Synergy is a word that has been damaged by overuse, particularly in corporate communications where it is deployed as a buzz word devoid of real meaning. If I were editing a corporate communications document, I’d probably replace this word with a synonym because it is most likely meaningless jargon in that context. Which is a shame, because this is a rather wonderful word. Just saying it is fun: it pops with energy and zest. Perhaps it’s time to reclaim this word.
Synergy is Greek in origin, composed of the two words sun, meaning “together,” and ergon, meaning “work.” Fittingly, though, the meaning of synergy is something much more than merely “working together.” Its meaning is best summed up in that old chestnut, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Synergy is a union of two or more things (such as principles or organizations), which combined produce a greater effect than would be predicted by adding up their separate effects.
Synergy, therefore, is that elusive characteristic much sought after in the business world of combining certain people, teams, or entire companies to produce something more effective, talented, or mighty than those components would be if left separate. In this context, though, synergy often comes across as meaningless jargon because it’s an elusive quality that business is always chasing but that few people (if any) actually know how to generate.
I came to this word today by drawing the Art/Temperance card from my Tarot deck for my daily meditation. Temperance is all about balance, but how does that lead to synergy? By combining our opposite qualities, or bringing them into balance with each other, we can become more of who we essentially are; our whole then is something greater than our separate qualities would suggest. However, I like thinking about synergy in terms of Art. Art itself can be defined as something that is always more than what composes it, whether that be drawings or colors, notes or words on a page. Art is art because it expresses a greater truth, a higher beauty, or the essential experience of being human. However, the artist does not purposely manufacture this greater expression while creating. The artist can work with only the components of his or her art. The greater whole becomes apparent only after the work is completed.
For those of us who love books and organizing them, synergy plays a role there too, according to this quotation:
…synergy is the consequence of the energy expended in creating order. It is locked up in the viable system created, be it an organism or social system. It is at the level of the system. It is not discernible at the level of the system. It is not discernible at the level of the system’s components. Whenever the system is dismembered to examine its components, this binding energy dissipates. An ordered library offers systemic possibilities, such as rapid search, selection, and aggregation, that cannot be explained by looking at the books themselves. These possibilities only exist because of the investment made in defining and creating interrelations between the books, their physical arrangement, and the catalogues. [Source: J.-C. Spender, “Organizational Knowledge, Collective Practice, and Penrose Rents,” in Michael H. Hack (ed.), Knowledge and Strategy, Routledge, 2009, p. 125]
Perhaps you may feel inspired to generate synergy today by creating some art or even just reorganizing your book collection.