One day I stopped to ask a farmer why they use silos.  After getting the ‘boy are you some sort of igneramous’?!’ look, he answered my question.  “Keeps product separated. One goes one place for one price, another somewhere else.  Also keeps it safe.  You know, dry.  No mold, moisture or mice.”

Ahh.  A barrier to keep things in and out.  Nice and safe and separate.  Very good for a farmer who counts on getting the highest price for high quality corn.

While silos in farming are good, silos in business aren’t quite as good but equally real.  The problem is that business decisions are made every day using homogenous resources relying on homogenous tools.

Here’s what I mean.  A colleague of mine, Chris Samuels, former research quant-geek at McKenzie and Bain likes to use a phrase I think sums this problem up.

Focus Groups are words with no data and polling is data with no words.  They are the worst of both worlds.  Yet, strategic decisions are made every day by marketing or product teams or knowledge and insights teams or strategic pricing teams or any other of the multitudes of corporate groups that use these types of tools.  Problem is, these teams tend to operate independently from one another, each delivering its own ‘product’ that is then locked down and used by somebody else.  That somebody else takes the product as gospel.  The result is a product or service that is ‘good enough’ without being great or really relevant.  More often when something is a hit, it’s as much out of luck as having the right insight, tools and team.

In the end, for organizations to be more relevant and successful, they need to embrace a whole new level of diversity.  We’ll never bust down the silos inside of organizations but we can cut holes in them and create bridges between them.


By doing taking a couple simple steps, it is possible to flatten your organization; becoming more nimble, relevant, informed and profitable in the process.  A number of organizations have begun this process, with significant results.

So what does it take?  A couple of simple steps:

  1. Creation of a virtual team to aid or review your initiatives
  2. Willingness to collaborate as a group on both the initiative and also the ‘product’ each member brings to the table.  For instance, if research brings customer profile data; break it down to ensure it is both accurate and relevant, not homogenous or ‘good enough’
  3. Incorporate resources who create the barriers.  Legal, compliance, finance, corporate communications, etc.  Think of them as team consultants.  Not part of the day to day work but there to aid where and when needed.
  4. Identify key customers who you think fit this profile and are part of your core target audience.  Incorporate them as part of the team.
  5. Don’t pay them lip service or through pre-packaged material over the wall to them and for God’s-sake, don’t survey them to death or force them into an antiseptic focus group.
  6. Integrate the work earlier than usual.  Stand your team up in requirement gathering or scope definition.
  7. Socialize your work and your results across the organization.  Ask for insight, comments and help.  Heck, you may just strike gold.


By beginning this process, you will take the first step in creating a flatter organization that is likely to be a better competitor.  It won’t happen overnight but as Confucius once said, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger