When I embarked on the exploration of this topic, I started with what I considered to be a pretty good understanding of what is meant by synergy. My narrow understanding coincided with Mirriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of synergy as “the increased effectiveness that results when two or more people or businesses work together.” (Mirriam-Webster, n.d.) Robert Moran, Philip Harris & Sarah Moran (2011) broadened that understanding by stating that synergy “implies a belief that we can learn from others and others can learn from us.” (Moran, 2011, p.232) It is this aspect of mutual learning that intrigued me.
The shift then from simple synergy to cultural synergy carries with it the implications of taking global cultural diversity into consideration as well. Robert Moran, et al (2011) defines cultural synergy as: “a dynamic approach to managing cultural diversity in a variety of contexts.” (Moran, 2011, p.233) The changing global economy requires a fundamental shift in how organizations approach and conduct their primary functions. While the organization may provide branding under a broad umbrella, the structure, policies, procedures and historical management approaches should be revisited in light of the increased global focus as well as increased cultural diversity among staff members, partners and clients. As Moran, et al (2011) contend that instead of imposing rigid established “policies, procedures and cultures on others,” that a better approach would be “to objectively evaluate what is of “value in each of the existing enterprises and build upon such foundations, being sensitive to cultural differences and opportunities for synergy that result in mutual growth and development.” (Moran, 2011, p.241) Moran et al (2011) make it clear that the justification for this is simple: “High-synergy organizations are essential in a knowledge culture.” (Moran, 2011, p.241)
It seems logical to this blogger, indeed crucial, that the educational institutions and organizations take a leadership role in shaping how diverse cultures obtain education and essential knowledge to participate in this global environment and contribute in substantial and meaning ways. Several higher education institutions and organizations have already developed and deployed courses that are available to anyone desiring to learn, from anywhere around the globe. I was already aware of a couple of these and have already taken advantage of MIT’s Open Courseware program, but have recently discovered many more programs offered by EdX. “EdX is a non-profit online initiative created by founding partners Harvard and MIT.” (EdX, 2015) and now offers over 300 classes. is partnered with and supported by numerous leading global schools, corporations, and other international organizations, including, but not limited to: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Berkeley University of California, The University of Texas System, Australian National University, Boston University, Sorbonne Universities, TU Delft, UBC The University of Queensland Australia, Berklee College of Music, Caltech, Columbia University in the City of New York, Cornell University, Dartmouth, Davidson, Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne, ETH Zurich, Georgetown University, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, IIT Bombay, Karolinska Institutet, Kyoto University, Ku Leuven, McGill, Peking University, Rice, Seoul National University, Technische Universitat Munchen, Tsinghua University, Universite Catholique de Louvain, The University of Chicago, The University of Hong Kong, the University of Tokyo, University of Notre Dame, University of Toronto, University of Washington, and Wellesley. (EdX, 2015) A research paper by Said Rayyan, Daniel Seaton, John Belcher, David Pritchard and Isaac Chuang on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) states:” In the Spring of 2013, MITx released its first introductory physics MOOC through the edX platform, generating a total enrollment of 43,000 students from around the world. We describe the population of participants in terms of their age, gender, level of education, and country of origin, highlighting both the diversity of 8.02x enrollees as well as gender gap and retention.” (Rayyan, 2013) But many more are on the horizon.
As Kevin Carey (2015) reported in the Washington Post: “Immersive digital learning environments … will be created by teams of people specializing in different aspects of the learning experience … [and] will be shaped and assembled using open-source components shared by millions of educators collaborating. They will benefit from network effects…. [Furthermore,] students will have peers from every corner of the Earth, of many different ages, backgrounds and creeds.” (Carey, 2015) This also means that “a typical student might be taking one course along with a half million other people around the world and another with three peers and a mentor in the local community.” (Carey, 2015) The impact to business and other types of organizations is clear: “[M]illions of Americans and many more elsewhere will compete on a level field in the labor market for the first time, rather than being systematically shut out for lack of an obsolete and elitist degree.” (Carey, 2015) Consequently, students from these types of collaborative culturally diverse educational systems would bring a clear, definable “value” to the enterprises for which they obtain employment.
Moran et al (2011) maintain: “The differences in the world’s people can lead to mutual growth and accomplishment that is more than the single contribution of each party. … Using information and technology to promote cooperation among disparate elements in human systems creates something better than existed by separate endeavors. (Moran, 2011, pp.233-234) Consider the premise of MIT’s Open Courseware class: “The Challenge of World Poverty” that was offered in the Spring of 2011. The course overview describes the class as “… a course for those who are interested in the challenge posed by massive and persistent world poverty” and includes several questions that, if answered would benefit all of society: “Is extreme poverty a thing of the past? … Why do some countries grow fast and others fall further behind? Does growth help the poor? … How can we end child labor—or should we? How do we make schools work for poor citizens? … Has globalization been good to the poor?” (Duflo and Banerjee, 2011) Students several different nations contributed to discussions on these and other important global matters. The benefit to these students and the value gained by any organization that hires them is tremendous; they are well suited and experienced in transforming individual perspectives into culturally synergistic groups, focusing on specific issues and tasks, resulting in a comprehensive, well-considered (and culturally sensitive) solution.. Imagine for a moment, what could happen if the world’s major international and multinational organizations approached issues and solutions in the same manner. In my opinion, this broader, inclusive approach is the real value in the emerging transformation occurring in higher education. It remains to be seen how organizations will respond, but I have no doubt that the vision of globally synergistic organizations will become a reality as a result.
Carey, Kevin. (2015) One Vision of tomorrow’s college: Cheap, and you get an education, not a degree. The Washington Post, Lifestyle Magazine. (February 20, 2015). Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/one-vision-of-tomorrows-college-cheap-and-you-get-an-education-not-a-degree/2015/02/11/7b2ed78c-8617-11e4-9534-f79a23c40e6c_story.html
Duflo, Esther and Banerjee, Abhijit (Spring 2011) The Challenge of World Poverty. MIT Open Courseware (Spring 2011) Course description located at: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/economics/14-73-the-challenge-of-world-poverty-spring-2011/
EdX. (2015) Take great online courses from the world’s best universities. Retrieved from: https://www.edx.org/
Mirriam-Webster Dictionary. (n.d.) Synergy. Retrieved 2/22/15 from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/synergy
Moran, Robert T., Harris, Philip R. and Moran, Sarah V. (2011) Managing Cultural Differences: Global Leadership Strategies for the 21st Century, 8th Ed. Elsevier, Burlington, MA
Rayyan, Saif, Seaton, Daniel T., Belcher, John, Pritchard, David E., and Chuang, Isaac. (2013) Participation and performance In 8.02x Electricity And Magnetism: The First Physics MOOC From MITx. (11 Oct 2013) Cornell University Library. Retrieved from: http://arxiv.org/abs/1310.3173