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Synergy: Minority of One

Synergy (n.) from the Latin synergia, from Greek synergia "joint work, a working together, cooperation; assistance, help."

Can you recall a time in your life when you met someone and you just “clicked?” A person with whom you felt an instant connection, as if you’ve known each other for your entire lives? While few and far between, I have found those moments and those people to be some of life’s deepest treasures. That feeling, the connection that occurs with those types of relationships- that’s called synergy.

As Steve Covey puts it, synergy is achieved when two or more people work together to create a better solution than either could alone. This concept of synergy is vital to understanding how to thrive professionally and personally. Harvard University researchers conducted an 85 year study about what makes us happy in life- the outcomes of that study indicated that positive relationships keep us happier, healthier, and contribute to longevity of life. This study highlights that the human person is fundamentally relational, that we are intrinsically social beings- that relationships are vital to healthy functioning. In essence, human beings are symbiotic creatures- we rely on interactions with others to fulfill our needs for love, acceptance, and belonging.

Symbiosis helps us flourish.

Symbiosis refers to a mutually beneficial relationship- most of life is a series of symbiotic relationships. From nature, to daily life tasks, to family functioning, symbiosis is everywhere. Take for example, sharks and pilot fish, honeybees and flowers, humans and animals, humanity using trees for paper and wood products, and the list goes on. As evidenced by these examples, not all symbiotic relationships are created equal. There are mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships, there are those in which plants, animals, and the like are used primarily for human benefits, and there are those referred to as “parasitic” relationships that benefit one party while harming the other (for example, clearing forests without replacing trees, leads to erosion, and harms the local ecosystem).

The key point in all of this, is understanding that achieving symbiosis in our daily lives, through the relationships we build (or don’t) is essential to our flourishing. A true symbiotic relationship is mutually beneficial for all parties involved. When we don’t seek to achieve symbiosis, people get hurt, and we neglect operating at our maximum potential. Learning to synergize is about learning to collaborate, support, and work with others instead of trying to fly solo.

As we’ve all experienced, synergy can be difficult to attain, whether it’s with a sports team, a school project, within your family, or at work. It’s all too easy for our intentions to become misaligned due to being hurt, poor communication, unwillingness to cooperate, lack of forgiveness, or just not understanding the person next to you (we’ve all been there)!

Complementarity helps us to celebrate differences and operate at our best.

The documentary series, The Last Dance, which depicts the ‘dream team’ era of the Chicago Bulls in the 1980’s and 90’s, during the peak of Michael Jordan’s career, is a prime example of what it takes to synergize. The show acutely demonstrates that synergy requires hard work; it doesn’t just happen at the snap of a finger. Despite being the most infamous and perhaps most dynamic team in NBA history, the team had many ups and downs, including arguments, difficulty with management, injuries, missed shots, tough losses, personal tragedies, and publicity woes. However, this dynamic team saw success because they worked to refine their team dynamic. Every player knew that the other played a vital role in the success of the team because they each brought something different to the game; they learned to recognize and celebrate each other’s differences in order to operate at their best.

Just as the honeybee and the flower are different from one another, the Chicago Bulls needed diverse talent to succeed. If the Bulls had five Michael Jordan’s on the team, it wouldn’t have worked. Jordan needed to be balanced by his teammates. This example highlights why complementarity is crucial in symbiotic relationships. Learning how to synergize, draws out the concept of complementarity and teaches us to appreciate why differences are important and how they can help unify people and create stronger teams, rather than working alone. Ultimately, in any group setting, diversity is needed to function at optimal capacity: different ways of thinking and being create cohesion.

Diversity is needed to create cohesion- we are a minority of one.

Diversity is not just an external thing, but also internal: differences in the way we learn, the way we think, and in our life experiences. As Covey says, it’s much easier to appreciate differences when we realize that in one way or another, we are all a minority of one. By this Covey means that one perspective isn’t better than another, just different. Everyone views the world differently, and multiple perspectives can be right; understanding this will increase your respect for different viewpoints and your capacity to synergize with others.

Ultimately, synergy should be the gold standard that we constantly strive to attain, because it’s about perfecting the art of living and working together, about unifying despite our differences. At the end of the day, human beings need each other for survival, to truly flourish, to draw out our best in each other- that’s what a “team” should do. Seeking to cultivate synergy wherever we go helps us to respond to our human desire to participate in authentic relationships with others.

Ubuntu: I am because we are.

I will leave you to reflect upon one of my favorite sayings that I came across in college: Ubuntu. Often repeated by Desmond Tutu, it’s an African saying that comes from the Bantu language family, and means, “I am because we are.” We cannot be fully human without each other. How will you cultivate synergy in your daily life?


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