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“There’s a crisis in American business that many people don’t like to talk about. It’s the baloney crisis.”

So starts Harold S. Geneen, former CEO of ITT, in his 1997 book, The Synergy Myth. Geneen, if you’re not familiar with him, virtually invented the corporation-as-international-conglomerate phenomenon in the 1960’s and 70’s and became one of, if not, THE most significant, influential, and controversial businessman of that era.

The “bologna” that Geneen was referring to is the overuse – and misuse – of the term, “synergy.”

(Sidebar/personal disclosure: Back in college, I very much wanted to become an industrial psychologist for ITT. That never happened, but the way I do my executive coaching, mentoring, and leadership development work – cutting through the baloney, if you will – is due, in part, to Harold S. Geneen.)

“True synergy is the rarest thing in the world,” he wrote. “It occurs when one entity that behaves in one way and another entity that behaves in another way merge into a third entity that starts behaving an entirely new way.”

He punctuated his point by offering two examples of true synergy: George Washington and his cherry tree; and Santa Claus and his sled!

“And the first of those is a myth and the second is a fairy tale!” he’d chortle.

Geneen’s primary gripe was this: “When people say, “synergy,” they usually mean the simple, productive, use of existing assets or the efficient allocation of manpower and resources.” As such, he felt that labeling productivity and efficiency – even if it was EXTREME productivity and efficiency – as anything more than just “productivity and efficiency” was counterproductive and foolhardy.

Why? Because it sets the bar too low:

  • Extreme productivity and efficiency can be the NORM, not something special.
  • Extreme productivity and efficiency can be the STARTING POINT, not the end-state.
  • Extreme productivity and efficiency can be REQUIRED, not just hoped for.
  • Extreme productivity and efficiency can be EASY and FUN, not difficult and boring.

To that end, I had the opportunity (took the opportunity, actually) to do some brainstorming with a colleague this week (Vicki Raymont) and BOTH extreme productivity and efficiency AND synergy ensued:

  • We naturally challenged each other to think bigger and smarter and ended up thinking bigger and smarter, ourselves, as a result
  • We didn’t just share insights and observations, but felt our insights and observations rapidly expand just from listening to, and seriously considering, what each other way saying
  • Disjointed thoughts easily morphed into a clarity and elegance that surprised and delighted us both
  • Our mutual commitment to outcome and process resulted in a framework that will likely change how we EACH do what we do, moving forward

It’s so nice when a plan works as planned, isn’t it?! And here are some of the things that helped make that happen:

  1. Unfailing mutual respect and regard, before, during, and after
  2. A willingness to seek, explore, and address, whatever fears, uncertainties, and doubts, arose
  3. Permission and freedom (to each other and to ourselves) to not have to get it perfectly right the first (or even second) time
  4. Discussing how our “light bulb” moments enabled the mental shifts that enabled additional “light bulb” moments to occur
  5. Recognizing how to leverage the efforts invested, and conclusions reached, into other, increasingly meaningful, contexts

Oh, and we laughed harder, and worked smarter, than we had in a long time, too, I suspect.

No baloney!

So what are YOU doing to move your staff – and yourself – up through extreme productivity and efficiency and into synergy?! What have you found that works particularly well? Big or small, please share.


2 thoughts on “Synergy sans Baloney”

  1. Nicely done!! That’s our synergy story! Resonates completely. How amazing to see what was accomplished in such a short time and seemingly effortlessly. I think we had a winning formula to start with – respect for each other’s competence/opinion; trust we could be open and enthusiastic and wrong; genuine friendship (earned 11 years ago), focus for completion; good humor and humility. You’re a good one Charlie Brown!!!

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