Think Opposite: A Movement In One Direction Inevitably Produces A Movement In The Opposite Direction

Editor's Note

The concept of competing opposites is well-known to historians, fiction writers and savvy marketers.

Apparently, it's not well-known to many best described as “long on schooling but short on education.”

Said Harvard's Ted Levitt, “The prevalence of competing opposites is a persistent theme in the history of mankind; Othello had Iago, Jefferson had Hamilton, Lenin had Stalin, the id has its ego, the straight culture of the 50s and early 60s had the counterculture of the mid-60s and 70s."

Of course, today we have Trump v. Obama; capitalism v. socialism; conservatives v. progressives; climate change advocates v. climate change deniers; self-supporting members of the middle class v. growing ranks of welfare recipients. The list is endless.

Our point? History shows there have always been simultaneous eruptions of opposing forces. That's the way the world works.

Powerful forces are always met with competing or opposite forces.

Hegel's Model for Understanding Opposing Forces

Friedrich Hegel, a 19th-century philosopher, sketched out the following rather simple (but extremely insightful) model for interpreting history:

The Thesis

In a long-out-of-print book, Ted Levitt popularized the “go-reverse” principle. It’s the idea every time there is a strong movement in one direction of tastes, values, attitudes, and activities, another movement emerges that’s almost the complete opposite.

The thesis can be thought of as a strong, established movement in one direction. For example, capitalism is the accepted economic system in the United States.

Capitalism in its varying forms believes in self-reliance, rewarding the creation of new value via entrepreneurship and innovation, free markets unencumbered by government controls, regulations and interventions, the creation of competencies, not dependencies and a host of other societal wealth creating attributes.

Said Peter F. Drucker, when discussing the capitalist system as described by Frederich von Hayek in his book Road To Serfdom (1944), "An economy based on the Free Market… creates by itself, an optimally free, just and equal society…"

Economically, capitalism has been fully proven. It's the best “ism" of all known economic systems to produce societal wealth and prosperity for the middle class.

Nobel Prizes in Economics have been awarded to a number of economists who've demonstrated how capitalist-driven economics has become the standard prescription for turning around economies asphyxiated by socialism, communism and other forms of centralized government control (e.g., economies of Southeast Asia, beginning with South Korea, economies of Latin America, economies part of the former Soviet Empire and Maoist China).

The great majority of people in the developed and emerging countries is now so much better off because of capitalism it only makes more visible and more painful the plight of the minorities who are left behind because of lack of competence or lack of opportunity. (This is discussed later in this article when briefly summarizing Ivanka Trump's new workforce development initiative to provide a wide range of skill acquisition opportunities designed to narrow income inequalities).

The Inevitable Antithesis

Slowly, now suddenly, an opposing viewpoint to capitalism (socialism) has taken hold.

Bernie Sanders and others, in their quest for the presidency, advocate a near-opposite system (the antithesis to capitalism).

Today's new progressives claim capitalism is in decline and should be replaced by a centrist (i.e., near-government controlled), entitlement-rich economic system. (We'll discuss Capitalism v. Socialism in future articles).

To repeat, in Hegelian terms, the new progressive agenda appears to represent the antithesis of capitalism.

More On The Antithesis

Times change; People don't. There's always going to be an opposite movement to challenge the existing system.

Specifically, Levitt wrote: In the early nineteenth century, Friedrich Hegel enunciated in elaborate detail his dialectical conception of history.

 Hegel showed how successful historical forces or ideas inevitably generate their opposite—what he called the ‘antithesis.’ 

According to celebrated historical scholar Victor Davis Hanson in his new book entitled The Case For Trump:

"Donald Trump's agenda arose as the antithesis to the new Democratic Party of Barack Obama. After 2008, Democrats were increasingly candid in voicing socialistic bromides...

… And there were many, including open borders, identity politics, higher taxes, more government regulation, free college tuition, single-payer government-run healthcare, taxpayer-subsidized green energy, rollbacks of fossil-fuel production and a European Union-like foreign policy…"

But today we must deal with new realities. Many well-designed sample surveys (i.e., polls) reveal many (especially millennials) seem increasingly eager to embrace a socialistic form of government.

When questioned about their reasons for preferring socialism to capitalism, most of those interviewed seem totally ignorant/unaware of past socialism failures and today's most recent failure of socialism – Venezuela!

The Inevitable Synthesis

The resulting struggle or competition between the thesis and antithesis leads each opposing force to ingest some features of the force it opposes.

In the process, a synthesis of the two emerges. In time, this synthesis becomes a distinct new force in itself (a new thesis), which in turn generates a new antithesis to repeat the cycle.

Said Levitt, “Hegel thus viewed historical development as a continuous evolution of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.”

Some claim President Trump is adopting some of the ideas of the progressives (e.g., providing government subsidized childcare) and should stay true to the core principles of conservativism.

But there is another way to view what's really happening if examined through Hegel's thesis, antithesis, synthesis model.

