In Defense of Silos

February 8, 2010

Jones Dairy Farm Silo


I’m not one for management jargon.  I’ve been skimming my share of management books lately.  Most recently, Good to Great (especially the booklet for social sectors).  Good to Great was published in 2o01 so I’m behind in the lastest chic management style, but then again, so it seems is our terminology.  Take the term “silo” for instance.  It has been used for some time now as a term of derision or organizational roadblock.  “Information silos” within organizations, keep groups from working together effectively because they are not sharing information stored up in respective areas.  They cause redundancy, missed opportunities.

Silo’s for silo’s sake

I actually love silos.  My mother’s side of the family have farmed in Kalkaska County Michigan since the early 1900’s.  I always knew we were near the end of our three-plus hour drive to visit when I saw the alternating green and white slats of  Uncle Cor’s silos.  They were a sign of progress, destination, relief!  Silos store up grain for later use.  They are a safeguard against paucity. Solitary silos now remind me how few family farms are left in this country.  I am relieved when I still see a few solitary silos at a farm.  It may mean a family hasn’t given up yet.

No More Jargon

I don’t want to add to the lexicon of jargon, nor think myself influential enough to do so if I tried.  But I can’t get an image out of my head. Every time I hear the term silo used in the management sense, I really see windmills.  You see, windmills, like sections of an organization, do something.  They take wind and and turn it into power to (traditionally) grind something (usually grain).  Their effectiveness and efficiency as stand-alone entities is limited, but together in groups, they can create energy to power or feed large populations (think windmills of La Mancha).

With the rise of alternative energy as a paradigm of efficiency, I can’t help but think that soon we’ll see management books exhorting organizations to create organizational “wind farms” and to replace the old rickety  windmills with efficient turbines.  Thankfully, in addition to selling books, such jargon allows the rank-and-file something to laugh about over coffee.