Silo Thinking

In The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse by Rebecca D. Costa, she outlines five supermemes that lead to the stagnation and collapse of civilizations: Irrational Opposition, The Personalization of Blame, Counterfeit Correlation, Silo Thinking, and Extreme Economics. This healthymemory blog post will address the supermeme Silo Thinking. According to Costa, “…silo thinking: compartmentalized thinking and behaviors that prohibit the collaboration needed to address complex problems.

It’s unfortunate that our institutions of higher learning are organized into academic departments. The following is from Costa’s book on page 135. “In his 1998 book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, E.O. Wilson explained that silos have a more insidious effect than preventing a few problems from being solved here and there. Wilson warned that “professional atomization” also works against unifying the cumulative knowledge, discoveries, and science we have at our disposal. Whether it’s black holes in outer space or the current global recession, Wilson argues that thinking in silos prevents us from leveraging the known laws in physics, music, chemistry, engineering, economics, and biology together to explain natural phenomena. In his view, the barricades that stand in the way of centuries of knowledge must be torn down in order for humanity to progress.” So these barricades need to be broken and we need to think and work in an interdisciplinary fashion looking how to leverage our respective disciplines. Educational programs need to break down these disciplinary walls. Often creative and insight are a matter of combining ideas from different areas.

My personal area of expertise is in human factors or engineering psychology. This field is concerned with the interactions between human beings and technology. This includes the design of devices and systems so that they are easy to use. The supporting materials, wizards, manuals, help files, to help people use technology. It is also concerned with the development of effective training systems are all part of human factors. Given the explosion of technology, you might be surprised to learn that this is a fairly small field. Whenever you experience using technology you should wonder why this field was not engaged in the development of the particular technology presenting the problem.

We also tend to place different aspects of our lives in independent silos. Consider religion and politics, for example. Consider the teachings of Jesus Christ. He told us to love one another, to turn the other cheek, and devoted himself to the sick and unfortunate. Many of the same people who hold Christian beliefs do not apply them to their political behavior. They will be against government programs and policies that are aimed at helping the poor. They will be against national health insurance. They will embrace policies that deal harshly with immigrants. And they will insist on arming themselves. I find these beliefs and behaviors contradictory, and I think we would all be better off if they voted for politicians that supported policies that were in consonance with their religious beliefs. All of us should examine our thinking and beliefs to identify silos and eliminate them.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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