by Flemming Funch, 26 December 1994.

Here are a few tidbits on synergy, paraphrased from the book "Maps of the Mind" by Charles Hampden-Turner, chapter 42.

The author draws out descriptions of synergy in physical sciences from Buckminster Fuller, in anthropology through Ruth Benedict and in psychology through Abraham Maslow.

Buckminster Fuller defines synergy as:

"the behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts".

There are many cases found in science where the sum of parts attains different characteristics than what can be assumed from the parts. For example, the metal alloy of chrome, nickel and steel is much stronger than any of those metals by themselves. And their synergy used in a jet engine prevents the whole from melting.

Ruth Benedict was an anthropologist and poet and is credited with introducing the idea of synergy into social science. She had made a comprehensive study of a number of different American Indian tribes. She felt intuitively that several tribes, the Zuni, the Arapesh and the Dakota, had something vital, secure and likable about them, while the Chuckchee, the Ojibwa, the Dobu and the Kwakiutl gave her the shivers. Examining all her data and all variables she knew of didn't give her any clue why. She then made an intuitive leap and stated that a pattern might emerge in a whole that didn't appear in any of the parts, and she termed it 'synergy'. She wrote:

"From all comparative material the conclusion emerges that societies where non-aggression is conspicuous have social orders in which the individual by the same act and at the same time serves his own advantage and that of the group ... not because people are unselfish and put social obligations above personal desires, but when social arrangements make these identical".

At around the same time, Abraham Maslow was studying 'self-actualizing persons', his term for persons of outstanding creativity. Ruth Benedict had lent him parts of a manuscript on synergy and after her death in 1948 he realized that they were the only remaining record of her work in that regard. He himself elaborated greatly on the subject.

In the 'self-actualizers' that Maslow studied, he found a much heightened ability to resolve value dichotomies. Maslow wrote:

"The age-old opposition between heart and head ... was seen to disappear where they became synergic rather than antagonistic ... the dichotomy between selfishness and unselfishness disappears ... Our subjects are simultaneously very spiritual, and very pagan and sensual. Duty cannot be contrasted with pleasure nor work with play when duty is pleasure ... Similar findings have been reached for kindness-ruthlessness, concreteness-abstractness, acceptance-rebellion, self-society, adjustment-maladjustment ... serious-humorous, Dionysian-Appollonian, introverted-extraverted, intense-casual ... mystic-realistic, active-passive, masculine-feminine, lust-love, and Eros-Agape ...[all] coalesce into an organismic unity and into a non-Aristotelean interpenetration ... and a thousand serious philosophical dilemmas are discovered to have more than two horns, or paradoxically, no horns at all".

The author also goes on to mention business management training approaches aiming at creating synergy and integration between the technological 'Concern for Production' and the humanitarian 'Concern with People'.

"Maps of the Mind" is a very recommendable book, by the way, for anybody who wants a quick, condensed overview of many different philosophies and schools of thinking.

- Flemming