I have to think that people who downplay the importance of synergy haven’t experienced its magic. I hope that’s not you.
Synergy says everyone is smarter than any one. It makes sense. You know things I don’t. I know things you don’t. Together we cover more bases. Likewise, you know things your exec doesn’t. Your exec knows things you don’t. You have different perceptions, skills and focal points. That can be a recipe for synergy.
In The Marshmallow Challenge, Ted Wujek explains that CEOs did much better on the exercise when their admins were on their teams. He suggests the characteristic admin focus on process augments the CEO planning bias. The combined styles create synergy.
If synergy is so great, why don’t we always go for it? Perhaps because synergy isn’t something you can do, create or force. It’s something you cultivate, foster and allow. Sometimes different perceptions, skills and focal points naturally synergize into new creative options. Other times they collide, and it isn’t always pretty.
I love synergy. I always ask, "Why settle for one side of the story when you can have two? Why settle for two sides of a story when you can have multi-dimensions? Why go for either/or when you can have both/and?"
And yet, (here’s the confession coming), I sometimes resist input that could really use. I make a point not to let that reaction last too long. I seek to access the synergy center where differences complement instead of collide. Then I can really Speak Strong, in a way that engages my reality, invites their reality and embraces a bigger reality.
It happened today. Lauren lives and breathes marketing copy. I have some skills in it, but my communication specialty is conversational. Plus, I hang out in corporate, academic, creative and personal development circles, not marketing circles like she does. Even though I’m all about communication, I value her expertise in this kind of communication.
Or at least I do after I get over myself. My initial reaction to Lauren’s challenges was to feel discouraged that she didn’t declare my copy perfectly right out of the gate. I was afraid she would pressure me to water down my content to sell the conference we’re marketing.
I got over that fast. I reminded myself that it isn’t about either describing my session with integrity OR describing it in a way that interests people. It’s about both. Let the collaboration begin!
I explained why I’m so passionate about what I wrote. She listened, probed, challenged and affirmed. She revised the copy and sent me a version that reflects her expertise with very little that didn’t fit my vision. A couple of iterations later we had a masterpiece we both like.
Lauren does synergy well. After we celebrated our brilliant creation, she explained,
"I work to honor what you say. I help reach out to the people who don’t 'get it' yet, but who could…if they only listen."
Do you do that? Not everyone does.
Synergy can’t be forced. It can be cultivated. Here’s how.
Define your shared aspiration and keep it front and center. The CEOs and admins in The Marshmallow Challenge shared the desire to build the tallest tower. Lauren and I aspired to write great copy. Having a clear vision of what we aspired to helped us stay in the synergy center where we could build on ideas instead of resist.
Find and acknowledge the value or at least the intended value of every bit of input. When Lauren cut out words I liked, I appreciated her desire to simplify and I reworded it to simplify without eliminating essential ideas.
Let everything teach you something. When Lauren didn’t understand what I was going for, it showed I wasn’t clear. Where she did, it showed me what stood out. We learn more from failures than successes.
Listen for what lands. I heard what Lauren picked up on from what I was saying and built on that to segue into important ideas she wasn’t relating to yet.
Speak Strong. When you’re coming from the synergy center, you can actually be more forthright about your own perspective, because you hold the higher context of your shared aspiration. A potential challenge becomes a contribution to the collaborative process.
Let it unfold. Synergy kicks in on its own timing. Plant synergy seeds and give them time to sprout.
Synergy is the emergence of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy adds and never subtracts. So there is no downside, right? Well, just that cheap shots don’t take the same amount of grace and skill.