A practical tool for innovation
by Sarel Oberholster
Hegelian dialectic, usually presented in a threefold manner, was stated by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus  as comprising three dialectical stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction, an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis. In more simplistic terms, one can consider it thus; problem → reaction → solution. Although this model is often named after Hegel, he himself never used that specific formulation. Hegel ascribed that terminology to Kant.  Carrying on Kant’s work, Fichte greatly elaborated on the synthesis model, and popularized it.
On the other hand, Hegel did use a three-valued logical model that is very similar to the antithesis model, but Hegel’s most usual terms were: Abstract-Negative-Concrete. Hegel used this writing model as a backbone to accompany his points in many of his works.
Innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.  This is accomplished through more-effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models that are readily available to markets, governments and society. The term “innovation” can be defined as something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.  It is related to, but not the same as, invention.  Innovation is often manifested via the engineering process. The opposite of innovation is exnovation.
What does dialectic, a Classical philosophy concept of reasoning and debate have to do with innovative thinking and problem solving?
In the science of business “Innovation” is the Holy Grail by which businesses may live forever. Businesses in trouble will use innovative strategies to get out of trouble, businesses in stagnation will renew through innovation, business will always look for innovative employees, businesses will seek excellence through innovation and raising capital to be used innovatively. Thus the list is endless.
Try asking the CEO how one will innovate, try asking the recruiter how employees are expected to innovate or simply ask how to go about innovating and be prepared for blank stares and bluster. Innovation is hard, very hard! Everybody would have had the best solutions for everything if innovation was easy.
One needs tools to innovate, it does not just happen as explained in popular tales of “aha” moments. Businesses which will rely on “aha” moments will die long before the “aha” moment arrives. Digging deep into Classical philosophy’s dialectic provides such a tool (by innovating it a little bit).
The very first observation one needs to make about the dialectic is that it is a process in motion, it is dynamic. This is probably the toughest part of innovation, “Where do I start?” or “I’m stuck, what next?” Let’s rework the principles of dialectic and at the same time unveil innovation in motion as well as the practical application of the tool.
- Thesis = that which is. It can be a problem or an item or a concept or an idea or simply the subject targeted for innovation. Anything that one can define, even if only vaguely. Thesis is the starting point.
- Antithesis = that which opposes the thesis. It can be part of a theme or anything else. The closer to the theme the less the friction or tension between Thesis and Antithesis will be, and the further away the Antithesis is removed from the Thesis the greater the tension. Antithesis is the trigger for motion.
- Synthesis = the resolution of the tension between the Thesis and the Antithesis. The purpose would be to innovate so the objective of the innovation would create a deliberate direction bias for the Synthesis. Synthesis may or may not be a solution or the solution.
Basic Dialectical Innovation Tool
Note that the “tension” is an interactive process between Thesis and Antithesis. Resolution flows form the interactive process. This is the basic tool for innovation but it does not end here. Next we will borrow the concept of evolutionary dialectic form Carl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and build it into the Basic Dialectical Innovation Tool.
The basic Dialectical Innovation Tool will suffice in the event that the Synthesis represents a suitable innovation. Where the Synthesis is unsatisfactory, but useful, one would use it to evolve the Synthesis into a new Thesis, which in turn can be opposed with a new Antithesis from which an all new Synthesis can be resolved.
Evolutionary Dialectical Innovation Tool
The evolutionary process continues until a satisfactory innovative Synthesis is generated.
I have applied the very principles of this Dialectical Innovation Tool in this essay.
Applied Dialectical Innovation Tool
Here are a few basic guidelines for using the Evolutionary Dialectical Innovation Tool:
- Be open minded and flexible. (Do not be dogmatic and rigid.)
- Any motion is better than stagnation. (Do not be stuck.)
- Be goal orientated to maintain discipline. (Do not get lost or distracted.)
- Be innovative with the tool. There can be multiples of any of the three components on multiple lateral and vertical resolutions. (Be creative.)
This is but one tool for your innovation toolbox. You should find many more if you search for them. This one has served me well for many years in many situations and projects. The more I used it the better it worked until it became second nature.
About the author: Sarel Oberholster is an economist by training, a banker by profession, a businessman by choice and an innovator by compulsion. He has published over 50 articles on a variety of topics on various platforms, has developed new economic theory and designed many new and innovative products in banking and finance, and the majority of which were successfully implemented. His latest innovation is patented internationally.