The Art of Synthesis

We all appreciate experts. But one of the pitfalls of an expert is when he or she thinks deeply about only one narrow field of specialty. Of course, we need experts and masters. After all, it doesn’t matter what your brain surgeons’ golf handicap is; you need him to be good with a scalpel.

In the marketplace, however, a breadth of experience and the ability to think collaboratively are two essential ingredients to success. Synthesizing ideas is a prerequisite for innovations that matter, strategies that work, and products that ship. The word synthesis literarily means “one answer (-thesis) together (syn-) from multiple places.”

In centuries past, it was used in reference to the mixture of ingredients to form medicines. More recently, Steve Jobs got at the heart of it when he said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” Similarly, others have thought of synthesis in terms of “combinatorial creativity.”

How does your organization leverage a broad array of experiences and experts? How can you better employ the art of synthesis in your daily work?

Ask More, Give More

A recent Pew poll shows that an increasing number of workers are being asked to work more hours without additional benefit. In the short term, this simply seems to be the result of a lagging economy.  Indications suggest, however, that this trend may not recede when business starts booming again.

To the surprise of some, most Gen Y or Millennial workers (born 1980–2001) are primarily interested in non-monetary rewards and benefits. When asked to choose between more money and more vacation time, the majority opt for additional time off. Other non-traditional rewards included allowing work time to pursue an endeavor of their choice, dedicated time with mentorship and development coaches, and involvement with various social-good causes.

The company that will thrive in the future will be one that values both profitability and employee satisfaction as integral parts of its organizational culture.

The Habit of Excellence

The record of history is not kind to the dreamers who never do and the visionaries who never try. Time is decidedly not on their side. They are buried and forgotten. An idea without action is a dead idea.

“We are what we repeatedly do,” wrote Will Durant, a 20th century American historian and philosopher. “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” As the writer Annie Dillard observed, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Similarly, Clay Christensen says, “Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.”

What are the presiding habits of your organization?  How can you make excellence a regular habit and not just an isolated act, both corporately and individually?

The Dark Side of Charisma

The idea that good leaders always have charisma is rarely questioned, but the alluring trait comes with a surreptitious dark side. In fact, according to one international authority in personality profiling, “the short-term benefits of charisma are often neutralized by its long-term consequences.” Writing for the Harvard Business Review blog, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic argues that despite its apparent necessity in leadership, charisma in fact dilutes judgment, is addictive, disguises psychopaths, and fosters collective narcissism. “In brief,” he writes, “charisma distracts and destructs.” As an organizational leader, what steps have you taken to keep the dark side of your own charisma in check?

Tomorrow’s Opportunity Is Eclipsed by Today’s Success

Successful strategies terminate when the conditions that created them change. The marketplace is dynamic and volatile. Who is planning and designing for the next thing? Success is temporary and it obscures opportunity. Don’t fall in love with your current strategies. They cannot carry your organization forever. Hidden assets—unrecognized platforms, customer assets, and capabilities—rejuvenate the core of a business and allow it to expand with those changing conditions. Does the smokescreen of your historical success camouflage the assets for tomorrow’s growth at your fingertips?