Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Climbing Out of Our Professional Silos

Being terminally curious, one of the things I love about being a graphic designer is the opportunity to learn about other people’s businesses and organizations, and getting to see what their world is all about. This can be intense, since most people who care about their work are focused almost to the point of obsession – of necessity, this is where their attention goes.  You could say that they spend most of their time in their professional silos (a marketing term for areas of specialization).
It’s great to hang out with enthusiastic people and help them get their message out, but I have noticed an increase in a certain tendency since the recession took hold.  Perhaps because of anxiety about a dicey business climate, people seem to have less inclination to climb out of their silos and visit other people’s.  Recently in one of my groups, the dialogue turned to a business sector that was not represented there, but that I had some familiarity with. I was startled to hear otherwise smart people make incorrect assumptions about that sector, and then come up with solutions for the problems they assumed existed. They seemed to have no sense that their assumptions might be wrong or needed to be verified. Yet none of these people would appreciate a stranger unfamiliar with their business telling them all the things they were doing wrong.
I believe this was a result of their being completely immersed in their own challenges, focused on their own silos, with little time for understanding the big picture. But that’s exactly why we were meeting. The value of such a group, on or off line, is the opportunity to see how your business fits into the larger scheme of things and where synchronicity can occur. We need to take a vacation from our silos every so often because none of us operates in a vacuum. Silos are good things because they allow us to really focus on our work, but when they become reclusive Comfort Cocoons, then we’re in danger of being trapped by our own limitations.
The take-away? When I want to know what goes on in classrooms, I should ask a teacher. When I want to know what’s up with land use regulations, I should ask a planner. When I want to know what goes on in the forest, I should ask a forester. When I want to know how ink gets on paper, I should ask a printer. Spending time in someone else’s silo, besides being fascinating, may shed some light on our own dilemmas. It will certainly make us more valuable professionals.

1 comment:

  1. My silo is full of silage. Time to climb out and learn more about some of the non-profit groups that I admire, and how they deal with their communication challenges. Thanks for the reminder!