In the fields of marketing communications and organizational behavior, there is nothing more sinister than the silo.
Silos prevent cooperation and coordination. Silos signify self-interest and turf battles. Silos are a comfortable place to hide while we practice our specialties, oblivious to opportunities for working with others.
The Truth About Silos
The silo metaphor borrows equally from the Agricultural Revolution and the Information Age. The agricultural reference is a structure for storing bulk materials, usually grain harvested on a farm. An information silo, according to Wikipedia, “is a management system incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems.”
Silos can be dangerous. “It may be fun,” advises an OSU fact sheet, “to jump in the grain or even bury yourself, but this kind of play is very dangerous. Flowing grain acts like quicksand. Once you start to sink it is impossible for you to dig your way to the top. As you dig, the grain keeps shifting under your feet, pushing you deeper towards the bottom.” Shudder.
Marketing Silos are Surrounded by a Barnyard Full of Manure
One of our clients recently ran a program in a medium we do not handle. Our creative director, always passionate about the client’s business, called me this morning to say “it’s not consistent with the brand voice,” and “it’s not relevant to our consumer.” He was right, because this work was done in a silo.
Silos are surrounded by a barnyard full of manure. That barnyard actually reinforces the silo mentality. We can stay in our silos instead of venturing out of comfort zones into something messy and complicated like interpersonal communication. Or a big pile of…. manure.
Connecting the Silos
Last year Evan Rosen wrote a column with good, practical advice for encouraging collaboration. My only quibble was with the title, “Smashing Silos”. The revolutionary tone is appropriate, but the prescription to me is more like “Connecting Silos”. We’ll always need specialists, and they’ll always need a place to put their grain.
Silos aren’t inherently bad unless we stay inside them. As modern marketers, we not only need to know our specialties, but get out of them and see the bigger picture.
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