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Synergy, parts, wholes

Synergy is a term that is sometimes used by laymen that could use some more clarification.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines synergy as:

The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects: ‘the synergy between artist and record company’

Origin: Mid 19th century: from Greek sunergos ‘working together’, from sun- ‘together’ + ergon ‘work’.

A common understanding is that synergy means that “a whole that is more than the sum of its parts”.  Since I’ve said that “Systems thinking is a perspective on parts, wholes, and their relations”, a richer appreciation may come through working through a selective history on parts and wholes.  Let’s step through:

  • 1. Wholes as composites differentiating from mechanical addition (Smuts 1926)
  • 2. Gestalt psychology “different from” and “something else than” (Koffka 1935)
  • 3. Levels as “hierarchization” or “progressive organization (or individualization)” (von Bertalanffy 1932-1949 via Drack 2009)
  • 4. Normative model of work group synergy (Hackman 1987)
  • 5. Logical type in hierarchy theory (Allen 2008)

A challenge in appreciating a whole is: what is meant by more than?  In addition, is there a possibility for a whole to be less than the sum of its parts?  The formalization of systems theory (in the modern sense) didn’t really rise until the 1950s, so rather than going back to ancient Greek philosophers, let’s start in the 20th century.… Read more (in a new tab)

Synergy is a term that is sometimes used by laymen that could use some more clarification.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines synergy as:

The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects: ‘the synergy between artist and record company’

Origin: Mid 19th century: from Greek sunergos ‘working together’, from sun- ‘together’ + ergon ‘work’.

A common understanding is that synergy means that “a whole that is more than the sum of its parts”.  Since I’ve said that “Systems thinking is a perspective on parts, wholes, and their relations”, a richer appreciation may come through working through a selective history on parts and wholes.  Let’s step through:

  • 1. Wholes as composites differentiating from mechanical addition (Smuts 1926)
  • 2. Gestalt psychology “different from” and “something else than” (Koffka 1935)
  • 3. Levels as “hierarchization” or “progressive organization (or individualization)” (von Bertalanffy 1932-1949 via Drack 2009)
  • 4. Normative model of work group synergy (Hackman 1987)
  • 5. Logical type in hierarchy theory (Allen 2008)

A challenge in appreciating a whole is: what is meant by more than?  In addition, is there a possibility for a whole to be less than the sum of its parts?  The formalization of systems theory (in the modern sense) didn’t really rise until the 1950s, so rather than going back to ancient Greek philosophers, let’s start in the 20th century.… Read more (in a new tab)

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