Synergy, Butterfly
“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 the untrained perspective. He was, however, unique in teaching that such not perceived outcomes usually represent something he labeled “synergy.”

Synergy is not a term that Bucky coined, but he did move it from an obscure scientific phrase into the popular use that it has today. It does not, however, mean what most people think it does.

Synergy is not some magical thing 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 the 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 an uneducated child, the entire process seems magical, 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 that transformational system, and that new element is knowledge.

With knowledge, synergy disappears because the transformation caterpillar to butterfly can be predicted by observing the parts of the system. It’s still an amazing transformation, but it is predictable.  The ultimate synergy of synergies then becomes an unknowable perspective some call God.

Buckminster Fuller, Nature's Pencil
"I'm not trying to imitate nature, I'm trying to find the pencil she's using."
-  Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller never gave up his search to find “Nature’s pencil.” Like so many geniuses, he was constantly searching for the essence of how things worked best. And when he found such solutions in Nature, he applied them to his projects. Thus, we have his most famous invention – the geodesic dome – modeled after structures he found in Nature.

Still, his methodology is perfect for almost any quest. Bucky (and others who are wise enough to realize that Nature is far more effective and efficient than humans) constantly seek the next evolution of ideas, and the really cleaver people always look to Nature first.  If all humans were to make that simple change in solving problems and other activities, we would realize that there are enough resources to support everyone.  Then, all we need to do is be very careful in using exactly enough. Not too much and not too little.

Nature’s pencil is such a sustainable model. She writes and draws with a precision and exactness that humans have difficulty understanding or modeling. Still, people like Bucky and many of today’s great minds continue to search because they know that the exploration is as important as reaching the goal.  They also know that we humans need to learn all we can about Nature and how she uses the exact amount of resources in order to manifest Fuller’s vision of “a world that works for everyone” on the tiny planet he named “Spaceship Earth.”

Bucky Talks About Mind, Exploration & Life.