Disrupt silos disrupt sydney 050913 (delivered with notes)

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Presentation at Disrupt.Sydney on Disrupting Silos by Simon Terry- how we can improve collaboration and knowledge sharing in organisations.

Video of the presentation can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djJdY4QOaEs#t=532

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Disrupt silos disrupt sydney 050913 (delivered with notes)

  1. 1. Today I am talking about how we and our new technology need to disrupting Silos - a challenging topic because silos, teams and other organizational boundaries exist as an enduring feature of many of our working lives. Silos are seen as our vertical centres of excellence and control most of the knowledge and resources that we need to make life work. Our modern organizational silos are based on a few assumptions: Assumption 1 that the critical issue of an organisation is control of a stock of resources and that people and information are just two those stocks Assumption 2 that context is irrelevant and people can work in a taylorist specialization more efficiently Assumption 3 That silos help avoid conflicts by clarifying decision rights and responsibilities We have all experienced the negative impacts of silos when people who play the same role in different functions but who don’t see the need to share their work, their ideas or their challenges. That is a huge waste of human potential. My argument today is that we need to rethink and disrupt these three assumptions to put knowledge into flight in an economy that is increasingly based on knowledge work. 1
  2. 2. We know that humans society is changing at an incredible pace with our current rush of technology. However, it is important to remember that the structure of human knowledge and attention is shaped in large part by the neurological processes which have not evolved that much in the 200,000 years of evolution of homo sapiens and 50,000 years of our modern human behaviour. Our disruptive knowledge economy is not yet a century old. We haven't yet managed to evolve digitally disrupted brains, as hard as we may try. To see why we need to disrupt our approaches to knowledge silos we need to think back to the African Savannah, the birthplace of humanity. This group of Kalahari bushmen hunting in the African savannah can be a model for our future knowledge management as we disrupt our silos. In researching the Kalahari bushmen, I was surprised to discover there is no even a gendered functional silo with women joining in hunting and often leading the tribe. Decisions are made following discussions in a group. The economy is not based on trading. It is a gift economy about sharing with each other. There is a continuous interaction across the whole ecosystem. Knowledge is in flight in a highly social way. Three things are critical to knowledge in this environment - knowledge is a social stream, it has a context and it is focused on change. These three disruptions will be the focus of my talk. Before knowledge became treated as stocks and artifacts to husband, knowledge was a social stream. Knowledge existed in stories some of which have survived today. Anyone who has been exposed to the songlines of Australia's indigenous people knows that they are intricate stories of people and place with a purpose. These stories hold the culture of a people and enable a nomad tribe to live, travel, survive and interact. These stories shared a people's knowledge and culture and flowed beyond the tribe. Ancient myths and Homer's Iliad played similar roles as stories told to share history before there were records. Importantly in all of these cases there was no definitive text, the story evolved and adapted to remain true to changing circumstances, teller & audience. 2
  3. 3. Our current silos have lost the importance of context. In traditional Taylorist management approaches, context is assumed to be irrelevant to the task. As work becomes more dynamic and knowledge based, that is no longer the case. Interaction with an audience helps define a critical context for knowledge. The challenge of modern silos is that the context, people, place & purpose, in the engineering team may well be completely different to that in the sales team or the marketing team or in HR. Without commonality of context we cannot effectively leverage knowledge. We cannot trust it and it remains inert. Ancient stories had a clear context. Sitting in a circle telling a story is our second oldest form of knowledge sharing, after demonstration. The human brain leverages that specific context. One of the characteristics of humans alone is that we follow & respond to the attention of others. Stanley Millgram the social psychologist demonstrated that a crowd standing on the street could win a larger crowd with their attention. The same process occurs today with our knowledge in social media. Attention & interaction draws further interaction. It is important to remember that our culture is formed from the way we interact with each other. Managing interactions is critical to managing culture. A common culture is a critical shared ground for collaboration across silos. 3
  4. 4. Hollywood screenwriters masters of managing human attention know that there are three rules for a great screenplay. Tell a rich story, set a context for the audience quickly, and drive the story with conflict. The first two reflect the disruptions to silos, but why do we need conflict? Human perceptions since those days on the savannah have focused on perceiving and responding to changes. Safety and opportunity depended on interpreting movement in the grasses and the trees. Knowledge managers and senior executives are often frustrated that the answer to questions lies in silos but nobody sees or even goes looking. Why? We perceive our environment as relatively stable. We design our silos to prevent conflict. We should do the opposite. Human perception tends to winnow out small changes and minor inconsistencies. There is a whole series of psychological studies that document examples of change blindness when we devote our attention elsewhere. The image shown is from one such experiment. However we devote significant attention to ambiguity or major contrasts. Conflict draws our attention and guides our perception. It is a major source of ambiguity and our change focus. Without a major debate to create ambiguity or an urgent need to act, we don't look beyond our relatively stable views of the world. 4
  5. 5. There's a great story told by Keith Devlin in his book Infosense about the construction of Boston's Big Dig. A NZ company won one of the tunneling contracts for the project and planned to use novel tunneling technology. However it turns out that tunnellers are cautious individuals for good reasons and the company could not recruit any Americans to work on its new technology. After repeated attempts to convince them the NZ company turned to a novel solution They flew a group of their NZ employees to Boston and put on drinks in a pub for them and for the US candidates. There were no prescribed conversations. What the NZ company new was that a night of social conversation would build a common context and build trust. They new that the US candidates would listen to stories from their foreign peers. They new that debates and arguments would ensue that brought out the knowledge of the NZ team and addresses the issues of the Americans. 5
  6. 6. We are not going to escape tribes and teams. Those elements of human interaction come down from the savannah too. However if we are to avoid the negative effects of silos in the future of work we need to plan for our knowledge processes to be: -Social: streams of highly engaging stories and experiences -Contextual: managing rapidly changing contexts and fostering interactions across all individuals -Change oriented: Leveraging conflict and uncertainty to drive adaptiation and action My experience is that we can begin to disrupt silos. We have new tools like social media, cloud technology and data analytics that can transform our relationship to knowledge. We need to start thinking of knowledge as a dynamic flow among people. We can bring our knowledge out and turn it into new stories, new arguments and new actions to respond to the dramatically changing environment. Social media is a start in this but we also need to begin to use social business processes designed for interactions to share context and creative conflict. We need to disrupt our stable approaches and seek more dynamic and adaptive interactions. We need to stop managing knowledge in silos and plan to manage knowledge in flight. 6
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