I began a search for info on the way ideas change the future and I turned up this fantastic website on Dialectics http://home.igc.org/~venceremos/whatheck.htm. In it the author states “Dialectics is a tool to understand the way things are and the way things change.” Dialectics has three major principles, and they are all highly relevant to business:
- Every object and every process is made of opposing forces and opposing sides, and it is this conflict that is at the fulcrum of positive or negative changes. To move on we must switch from one to the other - awareness to intention. Ideas are essential in business and it is the conflict between ideas and realities that creates the dynamics for positive or negative change. Conflict is a part of the natural order and must not be suppressed, it must be embraced. If your business is not coming up with new ideas, you might have the illusion of harmony when in fact you are in denial. By suppressing ideas, or not having any, you no longer move - you stagnate. As water needs to flow so does business; ideas provide the gradient. It is strange to think that harmony needs conflict. Conflict is continuous, and the ebb and flow provides completeness.
- Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one opposite overcomes the other. Change is a constant but goes unseen until a tipping point is reached. The flower bursting into bloom, the baby being born, the overnight rock sensation that had been on the road for years. The business that achieves a breakthrough. Sometimes the effect of consistent effort is invisible, because change tips in an instant as one side flips to the other stillness to activity; or sleep to wakefulness. In business this means we must patiently stick to the task even if our efforts go unnoticed in the belief that positive effort will lead to positive change.
- Change moves in spirals not circles and definitely not straight lines. I always wondered about the saying ‘…. he’s been ‘round the block a few times…’ I now understand what this means in Dialectic terms. Each time we go round we come back to a similar point either higher and strengthened or lower and weakened, but never exactly the same. Business leadership subscribes to linear progression rather than spiralled progression. We need to be aware that businesses constantly return to the beginning. To maintain success businesses are constantly reborn.
These ideas and tools can be extremely useful when applied in business. I didn’t know it before but I think I was an intuitive dialectic all along! If you are too, then you are in good company. Dialectics is fundamental to many cultures and belief systems. It is foundation of the Taoist belief and eastern thinking. “Taoism holds that change is the only constant and that gradual change leads to sudden change of form” (Dialectics for kids) It is a natural law. In western culture dialectic thinking was championed by philosophers such as Hegel, Kant, Engel and Marx. However, the circulatory and balancing order of dialectic thinking has been blocked in western culture by other prominent thinkers including Aristotle who believed that it is logically impossible for one thing to contain the other, black cannot be white and day cannot be night. This view was adopted by the church and our culture has had this myopic view for centuries. Things are changing, which leads me to think that under Dialectic rules a tipping point will be reached where more inclusive thinking, attitudes and behaviours prevail.
In business non-Dialectic thinking is revealed in attitudes that are independent rather than inclusive e.g. the product is the product; the customer is the customer. In a business context this silo’ed thinking is deadly. Business is much more natural and organic than the egos of most boardrooms or management teams are prepared to admit.
I think it is time to redress the balance - the customer contains the product and the product contains the customer - I think this view is witnessed by much consumer advertising. Consumer advertising is very Dialectic. The customer context dominates with a small reference to the product, on shelf the balance is reversed the product dominates and the customer context is only a small reference. Eg. The Duracell advertising has the clapping rabbit dominating the TV advert, and a small reference to the battery as a pay off. In store it is reversed the battery featuring on pack with a tiny reference to the rabbit. One is always contained within the other.
In my experience, business hinders change by misunderstanding the conflict between the intangible and the tangible, or the emotional and the rational. Rather than embrace the conflict it is often more desirable for the leadership to suppress or ignore the thoughts and ideas that will have the potential to positively change a tangible tomorrow. Being a champion of the emotional myself - with my rational moments, I am often shocked of the denial of the emotional context of business. In a Dialectic sense this denial hinders change, and can ultimately lead to an emotional business crisis - redundancy or business failure becomes a highly emotional issue whether the business likes it or not.
Also, businesses often do not fully embrace the opposing forces represented by the business itself and the customer. Businesses often suppress the recognition of changing customer desires and behaviours in the vain hope that they can impose their view of the product on them for ever. This is misguided. A healthy respect for the power of the customer and acceptance of their power means that the cycle of customer need and business response remains constant. Ignoring this dynamic can lead to a transformation of form that is sometimes catastrophic as all the customers take their business elsewhere - the rapid fall of M&S in 2000 is a good example of the denial of Dialectic forces at work in business.
I think Dialectic thinking makes us more mindful of the fact that business success exists within failure and likewise business failure is present within success. This view helps to keep our eye on the ball; complacency in check. Management needs to be aware of the trends and forces at work constantly within a business, aware of the positive in the negative and vice versa. I was once told by a colleague that nothing is ever completely bad or completely good - a very Dialectic notion.
In the balance of opposites we need to appreciate and accept the need for conflict to maintain the order of things. Suppressing conflict is denial and will lead to undesirable change. Agents of change, the people and the ideas they bring, are notoriously difficult, but rather than suppress them it is better to embrace them. The physical is represented by today and will always be in conflict with the ideas and concepts that represent the future. Tomorrow is only secured when we bring the issues of tomorrow into today.
This attitude reinforces the spiral nature of things where the power of the customer posits ideas which become products and so on. Dialectics is like breathing and the most successful brands have intuitively known this - returning to the beginning and launching new ideas continuously, organically - taking the customer in with one breath and exhaling products with the next, in a virtuous cycle. Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Virgin are all highly Dialectic brands. These successful brands are always reaching out to the future. I was reading today about the Bill Gates promise of the paperless office - he is convinced more than ever that it is just around the corner, and considering that a dramatic change in form happens after gradual changes, who are we to argue or disbelieve him. If the paperless office does arrive then it is likely to occur in a swift time frame, and be heralded by our digital children entering the workforce. Edison brought light to the industrial darkness, as Dyson has bought the bagless vacuum cleaner to a house near you. All starts with an idea, is made manifest and ultimately is mundane. This is the lifecycle of change an open helix never quite returning to exactly the same beginning. This helix can be increasingly positive or negative. If business suppresses this cycle in the desire for control then the business invites negative change, or even business failure and a new starting point at a much lower level than before.
Dialectics are at work in your business, ignore the balancing rules that govern change at your peril.
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