Take for example Ivanka Trump's well-received (by both liberals and conservatives) innovative Workforce Development strategic initiative.

In essence, her Workforce Development plan/strategy focuses on forging a massive collaboration with corporations, states and relevant teaching institutions to provide much-needed basic skills training to a wide range of constituencies and re-skilling those soon to be displaced by AI and the like.

A Quick Digression About Ivanka Trump's Workforce Development Initiative

In a nutshell, knowledge workers who apply knowledge combined with manual skills (e.g., robotic repair, repairing jumbo jets) are called in Drucker's terminology "technologists."

Companies will be responsible for training these technologists or, more specifically, the technologists they need but can't find to do mission-critical jobs.

The hoped-for result will be to provide relatively high-paying jobs to a massive number of people currently unqualified but willing and able learn required new skills.

Companies will be incentivized to provide the necessary training. At several recent IQPC CLO Exchange programs, Fortune 1000/2000/3000 participants revealed their number one priority is workforce development.

Further, many were considering launching and managing a corporate university for carrying out needed technologist training tasks not available from universities or colleges.

(Coming soon! Make sure to join us at our Corporate Learning Week, November 11-13, 2019 in Austin, Texas to learn from those corporations who have already pledged to be active participants in the initiative's required massive skilling and re-skilling program. Email us at for more information.)

Is Workforce Development The First Step Rethinking Welfare Spending?

We interpret the Trump workforce development program a giant step in refocusing welfare spending on creating independence, competency and responsibility.

Once the basic axiom is changed from “All the poor need is money,” to “All the poor need is competence” real change can occur.

Already 200 corporations have pledged to participate in the workforce development program which promises to be a far more effective "war on poverty" while simultaneously narrowing the income inequality gap.

To reiterate: We believe Ivanka Trump's Workforce Development program could be reinterpreted in terms of the Hegelian dialectic, that is, President Trump's policies are “ingesting some features” of the Democratic Party's platform promises he particularly likes, and, in the process, is creating a new synthesis.

Another Synthesis Example

The music industry has always known about synthesis. Take, for instance, the extraordinary revival of the Baroque music of Telemann, Vivaldi and Purcell in the early ‘70s at the very height of the then new boom of highly experimental pop music.

The synthesis, observed Levitt, "of pop music and folk music in the form of folk-rock, and the gradual ingestion of rhythm and blues music into modern so-called 'good music'" was predicted by many leading musicians and composers of that era."

Nobody questions this "eruption of opposites to eventual synthesis." Polarization is an accepted reality of the music world.

Yet many otherwise brilliant musicians and composers seem shocked when the same cycle occurs in areas they are not familiar with, including economics and politics.

Applying Hegel’s Model to the Business World

Levitt brilliantly showed how to apply the Hegelian principle of opposites to project what lies ahead for many businesses:

“When there develops, in any area of activity or taste or values, a strong thrust in one direction, we may expect in its wake a strongly opposite thrust.”

Consider this: The great growth in prepared foods is paralleled by an equal growth in start-from-scratch cooking and the explosive sale of cookbooks, herbs and exotic condiments.

The great boom in one-stop retail websites is paralleled by an enormous increase in specialty online stores that only sell one product (e.g., mattresses, baby diapers and razors).

In marketing terms, this is really a market segmentation issue. Marketers already know about emotional versus rational selling, frills or no frills and low-price bargains versus paying top dollar for a luxury experience.

Each can be viewed as a competing opposite. In short, "think opposite" is a useful exercise for effective leaders.

Another Example: Hegel On Training Trends

The Hegelian model helps us understand what appears to be opposite phenomena in training today: the growth in live instructor-led training programs and the growth of online training courses.

Predictions regarding the imminent commercial annihilation of live instructor-led training courses are already contradicted by a new growth in niche market live instructor-led seminars short training courses.

See related: Rediscovering Training Fundamentals From Pocket Billiards

Live instructor training when coupled with performance consulting and performance support enables practicing professionals to immediately put into practice what is learned.

In terms of on-site (i.e., in-house) training, the need for live instruction from a true expert has proven itself time and again.

For example, take a subject like statistical process control (SPC). An online program can teach the basics of quality prevention and quality control. No doubt about it!

But the best way for SPC to be taught (and, more importantly, put into immediate practice) is to use an organization's actual processes to demonstrate the value and implementation specifics.

Like many others, we think online training will continue to grow exponentially.

But we also believe it must be supplemented or augmented with performance support, performance consulting, coaching and mentoring and the like.

In short, a synthesis between between online instruction and live training enables students to apply methodologies taught to their particular situation.

Summary and Conclusions

The Hegelian prediction of opposites always exists. Where there is thesis, there is antithesis.

In the final analysis, we believe understanding Hegel's model of thesis, antithesis and synthesis helps explain the inevitable and constant eruptions of opposites.

Come to Corporate Learning Week 2019 and learn new answers to the basic questions every internal training organization must ask about making their present training operations more effective, finding and realizing new high yield training opportunities and making their training organization into a new organization for a new future.