Principles of Creative Cooperation



 I take as my guide the hope of a saint in crucial things, unity --in important things, diversity -- in all things, generosity -- Inaugural Address of President George Bus * * When Sir Winston Churchill was called to head up the war effort for Great Britain, he remarked that all his life had prepared him for this hour. In a similar sense, the exercise of all of the other habits prepares us for the habit of synergy. When properly understood, synergy is the highest activity in all life -- the true test and manifestation of all the other habits put together. The highest forms of synergy focus the four unique human endowments, the motive of win-win, and the skills of empathic communication on the toughest challenges we face in life. What results is almost miraculous. We create new alternatives -- something that wasn't there before. Synergy is the essence of Principle-Centered Leadership. It is the essence of principlecentered parenting. It catalyzes, unifies, and unleashes the greatest powers within people. All the habits we have covered prepare us to create the miracle of synergy. What is synergy? Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part. The creative process is also the most terrifying part because you don't know exactly what's going to happen or where it is going to lead. You don't know what new dangers and challenges you'll find. It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness. You become a trailblazer, a pathfinder. You open new possibilities, new territories, new continents, so that others can follow. Synergy is everywhere in nature. If you plant two plants close together, the roots commingle and improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated. If you put two pieces of wood together, they will hold much more than the total of the weight held by each separately. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One plus one equals three or more. The challenge is to apply the principles of creative cooperation, which we learn from nature, in our social interactions. Family life provides many opportunities to observe synergy and to practice it. 170 The very way that man and a woman bring a child into the world is synergistic. The essence of synergy is to value differences -- to respect them, to build on strengths, to compensate for weaknesses. We obviously value the physical differences between men and women, husbands and wives. But what about the social, mental, and emotional differences? Could these differences not also be sources of creating new exciting forms of life -- creating an environment that is truly fulfilling for each person, that nurtures the self-esteem and selfworth to each, that creates opportunities for each to mature into independence and then gradually into interdependence? Could synergy not create a new script for the next generation -- one that is more geared to service and contribution, and is less protective, less adversarial, less selfish; one that is more open, more giving, and is less defensive, protective, and political; one that is more loving, more caring, and is less possessive and judgmental? Synergistic Communication When you communicate synergistically, you are simply opening your mind and heart and expressions to new possibilities, new alternatives, new options. It may seem as if you are casting aside Habit 2 (to Begin with the End in Mind); but, in fact, you're doing the opposite -- you're fulfilling it. You're not sure when you engage in synergistic communication how things will work out or what the end will look like, but you do have an inward sense of excitement and security and adventure, believing that it will be significantly better than it was before. And that is the end that you have in mind. You begin with the belief that parties involved will gain more insight, and that the excitement of that mutual learning and insight will create a momentum toward more and more insights, learning, and growth. Many people have not really experienced even a moderate degree of synergy in their family life or in other interactions. They've been trained and scripted into defensive and protective communications or into believing that life or other people can't be trusted. As a result, they are never really open to Habit 6 and to these principles. This represents one of the great tragedies and wastes in life, because so much potential remains untapped -- completely undeveloped and unused. Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential. They experience synergy only in small, peripheral ways in their lives. They may have memories of some unusual creative experiences, perhaps in athletics, where they were involved in a real team spirit for a period of time. Or perhaps they were in an emergency situation where people cooperated to an unusually high degree and submerged ego and pride in an effort to save someone's life or to produce a solution to a crisis. To many, such events may seem unusual, almost out of character with life, even miraculous. But this is not so. These things can be produced regularly, consistently, almost daily in people's lives. But it requires enormous personal security and openness and a spirit of adventure. Almost all creative endeavors are somewhat unpredictable. They often seem ambiguous, 171 hit-or-miss, trial and error. And unless people have a high tolerance for ambiguity and get their security from integrity to principles and inner values they find it unnerving and unpleasant to be involved in highly creative enterprises. Their need for structure, certainty, and predictability is too high. Synergy in the Classroom As a teacher, I have come to believe that many truly great classes teeter on the very edge of chaos. Synergy tests whether teachers and students are really open to the principle of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There are times when neither the teacher nor the student know for sure what's going to happen. In the beginning, there's a safe environment that enables people to be really open and to learn and to listen to each other's ideas. Then comes brainstorming where the spirit of evaluation is subordinated to the spirit of creativity, imagining, and intellectual networking. Then an absolutely unusual phenomenon begins to take place. The entire class is transformed with the excitement of a new thrust, a new idea, a new direction that's hard to define, yet it's almost palpable to the people involved. Synergy is almost as if a group collectively agrees to subordinate old scripts and to write a new one. I'll never forget a university class I taught in leadership philosophy and style. We were about three weeks into a semester when, in the middle of a presentation, one person started to relate some very powerful personal experiences which were both emotional and insightful. A spirit of humility and reverence fell upon the class -- reverence toward this individual and appreciation for his courage. This spirit became fertile soil for a synergistic and creative endeavor. Others began to pick up on it, sharing some of their experiences and insights and even some of their selfdoubts. The spirit of trust and safety prompted many to become extremely open. Rather than present what they prepared, they fed on each other's insights and ideas and started to create a whole new scenario as to what that class could mean. I was deeply involved in the process. In fact, I was almost mesmerized by it because it seemed so magical and creative. And I found myself gradually loosening up my commitment to the structure of the class and sensing entirely new possibilities. It wasn't just a flight of fancy; there was a sense of maturity and stability and substance which transcended by far the old structure and plan. We abandoned the old syllabus, the purchased textbooks, and all the presentation plans, and we