The approach to synergy compliments our approach in tackling complex systems.
Although never having been associated with leadership in the past, Brookes (2016) describes how he ‘stumbled across’ the work of R. Buckminster Fuller when researching the origins of the term ‘synergy’1 and how this came to change Brookes’ thinking on whole systems approaches, which he had been practicing and studying for some twenty years. The Oxford English Dictionary (attributing its provenance to Buckminster Fuller) defines synergetics as:
the exploratory strategy of starting with the whole and the known behaviour of some of its parts and the progressive discovery of the integral unknowns …
This is almost akin to the black box of leadership. How often, in your learning so far, have we emphasised the need to know what is currently unknown? Considering synergy helps us to understand complexity and how to deal with it in reducing the potential or the impact of chaos that inevitably follows and aligning this with cybernetics provides the opportunity to drill down into the components that make up the whole and help in both establishing and encouraging network, institutional and personal accountability.
Twelve Degrees of Freedom
In chapter six of the Selfless Leader, Brookes introduced Buckminster Fuller’s hierarchy of generalised principle, which Fuller interpreted as possibly governing all of the physical Universe’s intertransforming transactions focused on the twelve degrees of freedom (illustrated below).
Twelve Degrees of (Leadership) Freedom?
Although these twelve degrees of freedom apply to the physical universe (and why we argue that weightlessness occurs in space), we can also explore this into the ways in which leadership manifests itself. This is important as there is only one universal system (the universe); all others are created by humans and, as human beings, were are fallible!
We are traditionally conditioned to look up and down in 180 degrees from the top of the organisation to its grassroots (and, occasionally, back up again).
Leaders tend to work in a hierarchical ‘top-down’ way rather than looking in, out and around.
Put a beam between two walls and, as the load comes on top, the bottom tries to open up – the top goes into compression and the bottom goes into tension. This is why the ancient Greeks built columns very close to each other; can we equate this to the way in organisational structures are built to support a top-heavy hierarchy?
This could be considered in terms of the twists and turns undertaken by management in organisational change, resulting in a changed direction – often a negative direction!
This considers changes from the inside rather than the outside. To what extent do leaders develop their vision and priorities from the outside in rather than the inside out? (see the boxed example).
In terms of the practice of leaders, the main tendency has been to look up-and-down (at 180 degrees) rather than inward and outwards or horizontally and often, to react accordingly.
These reactions often knock the organisations’ direction off its course.
GRAPPLING WITH COMPLEXITY AND THE GRATUITOUS GREMLINS!
Things or facts exist. We know this. However, do we really know it or is it merely a perception? More worryingly, do those who want us to perceive it in a particular way construct our knowledge and thus render it as a self-fulfilling fact or prophesy?
As Simon Western tells us, in relation to the discourses of leadership, these are often:
‘..an institutional way of thinking, a taken-for granted (or normative) way of being, that is determined by language, communication and texts’. (Western 2013: 150)
if you frame what is to all intents and purposes a ‘wicked’ problem as a ‘tame’ problem, then it is unlikely that you will ever succeed in relation to tackling that problem. Getting consensus is the next challenge but consider this from a networked perspective in which the complexity just keeps on expanding and morphing! Brookes’ gratuitous gremlins are those unwanted or unjustified blips, glitches, malfunctions, bugs or jinxes that just keep getting in the way of what you are trying to do! Synergetics is one way of understanding why these glitches or bugs just keep happening again, and again and …..!
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