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L. Steven Sieden

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Looking for Synergy in All the Wrong Places - Buckminster Fuller's Vision

Posted: 07/06/2012 6:01 pm

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly." Buckminster Fuller

Bucky Fuller was not the first or the last to remind people of this truth that transformation is usually not apparent to someone who does not have a broad perspective. He was, however, unique in teaching that such unperceived outcomes usually represent "synergy." Synergy is not a term that Bucky coined, but he did move it from an obscure phrase from chemistry into the popular use that it has today. Synergy does not, however, mean what most people think it does.

Synergy is not some magical device that causes extraordinary results when people work together. It is behavior of whole systems that cannot be predicted by behavior of the individual parts of that system when observed separately.

In the case of the caterpillar, the parts of the system include the various elements of the caterpillar's body, the chrysalis it creates, the food and water it ingests, air, sunlight, etc. Looking at each of these elements, including the caterpillar itself, a person would be hard pressed to say that the caterpillar will become a butterfly.

However, when all of those elements come together in the right moment, the result is a beautiful butterfly. The whole system behaves in a way that cannot be predicted by observing its individual elements.

To a young child, the entire process seems magical and fits the definition of synergy, but once that child has a direct experience of the butterfly's transformation (be it by personal observation or teaching), the process is no longer synergy to her or him. A new element has been added to the transformational system. That new element is knowledge.

With knowledge, synergy takes on an entirely new meaning because the transformation caterpillar to butterfly can be predicted by observing the parts of the system. We know that these simple elements can combine to create a butterfly. It's still an amazing transformation, but it is predictable. And when we know how to use this generalized principle, we can harness its power to make amazing changes ever more rapidly.


•••

We humans really need the power of synergy and other of Nature's Generalized Principles that Bucky used if we are to survive and thrive. In the same way that a butterfly emerges from what once was a caterpillar, we are a global society emerging to become something beyond what most of us can imagine. Fortunately, futurists like Bucky Fuller were considering the almost unthinkable possibilities decades ago, and we can now benefit from their insights.

Our cocoon of collective ignorance and accumulated planetary resources has served us well through our development just as the resources accumulated in the chrysalis served the emerging butterfly, but it is now time for us to emerge as genuine Earth stewards creating a sustainable world that serves all sentient beings. We must become the butterfly of our destiny if we are to survive and thrive.

Bucky Fuller was one of the first people to recognize this emerging paradigm shift to a society no longer dependent on nonrenewable resources, military power and brawn, and he did all that he could to live his life as an experiment and demonstration of the new emerging human while sharing all that he learned along the way. He was what we now label an early adapter or perhaps a visionary implementer who recognized the unity of all and lived his life in support of all sentient beings.

We can be truly grateful for Bucky and people like him who were -- and still are -- willing to take risks that are beyond what most people can even imagine. He showed us what is possible when a person realizes that he does make a difference and then takes action on behalf of as large a group as possible.

His mission statement says it all:
"to make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone."

It's simple, doable and comprehensive. Bucky knew that he would probably not eliminate war, global starvation, illiteracy, homelessness, and disease in his lifetime, but he continued to campaign against these and many other aspects of human suffering and competition until he breathed his last breath. He also recognized that we really don't know what we are emerging into, but he did his best to predict what problems would be most challenging to future humans. Then, he created solutions to those problems so that they would be here for us -- future generations, many of whom he would never meet.

And he utilized of Nature's Generalized Principles to create those solutions, one Generalized Principle being synergy. In a practical forum, synergy involves combining people and resources in unique ways to create results that simply cannot be predicted, and we humans would be wise to be as inclusive as possible in order to produce ever more potent results.

Synergy demands inclusion. Thus, it is not the domain of politicians, governments, organized religions or other institutions that do their best to keep us specialized and divided in order to keep us under control.

The one thing that we can do to generate more extraordinary, unpredictable, synergetic results is to incorporate and embrace more diverse opinions, people and ideas into our projects while maintaining open minds. Then, and only then, will we begin to witness the true synergy available to us all as we transform into Bucky's vision of "a world that works for everyone."

 
 
 

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