• When Winston Churchill was called to lead Great Britain’s war effort, he remarked that all his life had prepared him for this hour. In a similar sense, the exercise of all the other habits prepares us for the habit of synergy. Properly understood, synergy is the highest activity of life. Through it, we create new, untapped alternatives – things that didn’t yet exist. We unleash people’s greatest powers. We make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The creative process is also terrifying, because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or where it’s going to lead. You leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness. You become a pathfinder. The basis of synergy is that two people can disagree, and both can be right. It’s not logical. It’s psychological. I was hired to lead discussion at the annual two-day planning meeting for top executives of a big insurance company.

The usual pattern was to discuss major issues chosen through a questionnaire. Past meetings had been generally respectful exchanges, and on occasion they deteriorated into win/lose ego battles. They were usually predictable and boring.I convinced them to commission several executives to write anonymous “white papers,” which were passed out to all the executives ahead of time, so they could immerse themselves in the differing points of view. By removing both the need to be polite (and uncreative) and the threat of other egos (since the papers were anonymous), the release of creative energy was incredible. The executives generated new ideas and insights, and quickly made all the white papers obsolete. Most interesting a new, common vision for the company and its mission began to form before our eyes.

Once people have experienced real synergy, they are never quite the same again. They know that the possibility of such mind-expanding adventures always exists. The device that opens us to synergy’s power depends on all the habits of effectiveness at once, requiring confidence, integrity, and empathy. It’s all embodied in one crucial ability: to value and exploit the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between people. Once people have been through synergy, they’re not the same.

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