Japanese companies love the concept of 相乗 (そうじょう) – different groups working together to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Toy divisions within a company making figurines of characters from the video games produced by a different division of the same company. Characters from one title making cameo appearances in another title. Collectible trading cards that appear in video games and anime television series.
This, my friends, is synergy, and basically it’s a way to draw consumers into loops of consumption that boost the company’s bottom line. In Japanese, synergy is 相乗 (そうじょう). I don’t have a feel for how often U.S. businesses use “synergy” in their consumer propaganda (advertising), but it is used quite frequently here. I first encountered 相乗 after I started working at my former company when I was checking the translation of some sort of annual report – year-end figures down, yada yada, still we have our best-selling series that always sell reliably, yada yada, if only we can get some synergy going, yada yada, repackage old content for a new platform or give it a couple new bells and whistles, ta da!
“Synergy” in English feels a little catch-phrasey to me, but I think 相乗 in translation should be kept simple; just find a way to translate it as “synergy” no matter how the Japanese is used and keep the English from sounding too weird. Never use weird forms like “synergistic” or “synergism.” This is probably one of those words you’ll only ever have to recognize: don’t plan on using 相乗 anytime soon.
While corporate synergy is nothing more than a catch phrase strategy to suck cash from bozos like us, Internet synergy is what makes the world go round. If you think about it, the Internet is nothing more that an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. There are big flashy patches of content out there, and things like Twitter, Facebook, and blogrolls are the little springs that whirl and tumble about helping make connections. Sometimes the links just sputter out like a decent one-liner tweet, but other times connections produce nice collaborations. It’s the Internet, stupid. And synergy is the way you play the game.
In addition to Collabo-Ramen, I’ve got a couple other mini-synergies in the works. The latest is Kotaku – they just syndicated my post on project management. Others coming soon.