[SIGCIS-Members] silo metaphor

James Cortada jcortada at umn.edu
Sun Aug 4 07:25:01 PDT 2013

The inmates do not necessarily feel trapped, because their silos are often
so big that they can spend their entire careers in one without feeling any
constraint to do "their thing."  Take IBM for example.  One can spend their
entire career in sales and never deal with any other part of the firm and
do just fine.  Within a sales division, they could also spend years within
one geographic region, and again do just fine.  A bigger problem is that
there is so much work to be done within a silo that even if one wanted to
poke their nose outside their silo, there might not be enough hours in the
day to do that.  So size of silos is something we should recognize as a
factor in "silo centric" behavior.

The reason in business, at least, that silos get a bad rap is because
collaboration across silos holds out the promise of optimization of costs
and mission, innovation, better performance, lower operating costs,
etc.--an assumption that can be both true and also absolutely false,
depending on circumstances.

Then there is culture.  Take a university, for example.  You can have a
history department occupy the fourth floor of a building, and the economics
department on the third, and sociology on the second, and have a situation
where (a) nobody knows each other across those three departments, (b) that
is OK with them and (c) no collaboration in teaching cross-disciplinary
classes, collaborations in research and publishing.  That might even apply
to a small college, such as the one I attended, which at the time had only
about 875 students and a tiny faculty to match.

This is a fascinating subject you raise.  Having spent 38 years at IBM at
various levels or management and in numerous jobs (including doing strategy
and work and managerial optimization consulting) I can assure you the
questions you raise are profoundly important to literally millions of
managers around the world, and the subject of extensive discussion in the
business literature, although often without using the word "silo," but
clearly in the minds of the authors.

On Sat, Aug 3, 2013 at 7:18 PM, Janet Abbate <abbate at vt.edu> wrote:

> Fascinating! This metaphor conjures someone unwittingly trapped in their
> 'silo', rather than someone barricading themselves in. I'm interested in
> the sense of agency (or lack thereof) in this whole set of metaphors. Often
> the implication seems to be that some outsider (management consultant)
> needs to break down the barriers and free the hapless inmates.
> Janet
> On Aug 3, 2013, at 4:55 40PM, Sharon Traweek wrote:
> > Hi
> > For those of us wondering whether/how the silo metaphor translates:
> >
> > In Japan a *tako-tsubo [octopus pot]* is used to capture those
> invertebrates; once an octopus climbs into the pot it cannot escape.
> Tako-tsubo is used in Japan as a metaphor for people who join a government
> ministry, a company, a discipline, a specialty, a club, etc and then form
> few other ties. [Takotsubo has been translated as squid pot and fox hole.]
> >
> > * This article discusses difficulties of introducing ICT education into
> traditional takotsubo (discipline-based) university curricula: Murata,
> Kiyoshi, and Yohko Orito. "Three Challenges for Japanese ICT
> Professionalism." _Proceedings of ETHICOMP 2008_ (2008): 577-585.
> > www.kisc.meiji.ac.jp/~ethicj/M%20and%20O%20E2008.pdf
> >
> > * See also references to takotsubo in this discussion of the so-called
> otaku generation in Japan: "Allein, aber nicht einsam" die otaku-
> > Generation: Zu einigen neueren Trends in der japanischen Populr-und
> Medienkultur Volker Grassmuck in: Norbert Bolz, Friedrich Kittler,
> Christoph Tholen (Hrsg.), _Computer als Medium_, Wilhelm Fink Verlag Mnchen
> 1993 http://waste.informatik.hu-berlin.de/Grassmuck/Texts/otaku.d.html
> > -Older English version [without the takotsubo reference]: "I'm alone,
> but not lonely" Japanese Otaku-Kids colonize the Realm of Information and
> Media A Tale of Sex and Crime from a faraway Place. Volker Grassmuck (Dec
> > 1990) http://waste.informatik.hu-berlin.de/Grassmuck/Texts/otaku.e.html
> >
> > * In 1961 a prominent Japanese political scientist, Masao Maruyama
> > (1914-96) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masao_Maruyama_%28scholar%29
> > described Japan as a takutsubo society in his _Nihon no shiso_
> > (Japanese Thought). Iwanami Shoten, 1961. See also:
> > - J. Victor Koschmann review of "Maruyama Masao, Nihon no Shis Seidoku
> (An
> > Explication of Japanese Thought by Maruyama Masao), by Miyamura Haruo.
> > Tokyo: Iwanami Gendai Bunko, 2001, 224 pp.,
> > _Social Science Japan Journal_ 5, no. 2 (2002): 267-270
> > http://ssjj.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/2/267.short
> > - Hori, Masaharu. "Japanese public bureaucracy in the era of
> globalisation." _Ritsumeikan Law Review_ 21 (2004): 1-18.
> > http://www.asianlii.org/jp/journals/RitsLRev/2004/1.pdf
> >
> > Cheers,
> > Sharon
> > Sharon Traweek, UCLA Gender Studies & History Departments, with strong
> > ties to the Anthropology & Information Studies Departments, as well as
> > the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. My PhD is from the
> interdisciplinary UCSC History of Consciousness Program. [As you can see,
> unlike many academics, I do not fit into a takotsubo.]
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion
> list of SHOT SIGCIS. The list archives are at
> http://sigcis.org/pipermail/members/ and you can change your subscription
> options at http://sigcis.org/mailman/listinfo/members
> _______________________________________________
> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion list
> of SHOT SIGCIS. The list archives are at
> http://sigcis.org/pipermail/members/ and you can change your subscription
> options at http://sigcis.org/mailman/listinfo/members

James W. Cortada
Senior Research Fellow
Charles Babbage Institute
University of Minnesota
jcortada at umn.edu
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/attachments/20130804/60118ec2/attachment-0001.htm>

More information about the Members mailing list