One of the most useful ideas in the Daodejing is the one that many scholars label as reversion. Also known as the law of opposites or polarities, this is the process that governs the natural life cycle of a plant, animal, human, even inanimate objects such as a rock.
Under the process of reversion, a plant or a flower bursts from the ground, flourishes and blooms, and then withers and dies – returning to its roots ready to emerge again the following year. In the same way, a baby is born, grows into full adulthood, and then descends into old age before returning to the soil after he or she dies.
Reversion also provides a powerful lens for following the the life cycle of human institutions such as companies. No matter how rich and powerful the current masters of our business universe may seem and no matter how many smart people they may hire, reversion tells us that they won’t live forever. Indeed, given the speed with which new technologies are proliferating and fresh startups are sprouting, the chances are that their time in the sun will be shorter than sundry “experts” may think.
Take Facebook as an example. Having grown leaps and bounds as a result of its freewheeling and (relatively) open culture, the company is now closing itself off in order to protect the massive walled garden it has constructed and squeeze out the maximum revenue from it. As part of this transition, it has even gone so far as to attempt to establish itself as the arbiter of the “quality” and “trustworthiness” of news sources based on some allegedly “community-based” ranking system.
If you examine Facebook’s recent actions from the perspective of reversion, it’s hard not to conclude that the company has already passed its prime because of its dramatic swing across the open and closed polarity. That is not to say, of course, that Facebook is going to disappear anytime soon. It’s simply to note that no matter what it tries to do to arrest it, the company’s inevitable decline has already started.