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In a Siloed World, The Bottom Line is King

Mi silo es su silo, mais su silo es no mi silo

Read my lips: In a siloed world, only the people in your silo that share your passion want to understand how and why your product or service works. For nearly everyone else, all they care about is the bottom line.

In an embarrassing moment I asked the CEO's in a bi-weekly teleconference group, "We talk about improving your communication skills on our calls.  Would you rather understand how and why the solutions I tell you work or do trust me as a subject matter expert and just want bottom line tactics to the situations you are having challenges with?"

Nearly everyone said, "We'd prefer the latter."

I then said, "The why do you let me go on and on with insights, stories and explanations for why and how the tactics I propose work?"

A couple of people on the call chimed in, "Because we like you and you seem to be enjoying yourself telling us."

Trying to cover my embarrassment I replied, "But if you just know a tactic with no understanding of why or how it works, when it doesn't work in a particular situation you will be up a creek without a paddle and not know what to do."

Another person humorously but seriously replied, "Mark, we'll take our chances."

I then realized that this phenomenon of people not wanting to know more than the bottom line outside their areas of competence was not just limited to me.  It's widespread.  It may explain why many clients of financial advisors or accountants or attorneys just want to know the bottom line, i.e. how much money will I make and how much risk will it involve, how much will such and such a service cost and/or am I going to go to jail or not? It may also explain why many Boards of Directors of public companies don't know the name of the CTO.  As far as they're concerned they just want to know that the technology is working.  They don't want to know how or why it works. In fact the more the CTO talks in technological terms they don't understand the more stupid they feel and feeling stupid is not something they particularly like.

So what are you to do when you have a highly specialized expertise when talking to people outside it?

It's pretty simple.  When you're with your colleagues use the jargon that expedites conversations, but when you're on the outside talking with a different kind of duck... quack like that duck.

My field of psychiatry and psychology is rampant with jargon, better known as "psychobabble." In fact, almost everyone outside either of those fields is quickly turned off by it. 

In my own field as a communication expert I do my best to stay away from the words "communication" and "collaboration." That's because to hard driving CEO's, ROI types and entrepreneurs, "communication" sounds too soft and like something they dump on their HR department to deal with and "collaboration" sounds too highfalutin, high brow and impractical. The word I use is "cooperation" because nearly everyone knows what that means especially when there appears to be problems with it.

In conclusion, if in a siloed world, the bottom line is king... the bottom line is that such a scenario does not bode well for the future where cooperation will be important if not critical.

If you would like a heartfelt alternative to this, check out the Annenberg Third Space initiative. They've discovered through exhaustive research that there is a trillion dollar talent gap due to missing or lacking skills in:

  1. Empathy
  2. Cultural competence
  3. Intellectual curiosity
  4. Adaptability
  5. 360 degree thinking

If you are so siloed as to pooh, pooh such skills, imagine people lacking in all of them. 

Would you want such a person to lead your company?  Even worse, imagine the level of communication, cooperation and collaboration you'll get with people lacking them?  Even worse still, would you want your daughter to marry such a person?

Addendum: Mark Zuckerberg long thought to be rather rigid, unempathic and maybe even a tad Aspergerish in his thinking and approach recently demonstrated an amazing level of all five Third Space skills and blew the world's mind on a visit to China by answering questions for 30 minutes in Mandarin.

The real shock was not that he did that, but that because of people's lack of all five Third Space skills, "as right as they thought they were about Zuckerberg, was perhaps as wrong as they turned out to be."  And possibly all those traits that people attributed to him were not who he was or is, they may have just been a sign of immaturity that he is growing out of.

If the CEO of a $205 billion dollar company can make and take the time to learn to quack like duck, so can you.

Reader Comments (1)

C. P. Snow's "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution" still is sadly a truth of our ever more modern, ever more non-truly communicative world. Human beings are all too often siloed, and in silos that build distrust and arrogance. I recommend that we all read some good novels, and some good physics papers. Really. For Heartfelt Leadership folks who are unfamiliar with my much loved College, check out

November 9, 2014 | Registered CommenterKC Victor
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