Of Babies and Bathwater
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is a very useful adage to keep in mind. I wrote some time ago about “Silos? Or Synapses?” In that post I emphasized that we ought to think in terms of synapses rather than silos. Lately, I’ve been seeing many posts about abolishing silos in favour of more openness, more transparency. Hold your horses. Look at it from a higher level. We need to stop talking about silos and even synapses alone. What we need to do is talk more about Infrastructure Support.
Yes, infrastructure. It’s not just for governments, MNCs and UN organizations. It is also for small businesses and even individuals. Silos are part of infrastructure designed for storage, separation and some degree of specialization. Synapses are for greater connectivity. Both are required. “Demolishing silos” in a large company does not mean that the Compliance Division cuts off connections with Global Headquarters. It means maintaining or even enlarging that particular silo and also building connections to Regional, Country and State or Provincial Headquarters as well! Infrastructure is built by us for us, not the other way round. We need to get that clear. There are two characteristics of infrastructure we need to recognize, plan for and execute. One is Maintenance and Growth. The other is Demolition and Rebuilding.
Maintenance and Growth
Entropy is a very real thing. Deterioration is universal and that is why Maintenance people will always have jobs. Ditto for Medical personnel. Everything we build needs to be maintained. That means they need to be cleaned, repaired and occasionally renovated. Beavers need to keep maintaining their dams and occasionally their lodges as well. It is said that nothing causes a beaver more stress than the sound of water rushing through a leak in its dam. Beavers will rush to plug the leak with mud, sticks, stones and whatever else will stop the water draining away. Subterranean termites are forever repairing breaches in their mounds and moving water to and fro to maintain an optimal environment inside. Worker bees in a hive have been observed using their wings as fans to keep air moving through the hive when necessary. As for growth, beavers often build four or five dams in their lifetimes, providing life support for future generations. Businesses would do well to dig into how these tiny creatures do it so well.
Demolition and Rebuilding
We tend to either be too eager to demolish existing systems and build new ones or extremely reluctant to do so. If you had built an existing system from scratch, you might feel emotionally attached to it and therefore refuse to tear it down for a new one. On the other hand, if you were a new executive in the company, you might feel no attachment to a monolithic system and have no compunction throwing it out and having it replaced. Both are equally harmful. Demolishing old systems and building new ones might be absolutely necessary. It is even more necessary to ensure that everyone understands why new systems and processes need to be brought in. Spiders actually eat their own webs every 24 hours or so. That’s when the webs get covered in dust and lose their stickiness, meaning they won’t be able to catch their food. When new buildings are constructed, scaffolding is necessary. Once the building is up, scaffolding is taken down and either discarded or reused depending on what the scaffolding was made of. We need to order our business operations with the same willingness to tear down and rebuild. Do you have this mindset?
Games We Play
A game we often play is called the “Marshmallow Tower” or “Marshmallow Challenge.” Feedback received over the years by researchers found that the groups which did best were Kindergarten children. This was because they had no hesitation tearing down and trying something new when what they did wasn’t working. Worst performers proved to be recent MBA graduates. This was apparently because they had a know-it-all mindset and were very confident that they had the perfect solution to the challenge. Which was very often wrong.
When we build infrastructure, do we learn from Nature? Are we as flexible as Kindergarten children? Or are we behaving like recently-graduated MBAs? Infrastructure is supposed to support us. Remember that, and act accordingly. Have fun building!