Inter-dependability turns inter-dependence into synergy

About 20 years ago, I noticed that I couldn’t find an English term to describe what we gain as we learn to cultivate our inter-dependence for mutual benefit, so I made one up: “inter-dependability.”

I was working with a few collaborators for a Tokyo client on a set of initiatives that leveraged individual agency in combination with peer connections to drive positive change in areas ranging from vision articulation and implementation to team cohesiveness to diversity and inclusion to individual and collegial well-being. Employees on the client side were responding very powerfully to the discovery that proactively cultivating strong ties with their colleagues seemed to increase rather than decrease their sense of individual agency and self-efficacy.

We tend to think of the self as something that emerges in opposition to pressures from others (autonomy versus conformity), but this was not what our participants were reporting. Rather, they experienced more self-actualization by focusing on HOW TO integrate themselves with others.

This intentional approach to “being with/for others” seemed to imply something more intentional than inter-dependence. They were proactively finding ways to more effectively “be there FOR themselves” AND ALSO “be there for each other.” This choice to integrate support of self with support of others seemed to strengthen rather than weaken their sense of being “true to themselves.”

They created something like “mutual support and care” within the context of a high-performance work culture, in which performance was assessed for the most part in terms of individual accountabilities.

This was not surprising to my colleagues and myself as we had experienced something similar to this in our work with each other. We were all committed to getting great results AND we were also committed to creating a work experience together that enhanced our collective and individual well-being. We’d each experienced some combination of professional successes and challenges, and we’d all also experienced significant (potentially life-threatening) health crises at some point in our attempt to do great work AND live what we considered to be good lives.

At the time, we didn’t think about this as a big deal; we were just doing what came natural to us as individuals who were looking to find novel ways to solve common problems faced by our clients and ourselves. In hindsight, we realize this was an unusually creative period for all of us. We were able to do better work because of the special nature of our relationships with each other. We were each committed to bringing our best work personally, but we were even more committed to creating something novel and impactful together.

Because each of us had already experienced firsthand the disastrous unintended consequences (especially in terms of well-being) of performance drive built on excessive self-reliance, we each realized we could only make great things happen in a sustainable way if we made a commitment to being there for ourselves (by taking care of ourselves so we would be useful to each other), being there for each other (by looking for ways to bring out the best in each other and paying attention to each other’s well-being) and being there for our clients (to help us figure out what novel solutions would be valuable enough to merit some sort of payment).

Since we couldn’t find another English word to describe this commitment, we came up with our own: “inter-dependability.”

Inter-dependability – A mindset through which we intentionally convert our inter-dependence (which is a given) into a renewable source of that which we need to survive and thrive.

Those with inter-dependable relationships share and build upon each other’s ideas and resources in ways that enable them to achieve more than they would be able to achieve alone. Greater inter-dependability leads to greater synergy.

As we mature, we move from dependence toward limited forms of independence; we strive for autonomy. Eventually, as we learn to acknowledge that our independence has limits, we face the reality that inter-dependence is fundamental to our existence, and we start (as agents) to create “inter-dependable” relationships that enable us to make the most of our inter-dependence.

We overcome dependence by striving for independence.

As we become aware of limits on our independence, we start to recognize that some degree of inter-dependence is inevitable.

To make the most of our inter-dependence, we choose (exert agency) to develop inter-dependable relationships.

Then just maybe…

As we recognize the value of our inter-dependable relationships, we develop organizations and social structures that support a broadening and deepening of our webs of inter-dependability.

As these webs become increasingly complex, some forms of A.I. MIGHT help us create, curate and integrate these webs of inter-dependable relationships for maximum mutual benefit…

© Dana Cogan, 2024, all rights reserved.

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