It so happens that not only is the world in unceasing transformation, but the human mind (which is part of it) has been given invaluable tools to deal with it. I am referring to the “four moments of dialectic” philosopher Roy Bhaskar taught us, as well as to Basseches’ and my own work on dialectical thought forms since the year 1997.

In courses at the Interdevelopmental Institute, I have shown since 2000 that the four moments of dialectic equally show up in human thinking, whether manifest in speaking or writing. I daresay this could be a key for living in this rapidly changing world a little more prepared what is coming toward us.

How could you make a start in dialectic?

Well, as philosophers have always taught us, you need to start with yourself. It isn’t hard, but it takes an effort. Living in a language-suffused world as we do, you could start with what you hear yourself saying when you speak and consider how the four moments of dialectic inform your thinking that is being expressed through concepts. You will find that as soon as you open your mouth you have already placed yourself into one of the four moments, most likely CONTEXT.

Consider now that there are actually FOUR moments of dialectic into which you could have placed yourself, which are:
1. CONTEXT – which you already know too well …
2. PROCESS – a tough one for logical thinkers
3. RELATIONSHIP – not easy to see even for good logical thinkers
4. TRANSFORMATION – which embodies the upper three named and welds them together in ever changing configurations.

Since you are a logical thinker, you landed in Context, without your knowing. That is, you found yourself in only one of four moments of dialectic!

Here is the off-shot of what happens when you disregard Process, Relationship, and Transformation:
• As long as you think in Context terms, the world that shows up for you is an entirely static one, a system in the conventional sense, however your logical mind may detail it. This logical world of yours has very little to do with the real world, as you know yourself.
• Placing yourself into Process, you’ll move into a world full of contradiction, paradox, otherness, change, hidden and repressed truths that are going to haunt you, in short, a very different, “opposed” world. It’s a world that opens up for your what is not there (yet), but is about to break in any moment.
• You are unlikely to place yourself into the Relationship moment of dialectic but if you do you would be utterly befuddled since two things that are the same are also seen as different in that world, in fact they are only different to the extent that they are the same. Here, you are very far from formal logic.
The truth of the matter is that these four moments don’t exist separately from each other, they are all indissolubly married through a contract called TRANSFORMATION. So the story about the real world points to Transformation as the “root cause”, determining all three remaining moments of dialectic, and these, in turn, coalesce in Transformation. In short, the dialectical snake bites its own tail.


So, in business terms, say, product design, what does that mean?

Here are some consequences.
• In logical terms, a “product” is an entity; in dialectical terms it is a Context that is embedded in Transformation due to the Process and Relationship moments. The operational flow the product emerged from has vanished into it without a trace. It has become a static configuration we can “sell” or “buy” through monetary processes.
However, our product is only seemingly an entity, or context. There are “use processes” which link the product to customers as well as to competitors. The more sophisticated the product is, the more uses it will have, and the more complex will be the relationships customers and competitors have to it and to the company that produced it. In “marketing”, even in building new business models, we try to figure out these use processes, and we can do so at different levels, including a level where we begin to think about changing “value streams” and achieving “breakthroughs” with our product or service.
So while the product appears to be a “thing” (Marx called it a “commodity”), it’s really much more if not also something qualitatively different from what it seems to be. With all the processes and relationships it includes it is a world to itself that only by using the four moments of dialectic we might be able to figure out.
And this is the situation we in business generally, whatever aspect of it we choose, we are in; it’s the same in talent management, leadership development, recruitment, sustainability issues, or what have you. Why: because dialectic has to do with transformation, not change just, and what is addressed as change is actually ongoing transformation in the physical and social world, including in our minds.


Well, that’s because most business people don’t read philosophy and shudder when they hear terms like “epistemology”. This means they are all stuck in a division of labor and compartmentalization which gives rise to many, seemingly unrelated theories, ways of seeing, beliefs, and attitudes, and unrelated products. And people’s minds therefore never understand themselves because they get caught in these neat logical divisions they have learned in school.
BUT WAIT: there is one dimension in our life where we could actually overcome this compartmentalization, and that is Thinking. In fact, we can say that mature thinking is by nature dialectical.

Research done at this institute over 15 years shows that the four moments of dialectic naturally show up in people’s speech and written texts, and that we can use a methodology called DTF (Dialectical Thought Form Framework) to “listen” to how much a person or team has befriended the four moments as helpers in his or her thinking.
The trouble is that people have to first befriend themselves to befriend the four moments, and that is the hard part. Because as long as the targets people are shooting for are all outside of them, they just won’t meet up with the moments of dialectical.
Why not?
Well, while the four moments “run the world”, making every hour and day of our life different from what went before, logical thinking has built a barrier against recognizing them in our own mind’s working. Instead logical thinking tells us that “A is always A, and never non-A”, and so the mind never gets a chance to its own working process. With the consequence that, as Gertrude Stein put it: “a rose is a rose is a rose”, and nothing more.
So this declaration of faith in formal logic points to the structure of people’s thinking as the root of the inability to “see” the world as it “really” is, namely, in unceasing transformation.

But this situation does not have to be or remain so!

What would happen if we thought of a product dialectically, immersed in the four moments of dialectic? (Think of Steve Job’s iphone.)

Here are some consequences.
People would see right away:
• that there is a multiplicity of contexts in which the product can function (C)
• that “marketing” without foreseeing these different contexts, and “designing” without anticipating them, is dumb (un-dialectical)
• that the use processes of the product are “open”, fluid, serving the active character of knowledge and conveyance of information (P)
• that in terms of its use, the product is itself a process embedded in other processes (P)
• that there is a limit to which a product such as “phone” can be separated from its other uses as an intellectual world within which individual minds function (R)
• that the many different uses of a product, while outwardly opposed to or different from each other, form a shared common ground which informs fluid uses of the product (R)
• that there are limits of stability of the product that will lead to its breakdown for customers who will abandon it for something better (T)
• that “product development” will have to focus on the potential of the product to enrich customers’ relationship to the product, not just refine it technically, but conceiving of a broader business model for selling it (T)
• that the product needs to be able to be coordinated with other similar products, and will become part of a larger common ground of products serving similar purposes (T)
• that the product needs to be seen as an element in a much broader offering likely to provoke customer interest rather than remaining a stand-alone product (T).

So what is dialectic “about”, then?
Dialectic is about fluidity of thinking, in life as in business. It’s about seeing what emerges from the future, potentials logical thinking cannot see. Dialectical thinking is a way to lead from the emerging future. And although you can do your best to make that happen in your logical thinking, since you are lacking dialectical thought forms, you will most likely fail.
So, the sooner you get into dialectical thinking, the better.

To see the next course on dialectical thinking at the Interdevelopmental Institute, go to www.interdevelopmentals.org/courses/schedule, to find “Handling Complexity with Dialectics, for Senior Managers”. The textbook for the course is my “Dialectical thinking for integral leaders: A primer”, published at Integral Publishers this year, and found at:


See you in November!

Otto Laske

Author: Otto Laske

I am the founder and director of IDM, the Interdevelopmental Institute. My background is in philosophy, psychology, consulting, and coaching based on developmental theory to which I have mightily contributed myself. See the blogs at www.interdevelopmentals.org.