Synthesize not just analyze

I just finished reading this post on Boston.com. The article mentioned systems thinking a few times, but it is the word “synthesize” that strongly resonated with me. When I was writing my master’s thesis, my thesis supervisor ingrained it in me that synthesis is just as important as analysis. I remember whenever we met, I would just report my findings of my research to him. But he would immediately stop me from continuing and ask me to synthesize a pattern, trend, hypothesis, or solution from these findings. He emphasized to his students the principle of first decomposing a system to its constituent elements (reductive) and then combine the separate concerns into a unified, coherent entity (holistic). He stressed that careful analysis without good synthesis is useless, conversely synthesis without analysis is almost worthless and can even be dangerous. Analysis and synthesis are complements of each other.

Since graduating from grad school, I am finding that analysis and synthesis plays an even more important role in decision making. Knowing how to perform a synthesis of any analysis is vital. However, while many organizations are either good at analyzing problems or making irrational decisions, very few are capable of performing both analysis and synthesis. This is why Lex Schroeder, the author of the above article, is spot-on to say that universities, industries, and think tanks should embrace a new approach that enable future leaders to “synthesize information, making something new and useful out of seemingly disparate ideas.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Picture credits: Applied Systems Thinking Institute