Community//

the rise and fall of silos —part 1: food growing dilemma

breaking free of chained in the cave thinking and performing

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Business, like farming, is not just a job. It is a way of life—value-added work.

“We measure our progress by how those cities impact the people and the land surrounding them, the land that feeds them, provides their water, nourishes their souls.” —Beth Dutton, Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

An organization, like a farm (or ranch), is a complex social system that sometimes performs well. And sometimes, it fails miserably. Workers nor farmers perform in a vacuum, nor should they a silo.

Put a good performer in a bad system, Geary Rummler used to say, “the system will win every time.”

Who is trapped in a situation, predestined to fail from the outset? 

And a reality where no one takes responsibility for these lousy systems.

Human cognition nor behavior fits elegantly into boxes, categories, or silos. Creating authentic behavior change that sticks, is not easy, nor fast or linear. 

For many reasons (which I will be focusing on in this series), like silos and turf wars, tunnel vision, the threat of tribalism, cognitive biases, contextual intelligence—managing behavior change is hard work and comes with many setbacks.

Regrettably, a little knowledge about human cognition or behavior, managing behavior change, especially authentic behavior changes that stick, is a dangerous thing.

It creates silos that exclude the subtle nuances of human dynamics in favor of simplified, often unrealistic behavior changes for the benefit of quick consumption (mindset) at boardroom tables: executive leaders and managers, departments like human resources, project management offices, and IT-business alignment.

And a climate, preferring quick consumption of abridged (simplified) concepts like cognitive biases, contextual intelligence, and other descriptions like silo-busting, tribalism and factionalism, and “ills of organizations.” 

Which I am seeing, turn out sounding, often in LinkedIn articles or threads (including other social media platforms), more like psychobabble.

People who tend to resort often to this kind of language frequently have little or no real training in psychology.

Psychobabble is a language that is heavily reliant on psychological jargon and expressions (the shallowness behind the proliferation of it). 

This shallowness of psychological jargon and expressions quickly turns into fads.

And, usually means that accuracy and detail are being pushed aside for the sake of a marketing segmentation plot, somewhat questionable sales pitch, as ways to fool the gullible.

We are discovering that few decisions are straightforward in this dynamic and complex world in this COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 

The same is valid for how companies and leaders can reset for growth beyond this coronavirus. Including the OCM “market segmentation plot”— marketing process of identifying and breaking up the total market into groups of potential customers.

We are reducing behavior change strategies, analyses, reports, and emails to a set of jargon-laced bullet points.

We need a deeper understanding and sense-making to innovate and break-through. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening.

Do business leaders and their line managers truly need abridged, envisioned simplified versions of strategies, analyses, and reports regarding behavior changes for quick consumption? 

Or, is this doing more harm than good?

How smart do I want my workers to be or become?

This focus is the critical question, and issue, our leaders, organizational change agents, and communicators, should be asking in this COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The Rise and Fall of Silos

It is about facing a food-growing dilemma: Mindshare, is often as important, if not more so than just Market Share as a Big Footprint.

It is about real and symbolic walls dividing properties that divide us like the ones Robert Frost speaks of in his poem, “The Mending Wall.”

A healthy suspicion of barriers that serve no apparent purpose opens us to communication and new ideas that make us wary of anything that arbitrarily divides us. 

When we are growing our food (mindshare), we are in control of every step of the growing process—seed selection, soil, and pest management to harvesting and composting.

Getting mindshare is what makes it possible for an organization to move forward with dispatch. 

Getting it opens new ecosystems and environments of innovation, intellectual and emotional capital, and thought equity, a place for the commerce of both the heart and mind. 

Without it, we get infighting, backstabbing, and all manner of dysfunction. 

Because “specialism,” groups of specialists, or organizations with departments and functions, are unable to put aside their differences—endorsing their specializations as “the answer” for planting and harvesting, promoting only their approach to risk assessment, risk management, to stay in business.

This behavior compels organizations to moderate many different egotistical planting and harvesting cycles of activities, risk practices, and cultures.

And this behavior inhibits authentic collaboration, which often obstructs organizations’ ability to identify common goals and accomplishing those objectives.

I can think of no better narrative than the one inspired by actual events in the feature-length film, Silo, following the harrowing day in an American farm town, where disaster strikes, when a teenager, Cody Rose, becomes a victim of a grain entrapment incident.

Family, neighbors, and first responders, as grain turns to quicksand inside a 50-foot tall silo, must put aside their differences to save Cody from drowning in the crop that has sustained their community for generations.

“It’s not just a movie about people planting and harvesting corn,” says Jason Williamson, screenwriter, and Resident Playwright of Dramatic Adventure Theatre.

“It’s about the interaction, the relationships within the town, the community, and the past.”

Storage Habitats

The seed selection, soil, and pest management to harvesting and composting of organizational boxes (business operations), categories (functionalities), or silos (“specialist” departments, or professions and associations) we are creating, often are done so, to create an order of out of chaos.

But solving this problem often leads us to a second-order consequence—a preoccupation with boxes, categories, or silos, creating rigidity, specialism, silos and turf wars, tunnel vision, the threat of tribalism, cognitive biases, and being mentally challenged with contextual intelligence.

Silos claim Gillian Tett, “are social ghettos.” They obstruct us from noticing that there are other valid and valuable perspectives.

There is more than one way to look at business, like farming, is not just a job. It is a way of life—value-added work.

Silos exist in our minds and social groups. They breed tribalism, and closely connected, with tunnel vision.

Research is showing, regarding our biases, we are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way. Moreover, we get quite a rush to ignore information that is contrary to our point of view.

As Drew Western, director of clinical psychology at Emory University, and lead researcher concluded. 

Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones.

There is a broadly applicable lesson we can draw from this research, including from the optics in the feature-length film, Silo, and Gillian Tett’s rhetoric on “bucket-busting.”

A business, nor a farm, or our world effectively functions if they are always rigidly streamlined. Messiness, inefficiency, and waste, as Gillian Tett contends, can be useful.

But these characteristics also ignore the silo effect and bucket-busting.

Where people inside organizations, says Chris Hayes, host of “All In” on MSNBC and editor at large at The Nation, should do all they can to view their own practices as contingent, their own categories, and tribes as temporary. That’s a profoundly difficult mental discipline to cultivate.”

“Just because a page is torn off the calendar does not mean that unit of time has ceased to exist.” —Edwin H. Friedman

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