An unappetizing mess of synergy Words: Stephen R. Covey wrote the book on synergy. But when others use this buzzword, things don't always add up.

March 30, 1997|By MIKE ADAMS

FRANCO HARRIS, the former football star and owner of Parks Sausage, recently found a novel way to explain a weenie deal that went sour.

Asked why Parks lost a contract to make hot dogs for Allen Foods, Harris replied: "Poor synergies."

Huh? Now, I know Franco owns another company that puts vitamins in doughnuts, but I defy him to try to put synergy in a hot dog. Ditto for synergizing with even the most intelligent of frankfurters.

I suspect that Franco was actually referring to a strained relationship between the two companies. If that's the case, he should have been frank and said: "Those weenies at Allen Foods didn't like our weenies, so the deal fell through."

Until, a few years ago, I rarely heard anyone use the word synergy; now it's everywhere. Noun, verb, adverb, adjective. I've heard it every conceivable way. Seems like whenever people are in situations where they're either striving to sound intelligent or obfuscating, they find a way to use - or misuse - synergy.

The dictionary defines synergy as the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect greater than the sum of the individual elements. The use of the word increased dramatically after the publication of Stephen R. Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" in 1989.

Covey uses synergy as a problem-solving approach based on open communication, trust and a desire for a solution that is better than mere compromise. Synergizing is a method that Covey recommends in a best seller that has sold more than 6 million copies in North America and is available in 40 countries and 28 languages.

Covey has served as a consultant to President Clinton and Newt Gingrich and many Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, General Motors, Disney, Procter & Gamble, Sears Roebuck and Co. and Black & Decker.

So, it's no wonder that synergy has become a buzzword, especially in the business community.

A check of a computer data base turned up numerous examples of the abuse of synergy in newspapers across the nation. Headline writers are some of the worst culprits.

A Chicago Tribune story about an all-female stage show carried a headline that said: "GIRLS NIGHT OUT SAME-SEX SYNERGY BEARS FRUIT: 'GODDESS' SHOW." "STAND-UP SYNERGY" was the headline for a New Times article about the recent HBO-sponsored U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado.

"HOMICIDAL SYNERGY, TAKE TWO," blared a Washington Post headline about a television version of "In Cold Blood."

Moving on to stories, I pulled this out of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Vinson said only the synergy between the 49ers and the mall, which would be called Candlestick Mills, could make the project work."

A Los Angeles Times restaurant review said: "Beach synergy. The herb-crusted catfish is perfectly cooked in a fragrant, almost ethereally light crust, though vegetable risotto and Gorgonzola coulis serve more to distract from the flavor of the fish than anything else."

Here's what a Newsday article said about Oprah Winfrey's television book club: "In a display of media synergy that has bemused and delighted the publishing world, her televised selection of a book can propel it onto the best-seller lists overnight."

I ran synergy through The Sun's electronic library and discovered that it appeared in more than 100 articles written during the past year. Mostly it appeared in business articles, but I found it in other kinds of stories, too.

An African diplomat said: "If Zaire is ripped apart by all of the hands that are getting involved in the game here, it will be a long time before anyone is able to speak of synergies."

Speaking about the competition for fans and attention between the Orioles and the Ravens, Art Modell, the football club's owner, said: "One team draws strength from the success of the other team, a great synergy spills over."

A review of Robert Miles' "Dreamland" said: "Still, no matter how Miles frames his melodies, what ultimately carries the album is the unexpected synergy between the slow, sumptuous sound of the synths and the metronomic urgency of the beat."

Synergy, synths and the metronomic urgency of the beat? OK, try this one:

"The integration of Garrett Aviation into UNC is completed, and we are focusing on the cost-saving synergies and growth opportunity that exist between Garrett and our other operations," Dan Colussy, chairman, president and chief executive officer of UNC, said yesterday as the company announced its second-quarter profits.

Then we come to Michael A. Flanagan, a brokerage analyst with Philadelphia-based Financial Service Analytics Inc., who said: "I think this is a textbook example of synergy. In this case, one plus one will truly equal three."

One plus one equals three? Ridiculous, you say. Perhaps you think this guy is dumb because he can't count.

If you do, you don't understand Covey's teachings.

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