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.




Leave a Reply.