06/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Shift to Social Synergy

Last week, I wrote about the emerging transpartisan movement and its importance in moving us beyond fractious politics. A similar theme threaded through my radio show yesterday with Gordon Davidson and Corinne McLaughlin on "Co-Creating the New World of Synthesis" (download here), who offered deep wisdom on how to collaborate from a place of synthesis.

The essence of each is the shift into social synergy, a term that futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard uses extensively in her work. "Syn" comes from the Latin root "together" and "ergy" is from the root for "work." Social synergy is a way of designing our society such that we work more effectively and creatively together, from the grassroots to the highest echelons of power. This collaborative work can include service to those most in need, such as building homes for the poor, or the creation of strong businesses. Or it can reflect our highest aspirations as a people, such as creating parks, universities, and public art.

Work is an expression of our unique, creative gifts. It reflects our core purpose, both individually and culturally. Innovative business leader Chip Conley emphasizes that when any employee sees their work as part of a higher purpose, it makes it more meaningful, which translates into better results. This has even been true of frontline housekeepers at his hotels who, when asked to explore the question of the purpose of their work more deeply, might see themselves as "Moms away from home." A clear higher purpose gives their work a deeper meaning, which makes them happier and more effective.

The current recession offers us a time to reorient our collective purpose to a higher level and shift into social synergy. Our purpose in the past largely revolved around individual success. Each of us sought to get a larger slice of the pie for ourselves and protect "our" interests. We glorified excess consumption, chased money and glamor, and sought leverage in the halls of elite power. This version of the American Dream didn't allow for real social synergy because it was based on individual self-interest. It was not a shared purpose that we could work towards together.

The recession offers us the opportunity to strip away layers of falsehood and recreate our core beliefs as a society, as well as find bolder and more beautiful shared dreams. For example, what if we shared the dream that America becomes the most sustainable country in the world, leading the way on solutions to all our major environmental problems? What if we shared the dream that we help to broker peace on a planetary scale? What if we shared the dream of a strong economy that creates opportunity for all without damage to our environment?

These dreams require tremendous social synergy to accomplish. To solve major environmental problems requires robust entrepreneurship, individual discipline, conservation of resources, innovation, and the support of institutions such as churches, schools and businesses. It needs all political parties, and social groups to get on board. To succeed in such a shared purpose, we need the skills and talents of everyone, working together with as little friction as possible. Similarly, building a truly peaceful culture on a planetary scale requires that we learn how to collaborate effectively at home, turning our cities into oases of peace and training our children in conflict-resolution skills from their earliest days.

Rather than feel hopeless or simply "wait out" the recession, the call of this historical moment is to reinvent our society around the principle of social synergy at the deepest level of our national character. The first part of that shift is re-invigorating the American Dream with a more expanded vision that we can all get behind. Then, as we raise our aspirations as a people again, we can liberate our enormous creative energy for the tasks that will be required to achieve that dream, with each of us working together on our piece.

The shift into social synergy is manifesting in transpartisanship in the political system and stronger collaborative networks at the grassroots levels. As we shed the old beliefs that celebrate individual greed and begin to work towards our highest shared aspirations, social synergy can jump start the engine of the American economy and power us towards a more meaningful and evolutionary destiny.