The Silo Effect | Gillian Tett

Summary of: The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers
By: Gillian Tett


Embark on a journey to unravel the complexity of silos and the power of breaking down barriers in Gillian Tett’s ‘The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers’. The book explores the implications of siloed thinking, both metaphorically and literally, in the modern world. You’ll discover the disruptive effect of silos in organizations, how knowledge becomes limited within certain groups, and how specialization causes critical collaboration gaps. Tett also addresses the benefits of breaking down these barriers, learning from revolutionary companies that defy the confines of siloed thinking, and practical suggestions to combat this restricting mindset.

Breaking Down Silos

Silos exist both in social circles and in our minds, causing harm in organizations and hindering collaboration. Mayor Bloomberg pushed for breaking down silos within government departments in New York City by encouraging data sharing and open office spaces. While specialized silos have positive aspects, such as organizing our social lives and workplaces, they can also lead to competitive behavior and waste of resources. Breaking down silos is crucial for collaboration and better decision-making in organizations.

Understanding Society through Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of human beings, with social and cultural anthropology focusing on society and culture, while physical anthropology concentrates on evolution and human biology. The discipline split into these two fields in the twentieth century. Before, anthropologists sought to understand how a “primitive” person evolved to a more modern one, but they realized that non-Western societies maintained their social systems and different cultural norms which functioned in a similar way. Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, developed social theories on a society’s physical space, population, and culture. He postulated that patterns of thought and systems of classification, which nobody deliberately creates, help maintain social strata. Additionally, a society isn’t just determined by the ideas it shares and identifies but also by the ideas it hides: taboos. Society shapes us, but doesn’t trap us. These anthropological studies help explain how cultural categories and societal perspectives work, aiding our comprehension of how silos operate today.

Breaking Down Silos

Organizations that operate in silos hinder communication and collaboration between departments, making them less willing to take risks. Sony, a Japanese technology giant, fell victim to silos after it grew too large and subdivided its divisions. This led to the production of three different gadgets that played digital music, effectively competing against itself. Restructuring after implementing silos is difficult, as Sony discovered with the help of a new CEO, Howard Stringer, who struggled to convey the concept to the Japanese board because there was no Japanese word for “silo.” Despite referring to silos as “octopus pots,” organizational issues persisted. To foster creativity and innovation, individuals need space to interact freely and share ideas across disciplines.

Silos: The Danger of Departmental Isolation

The UBS downfall during the financial crisis of 2008 was a result of a silo created in the securitization department. The lack of information sharing across different departments and silos caused the company to incur significant losses. It is also challenging to assess the global economy accurately because of the appearance of new financial entities that do not fit old classification systems. The 2008 financial crisis was brutal and sudden due to the tunnel vision encouraged by silos.

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