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1+1+1+1=1

by David Brock on January 28th, 2020

I’m a great fan of Ray Dalio’s, Principles. Today, he posted one of his principles: 1+1=3. The principle is that people collaborating effectively can accomplish more together than they can individually. (For those of you that got MBAs in the 80s/90s, the “management speak” of this concept was “synergy.”)

When I see high performing organizations, one of the characteristics is this concept of synergy. Great people with great ideas, working together to produce even better ideas and approaches.

The process you see in organizations doing this is fascinating. Dalio describes it in the Bridgewater culture. It often is strong willed people arguing, intensely for their ideas, at the same time listening to other perspectives and realizing others have great ideas as well. What happens, ends up being less the idea of any individual, but what these individuals learned and developed to be even better than what they could have done individually.

Another characteristic of these high performing organizations is that once they lock in on the new idea, everyone owns it, and they move forward together in sharp execution.

I think these capabilities are the mark of great leaders and great organizations.

Sadly, too many organizations fail to do this. Often, wickedly smart people, get together, but what results is less than their collective capabilities. Too often, rather than leveraging on their collective thinking and experience, one person’s ideas prevail. It may be that individual is the “boss,” and doesn’t listen to the others. It may be that sheer force of personality, stubbornness, or the loudest voice prevails. It may be, the others simply don’t care and aren’t engaged. Or worse, they meet, come to agreement, then go out and do what they had originally intended.

Great leaders, great organizations realize the great ideas come from inspired people, debating and challenging each other, aligning around a better idea and executing sharply. They realize it’s not “their idea” that’s best but the ideas that are the results of the collective thinking/debating of smart people challenging each other to improve.

Underlying this is a culture and value system built around genuine trust, collaboration, disciplined thinking, curiosity, and a commitment to learning and growth.

Are you working in an organizations where 1+1=3 or more, or are you working in an organization where that cannot leverage the collective intelligence of the people?

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2 Comments
  1. Kurt permalink

    Great observation, as always.

    Interesting how it aligns with the collaborative negotiation mindset I have always promoted in coaching top sales/negotiation execs.

    Sometimes people see the extremes of negotiation at Winner/Competitive vs. Loser/Acquiescent. And the “middle ground” is “Compromise” which in my experience often ends up being the lowest common denominator. I don’t know who first said it, but “Compromise is the fine art of everyone walking away equally dissatisfied.” Or as one of my old coaches said, “it’s like kissing your sister.” THAT is 2+2=3.

    COLLABORATION (as opposed to compromise) is 2+2=5. Everyone goes away with MORE than what they contributed individually.

    Take a closer look at ALL the ingredients and mix in a little less ego, and you can end up with a cake instead of a crouton.

  2. Brian MacIver permalink

    Yes I’m a 1980/90 MBA,
    and synergy was one of the Mantras.
    “Synergy” of Companies, synergies of people.

    My Partner, the Psychologist and Number cruncher, and I, have debated this again and again.

    Her take was simple for 1+1=2 each have to be completely different, otherwise you just had repetition, or 1+1=1 if identical.

    Then, one of my MBA tutors agreed.

    He was presenting “Scientific Management” Taylorism, and presented the production figures for Nail manufacture, where Craft individuals completed ever job, Extrusion, Sharpening, Heading. Then, showed the production advantage of Production line where each man only extruded, headed or sharpened, production rose significantly.

    In Sales we do this by Product range splits, Hunter/Farmer Divides, Customer Line Of Business focus. But, all to often we don’t get the results that Manufacturing does.

    Because we ignore Taylor’s wisdom.
    (1) Science, Not Rule of Thumb:
    (2) Harmony, Not Discord:
    (3) Cooperation, Not Individualism:
    (4) Development of Each and Every Person to His / Her Greatest Efficiency and Prosperity:

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