The Silo Mentality

Originally posted January 2013

A common assignment question given to first year medical students is “Can Suicide ever be rational?” When a young friend of mine told me that he had this assignment to do some years ago, I suggested he read up on Durkheim’s study on the reasons for suicide.

When I met up with him again a few weeks later, he told me that he’d looked at Durkheim, but hadn’t included it because “he wasn’t a medic”.

Unfortunately, this sort of silo mentality isn’t limited to medicine and academia – there’s a tendency across all sectors to dismiss thinking that ‘wasn’t invented here’.  HR textbooks make few if any references to Behavioural Economics, while behavioural economists I’ve read talk about work behaviour without any apparent knowledge of the many studies done by psychologists and management theorists, in some cases dating back over the last 80-90 years.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read this blog, where the HR author uses her anthropological background to illustrate a point about organisational culture. It’s also why I suggested in my last blog that fiction can be a source of management thinking.  Stepping outside the artificially imposed boundaries of any discipline can help us give a new perspective on many issues.

When we talk about “talent development” and “engagement”, how many of us look at the whole individual? Bill may only be an average accounts clerk, but he speaks fluent Spanish and has a good knowledge of military history, while Sally in Sales is an accomplished musician and volunteers for a local charity. How can we make use of these skills in the workplace? We may not be able to, but are you even asking the question?

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