(from the Greek syn-ergo
meaning working together) is the term used to describe a situation where the final outcome of a system is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Apostle Paul used the word in his Epistles to illustrate a dynamic conception of human, divine and cosmic cooperation: "I did the planting, Apollos the watering, but God made things grow…We are fellow workers (synergoi) with God; you are God's cultivation, God's building." In religious context, Synergism stems from the 1657 theological doctrine that humans will cooperate with the Divine Grace in regeneration The term began to be used in the broader, non-theological, sense by 1925.
The opposite of synergy is antagonism, the phenomenon where two agents in combination have an overall effect that is less than that predicted from their individual effects.
Synergy can also mean:
- A mutually advantageous conjunction where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
- A dynamic state in which combined action is favored over the sum of individual component actions.
- Behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately. More accurately known as emergent behavior.
- The cooperative action of two or more stimuli or drugs.
Drug synergism occurs when drugs
can interact in ways that enhance or magnify one or more effects, or side effects, of those drugs. This is sometimes exploited in combination preparations, such as codeine
mixed with acetaminophen
to enhance the
action of codeine as a pain reliever. This is often seen with recreational drugs, where 5-HTP
, a serotonin precursor often used as an antidepressant, is often used prior to, during, and shortly after recreational use of MDMA
as it allegedly increases the "high" and decreases the "comedown" stages of MDMA use (although most anecdotal evidence has pointed to 5-HTP moderately muting the effect of MDMA). Other examples include the use of cannabis
, where the active chemicals in cannabis enhance the hallucinatory experience of LSD-use.
An example of negative effects of synergy is if more than one depressant drug is used that affects the central nervous system (CNS), for example alcohol and Valium. The combination can cause a greater reaction than simply the sum of the individual effects of each drug if they were used separately. In this particular case, the most serious consequence of drug synergy is exaggerated respiratory depression, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Pest synergy, for example, would occur in a biological host organism
population, where the introduction of parasite
A may cause 10% fatalities of the individuals, and parasite B may also cause 10% loss. When both parasites are present, the losses are observed to be significantly greater than the expected 20%, and it is said that the parasites in combination have a synergistic
effect. An example is beekeeping
in North America
where three foreign parasites of the honeybee
, acarine mite, tracheal mite and the small hive beetle, all were introduced within a short period of time.
Toxicologic synergy is of concern to the public and regulatory agencies because chemicals individually considered safe might pose unacceptable health or ecological risk when exposure is to a combination. Articles in scientific and lay journals include many definitions of chemical or toxicologic synergy, often vague or in conflict with each other. Because toxic interactions are defined relative to the expectation under "no interaction," a determination of synergy (or antagonism) depends on what is meant by "no interaction." The United States Environmental Protection Agency
has one of the more detailed and precise definitions of toxic interaction, designed to facilitate risk assessment. In their guidance documents, the no-interaction default assumption is dose addition, so synergy means a mixture response that exceeds that predicted from dose addition. The EPA emphasizes that synergy does not always make a mixture dangerous, nor does antagonism always make the mixture safe; each depends on the predicted risk under dose addition.
For example, a consequence of pesticide use is the risk of health effects. During the registration of pesticides in the US exhaustive tests are performed to discern health effects on humans at various exposure levels. A regulatory upper limit of presence in foods is then placed on this pesticide. As long as residues in the food stay below this regulatory level, health effects are deemed highly unlikely and the food is considered safe to consume.
However in normal agal practice it is rare to use only a single pesticide. During the production of a crop several different materials may be used. Each of them has had determined a regulatory level at which they would be considered individually safe. In many cases, a commercial pesticide is itself a combination of several chemical agents, and thus the safe levels actually represent levels of the mixture. In contrast, combinations created by the end user, such as a farmer, are rarely tested as that combination. The potential for synergy is then unknown or estimated from data on similar combinations. This lack of information also applies to many of the chemical combinations to which humans are exposed, including residues in food, indoor air contaminants, and occupational exposures to chemicals. Some groups think that the rising rates of cancer, asthma and other health problems may be caused by these combination exposures; others have other explanations. This question will likely be answered only after years of exposure by the population in general and research on chemical toxicity, usually performed on animals.
Human synergy relates to interacting humans. For example, say person A alone is too short to reach an apple on a tree and person B is too short as well. Once person B sits on the shoulders of person A, they are more than tall enough to reach the apple. In this example, the product of their synergy would be one apple. Another case would be two politicians. If each is able to gather one million votes on their own, but together they were able to appeal to 2.5 million voters, their synergy would have produced 500,000 more votes than had they each worked independently.
A third form of human synergy is when one person is able to complete two separate tasks by doing one action. For example, if a person was asked by a teacher and his boss at work to write an essay on how he could improve his work, that would be considered synergy.
Synergy usually arises when two persons with different complementary skills cooperate.
The fundamental example is cooperation of men and women in a couple. In business, cooperation of people with organizational and technical skills happens very often. In general, the most common reason why people cooperate is that it brings a synergy. On the other hand, people tend to specialize just to be able to form groups with high synergy (see also division of labor and teamwork).
Corporate synergy occurs when corporations interact congruently.
A corporate synergy refers to a financial benefit that a corporation
expects to realize when it merges with or acquires another corporation.
This type of synergy is a nearly ubiquitous feature of a corporate acquisition
and is a negotiating point between the buyer and seller that impacts the final
price both parties agree to. There are two distinct types of corporate synergies:
A revenue synergy refers to the opportunity of a combined corporate entity to generate more revenue than its two predecessor stand alone companies would be able to generate. For example, if company A sells product X through its sales force, company B sells product Y, and company A decides to buy company B then the new company could use each sales person to sell products X and Y thereby increasing the revenue that each sales person generates for the company.
A cost synergy refers to the opportunity of a combined corporate entity to reduce or eliminate expenses associated with running a business. Cost synergies are realized by eliminating positions that are viewed as duplicate within the merged entity. Examples include the head quarters office of one of the predecessor companies, certain executives, the human resources department, or other employees of the predecessor companies. This is related to the economic concept of Economies of Scale
In terms of leverage
Synergy in terms of leverage is a term that was used in the announcement of Software AG's acquisition of webMethods in 2007. Analysts and developers all over the world have attempted to decode the meaning of this phrase. Currently, the best guess is that it's nonsensical corporate rhetoric used to confuse the listening audience.
Synergy can also be defined as the combination of human strengths and computer strengths. Computers can process data much more quickly than humans, but lack the ability to respond to arbitrary stimuli.
Synergy in the media
In media economics, synergy is the promotion and sale of a product (and all its versions) throughout the various subsidiaries of a media conglomerate, e.g. films, soundtracks or video games. Walt Disney pioneered synergistic marketing techniques in the 1930s by granting dozens of firms the right to use his Mickey Mouse character in products and ads, and continued to market Disney media through licensing arrangements. These products can help advertise the film itself and thus help to increase the film's sales. For example, the Spider-Man films had toys of webshooters and figures of the characters made, as well as posters and games.