set up new purposes and projects and assignments. We became so excited about what was happening that in about three more weeks, we all sensed an overwhelming desire to share what was happening with others We decided to write a book containing our learnings and insights on the subject of our study -- principles of leadership. Assignments were changed, new projects undertaken, new teams formed. People worked much harder than they ever would have in the original class structure, and for an entirely different set of reasons Out of this experience emerged an extremely unique, cohesive, and synergistic culture that did not end with the semester. For years, alumni meetings were held among members of that class. Even today, many years later, when we see each other, we talk about it and often attempt to describe what happened and why. 172 One of the interesting things to me was how little time had transpired before there was sufficient trust to create such synergy. I think it was largely because the people were relatively mature. They were in the final semester of their senior year, and I think they wanted more than just another good classroom experience. They were hungry for something new and exciting, something that they could create that was truly meaningful. It was "an idea whose time had come" for them. In addition, the chemistry was right. I felt that experiencing synergy was more powerful than talking about it, that producing something new was more meaningful than simply reading something old. I've also experienced, as I believe most people have, times that were almost synergistic, times that hung on the edge of chaos and for some reason descended into it. Sadly, people who are burned by such experiences often begin their next new experience with that failure in mind. They defend themselves against it and cut themselves off from synergy. It's like administrators who set up new rules and regulations based on the abuses of a few people inside an organization, thus limiting the freedom and creative possibilities for many -- or business partners who imagine the worst scenarios possible and write them up in legal language, killing the whole spirit of creativity, enterprise, and synergistic possibility. As I think back on many consulting and executive education experiences, I can say that the highlights were almost always synergistic. There was usually an early moment that required considerable courage, perhaps in becoming extremely authentic, in confronting some inside truth about the individual or the organization or the family which really needed to be said, but took a combination of considerable courage and genuine love to say it. Then others became more authentic, open, and honest, and the synergistic communication process began. It usually became more and more creative, and ended up in insights and plans that no one had anticipated initially. As Carl Rogers taught, "That which is most personal is most general." The more authentic you become, the more genuine in your expression, particularly regarding personal experiences and even self-doubts, the more people can relate to your expression and the safer it makes them feel to express themselves. That expression in turn feeds back on the other person's spirit, and genuine creative empathy takes place, producing new insights and learnings and a sense of excitement and adventure that keeps the process going. People then begin to interact with each other almost in half sentences, sometimes incoherently, but they get each other's meanings very rapidly. Then whole new worlds of insights, new perspectives, new paradigms that insure options, new alternatives are opened up and thought about. Though occasionally these new ideas are left up in the air, they usually come to some kind of closure that is practical and useful. Synergy in Business I enjoyed one particularly meaningful synergistic experience as I worked with my associates to create the corporate mission statement for our business. Almost all members of the company went high up into the mountains where, surrounded by the magnificence of nature, we began with a first draft of what some of us considered to be an excellent mission statement. At first the communication was respectful, careful and predictable. But as we began to talk about the various alternatives, possibilities, and opportunities ahead, people became 173 very open and authentic and simply started to think out loud. The mission statement agenda gave way to a collective free association, a spontaneous piggybacking of ideas. People were genuinely empathic as well as courageous, and we moved from mutual respect and understanding to creative synergistic communication. Everyone could sense it. It was exciting. As it matured, we returned to the task of putting the evolved collective vision into words, each of which contains specific and committedto meaning for each participant. The resulting corporate mission statement reads: Our Mission is to empower people and organizations to significantly increase their performance capability in order to achieve worthwhile purposes through understanding and living Principle-Centered Leadership. The synergistic process that led to the creation of our mission statement engraved it in all the hearts and minds of everyone there, and it has served us well as a frame of reference of what we are about, as well as what we are not about. Another high-level synergy experience took place when I accepted an invitation to serve as the resource and discussion catalyst at the annual planning meeting of a large insurance company. Several months ahead, I met with the committee responsible to prepare for and stage the two-day meeting which was to involve all the top executives. They informed me that the traditional pattern was to identify four or five major issues through questionnaires and interviews, and to have alternative proposals presented by the executives. Past meetings had been generally respectful exchanges, occasionally deteriorating into defensive win-lose ego battles. They were usually predictable, uncreative, and boring. As I talked with the committee members about the power of synergy, they could sense its potential. With considerable trepidation, they agreed to change the pattern. They requested various executives to prepare anonymous "white papers" on each of the high priority issues, and then asked all the executives to immerse themselves in these papers ahead of time in order to understand the issues and the differing points of view. They were to come to the meeting prepared to listen rather than to present, prepared to create and synergize rather than to defend and protect. We spent the first half-day in the meeting teaching the principles and practicing the skills of Habits 4, 5, and 6. The rest of the time was spent in creative synergy. The release of creative energy was incredible. Excitement replaced boredom. People became very open to each other's influence and generated new insights and options. By the end of the meeting an entirely new understanding of the nature of the central company challenge evolved. The white paper proposals became obsolete. Differences were valued and transcended. A new common vision began to form. Once people have experienced real synergy, they are never quite the same again. They know the possibility of having other such mind-expanding adventures in the future. Often attempts are made to recreate a particular synergistic experience, but this seldom can be done. However, the essential purpose behind creative work can be recaptured. Like the Far Eastern philosophy, "We seek not to imitate the masters, rather we seek what 174 they sought," we seek not to imitate past creative synergistic experiences, rather we seek new ones around new and different and sometimes higher purposes. S

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