Dialectical Enquiry

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Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis. Explanation Dialectic Inquiry. Dialectics.


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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.

dialectic inquiry dialecticsWhat is dialectics? Definitions

  • 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 on the right 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 -

Book: Alex Lowy and Phil Hood - The Power of the 2x2 Matrix - Using 2x2 Thinking.. -

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

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

Dialectical Enquiry - Dialectics Forum
  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 current dynamic business environment requires lea...
  Paradox Management
As pointed by Eisenhardt, Paradox is the simultaneous existence in the organization of two inconsistent states, such as “empowerment and conformance”: “old and new”. (2000:703) Brabet points out the emergence of a HRM Paradox Model, based on the conc...
  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 (paradoxical!) approaches if you're faced with a ...
  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 to its well-known manufacturing process. In their ...
  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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Stages of Decision-making

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

How to Select the RIGHT Tensions to Manage?

How do you make sure you manage the RIGHT seemingly contradicting forces (tensions)? Marakon consultants Dodd and Favaro provide some advice in their ...
Usage (application): Setting Strategic Priorities

Resources - Dialectical Enquiry - Dialectics Premium

Integrative Thinking In-depth

Extensive presentation about integrative thinking, including the following sections:
1. Learning objective
2. Structure
3. How do you g...
Usage (application): Integrative Thinking, Opposable Mind, Integrative Thinkers, Paradox, Synthesis

Management Dialectics

According to Miguel Pina E Cunha a.o. managers are increasingly living in a world of paradox. For instance, they are told that they must manage by sur...
Usage (application): Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

Individual Decision Making and Group Decision Making

Presentation about Decision Making by groups and individuals. The presentation includes the following sections:
1. Knowledge Objectives
2. D...
Usage (application): Decision Making Process, Groupthink, Decision Making Styles, Vroom-Yetton Method

Overview of Reasoning Types and Models

This comprehensive presentation clearly outlines the different models used in reasoning processes. The presentation includes the following sections: Usage (application): Reasoning

Controversial Choices

Paper by Aneel G. Karnani. The essence of strategy is to make controversial choices; this is the only way to gain a competitive advantage. Both strate...
Usage (application): Strategic Decision-making

Introduction and Summary of Integrative Thinking

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

Dialectical Enquiry Diagram

Download and edit the 12manage PowerPoint model for limited personal, educational and business use. Republishing in intranets, websites, books, magaz...
Usage (application): Reconciliating Complex Forces


Dialectical Enquiry


Dialectics Synthesis


Dialectical Enquiry


Dialectics Synthesis


Dialectical Enquiry


Dialectics Synthesis


Dialectical Enquiry


Dialectics Synthesis

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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