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The Whole Should Not Be Less Than The Sum of Its Parts

You have heard it ad nauseam—the bit about the whole being larger than the sum of its parts. We use it to describe the benefit of systems or why teams are better than just individuals working in groups.

So let's just recap: When do “things” become a system?

A system is the result of connecting things that are different.

Note that the critical words here are connection and diversity.

A box of nails does not constitute a system. All the things are exactly the same and they aren’t connected even if they are in the same box.

A computer is a system and so is a management team. One is mechanic and the other is organic. We’ll come back to the implications of that later.

But what we seem to forget is that it’s not a given that the whole will be more than the sum of the parts. Sometimes—quite often actually when we talk about teams—the whole turns out to be considerably less than the sum of the parts.


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