Digging Deeper for an Idea—-Stealing from Hegel

“Think outside of the box.” A couple of years ago, I heard that exhortation at every management meeting. We all agreed that it was the thing to do. But no one seemed to know which mental switch to flip to get the out-of-the-box process going. Especially those in charge of the meeting.

On the other side, sometimes you do come across a solution that is truly innovative. But when you ask the person, “How did that idea arise? How did you come to that solution?” The usual response is that the key insight just came to them. There must be some middle ground in the quest for better solutions.

The middle ground is to develop flexibility in the mental processes. There is no single way to do this, just try different techniques. One way to help with this flexibility is to loosen our grip on the statement of the problem and then explore. The use of the dialectic method, used by the philosopher Hegel, is one example that illustrates using a tool from a different field to increase mental flexibility.

Example–Dialectic Method

The statement of the problem is the termed the thesis. In many cases, the thesis is accepted at face value and the effort is how to address the situation as stated.

As a mental exercise, the thesis can be negated, that is the opposite of the original statement be considered. This is termed the antithesis.

Usually, the thesis and antithesis are in direct collision.

Thesis <—> Antithesis

As an example, if the thesis is “Black”, the opposite, antithesis, is “White”.

When thesis and antithesis confront,the resultant view may be “Gray”.

Thesis <—> Antithesis

(Black) (White)


This is standard thinking as far as it goes. However, in the use of the dialectic method, the relationship between the problem statement and its opposite is in a different direction:

Thesis —> Antithesis —> Synthesis

The synthesis is a previously unrecognized direction that contains elements of both the thesis and antithesis. Using the above example:

Thesis —> Antithesis —> Synthesis

(Black) (White) COLOR

In this case, the synthesis of color is derived from the relationship of black and white. It is a far brighter direction than gray. It contains the elements of black and white, but is MORE than either alone!

So, where does this exercise do for those of us with real problems that have to be addressed? As a start, it gives you useful technique to actually try when instructed to think outside of the box.

However, the important conclusion is not to force an answer with the dialectic or any other method, but to use tools and techniques to free your mind and generate better ideas. It takes effort, but every once in a while, it pays off big.

A more recent post  Digging Deeper for Ideas (2)–Playing with Syncretism outlines another method for using conflicting ideas to get better results


3 Responses to Digging Deeper for an Idea—-Stealing from Hegel

  1. […] In some cases, a way to integrate the two approaches may become apparent (see a related example the post on the link about: Thesis–> Antitithesis—> Synthesis). For sure however, problem resolution skills can be developed and used that can benefit you in the organization long after the current micromanager has become a distant memory. […]

  2. Gray says:

    Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better, taste your freedom and be better.

  3. […] There are several methods that use opposing ideas in order to achieve more innovative results. One is the Dialectic Method (Thesis –> Antithesis–> Synthesis), which was previously discussed (see Digging Deeper for Ideas—Stealing from Hegel). […]

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