What is Synergy?

Dare has a post where he once again rips on people who abuse the language.  Most of the words he and the commenters identify should be removed from all responsible e-mail conversations.  But I have to object about the criticism of the word “synergy”.

The meaning of synergy is very clear.  Think chemistry, and drug interaction guides.  Synergistic is like saying, “if you mix A and B, you don’t get A+B; you get SuperA+SuperB!”  It’s like mixing vodka and vicodin, or lsd and mdma.  Synergy is unmistakable.

Now, there are many cases where people use the word “synergy”, and they really mean “I sure hope this re-org doesn’t screw up”.  But these people are stupid, and we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of a perfectly good word that actually has meaningful application in business.  Like in chemistry, synergy in business is hard to mistake.  For example, when IE, Outlook, and Vista desktop all become RSS clients; and SharePoint, WCF, MSCRM, and MSN Spaces all beome RSS Servers, that’s synergy.  People will be more likely to deploy Outlook 2007 if they have SharePoint 2007, and more likely to deploy SharePoint 2007 if they have Outlook 2007 — more likely than they would have been had RSS not been baked into both.  That’s synergy.  Synergy is very important.

And “complementary” is not a valid replacement for “synergy”; they mean different things.  Ibuprofin and Sudafed are complimentary.  They’re not synergistic.  There is no other word that means what “synergy” means; let’s don’t kill it, m’kay?

Also, note how I used “super” above.  This illustrates why I hate the way Microsoft people use “super”.  “Super” is like “superman”.  In Halo, a “super jump” is super.  You are jumping through the air like a superhero.  But there is no such thing as super-excited (that’s right — when Dare sees Carmen Electra, he might be “very excited”, but not “super excited”).  Superman doesn’t get superhumanly excited; he doesn’t even get excited.  He’s like Clint Eastwood.  Now, if you leap around and squeal with joy and act like a Powerpuff Girl at Christmas, I might agree that you are “super-happy”.  But that’s a pretty rare occurence, usually under the influence of synergy, and certainly not when introducing yourself with yet another PowerPoint deck.

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