much due to its ability to embrace contradictions as ...
topic What is Dialectic Ability? Definition
Is the ability to hold 2 seemingly opposing ideas in mind, and to combine and to resolve them in an unexpected, creative way innate, or can it be learned?...
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Expert Tips

Advanced insights about Dialectical Enquiry - Dialectics. Here you will find professional advices by experts.


Stages of Decision-making

Integrative versus Convential Thinkers, Differences in Decision-making
In "The Opposable Mind: How Succesful Leaders Think" in HBR (June 2007, Vol 85, Nr 6), Roger Martin describes a 4-stage ...

How to Select the RIGHT Tensions to Manage?

Setting Strategic Priorities
How do you make sure you manage the RIGHT seemingly contradicting forces (tensions)? Marakon consultants Dodd and Favaro...

A Dualistic Mindset is Required for Strategic Thinking, Strategic Alliances and Co-Opetition Agreements

Strategy Formation, Strategic Alliances and Co-Opetition
It's important that people involved in strategy formulation and in establishing, negotiating or closing a Co-opetition a...
Information Sources

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Integrative Thinking In-depth

Integrative Thinking, Opposable Mind, Integrative Thinkers, Paradox, Synthesis
Extensive presentation about integrative thinking, including the following sections: 1. Learning objective 2. Structur...

Management Dialectics

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
According to Miguel Pina E Cunha a.o. managers are increasingly living in a world of paradox. For instance, they are tol...

Individual Decision Making and Group Decision Making

Decision Making Process, Groupthink, Decision Making Styles, Vroom-Yetton Method
Presentation about Decision Making by groups and individuals. The presentation includes the following sections: 1. Know...

Overview of Reasoning Types and Models

This comprehensive presentation clearly outlines the different models used in reasoning processes. The presentation incl...

Controversial Choices

Strategic Decision-making
Paper by Aneel G. Karnani. The essence of strategy is to make controversial choices; this is the only way to gain a comp...

Introduction and Summary of Integrative Thinking

Initial Understanding of Integrative Thinking, Trainings, Workshops
Video with brief opinions about what Integrative Thinking is and what are its main benefits....

Dialectical Enquiry Diagram

Reconciliating Complex Forces
Download and edit the 12manage PowerPoint model for limited personal, educational and business use. Republishing in int...

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Compare with: Delphi Method  |  Root Cause Analysis  |  Analogical Strategic Reasoning  |  Pyramid Principle  |  Theory of Constraints  |  Brainstorming  |  Cause and Effect Diagram  |  Six Thinking Hats  |  System Dynamics  |  Scenario Planning  |  Game Theory  |  Spiral Dynamics  |  Real Options  |  Kepner-Tregoe Matrix  |  Plausibility Theory  |  Chaos Theory  |  Soft Systems Methodology  |  Mind Mapping

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