It's Friday, 29 April 2022 in Portland, Oregon and today's light is diffuse because of more cloud than sky in today's skybox.
Our cat, Biscuit, was meowing at me because he was outside my window. On the second (first) floor. He is a silly cat and we adore him.
And hey, listen. This bit is important. If you're an internet old, then if I say "Greymatter" you will have a Ratatouille-style flashback and be hit with everything. You'll remember Noah Grey.
If you can, please help.
I've been thinking a bit more about connecting the dots in the way that I talked about earlier this week, in my available-for-work thread. Here's how I explained one of the problems I help with:
You're siloed and specialized. You, a leader, know this. Your peers know this. You know the cost of this: it's nobody's job to connect dots or to find patterns in a way that works for the entire org not just a silo. But you're not allowed to hire a generalist/systems consultant who can work sideways.
You need someone who has the time to look between the gaps, understand & help clarify the objectives in your OKRs, and show how you'll start getting silos to work together more.
Here's what caught my attention:
There's a difference between abstractly, generically "knowing" that groups of people aren't working together better and then doing something about it so that "groups of people in different silos work better together" and "we're behaving less like silos".
First off, the silos exist in part because of a need for specialization and isn't in itself wrong. A group of specialized isn't bad. But then silos also exist because they're neatly defined boxes with defined inputs and outputs so they can be Managed, and now you're talking more about assembly lines and bureaucracies and Management.
So (ooh, epiphany, thinking out loud), there's actually two different lenses here:
There's the bureaucracy of processing and operations on information which, you know, fine. That's a workflow. People do things and then pass them on to the next person and then maybe they go around in circles a bit before being properly refined into a sort of "macro" data, that can be passed on to Analysis down the hall.
Then there's the "what do we do to design better processes", the whole "hey, for the entire job to be done, is the refinement team in the right place? Do we need to do refinement? Can we do refinement differently? What if the inputs change?"
Doing that requires the cross-silo thinking, which in theory is where a bunch of layers and layers of cross-silo middle management would work when they're not just managing the processing and bureaucracy and implementation and performance of the data refinement.
But mostly (sorry middle managers), I'd reckon (citation needed) about 95% of those middle managers are only managing downwards and not really managing sideways. At least, not effectively. Because the sideways stuff is a different job and explicitly silo-breaking/reconfiguring.
The original thought/observation that kicked this off is that improving how things work, e.g. de-siloing, by telling people to de-silo doesn't really work. There are obvious reasons for this but it turns out they're hard to access in the moment (maybe because... you're in a silo?) Or also, I think, because they're Not Your Job, and they Require Hard Decisions.
Here's how you start breaking down walls and reconfiguring silos:
First, pick a goal.
Ideally, it's a useful one.
Picking a useful goal may take you a long time for a variety of reasons. These reasons might include a) you can't really define what "useful" would be, b) when you can, a bunch of people come up with different definitions, c) nobody can agree on, say, one useful thing as a goal.
This is a side-problem, but one that, unfortunately, you will have to work through. It involves Not Doing Things and Not Choosing Things and being Quite Honest To Yourself About The Current Situation.
And that's before you get into all the interpersonal dynamics which you'll also need to work on because there will always be interpersonal dynamics, don't pretend there aren't any because spoilers: there will always be people involved and most of them have not had enough therapy. And even if they have had enough therapy, they're still human and not state machines.
Anyway, you pick this goal, and the thing about this goal is that (no, it doesn't matter what sort of sport metaphor you're using) it's a goal that kind of happens to require you messing around with your current silos.
I mean, come on. This is really obvious and yet I always have to remind people that if you could do this, you'd be doing it, and if you're not doing it, then clearly something is in the way and that's just a description of the state of affairs, not a value judgment. At least, officially.
This is what gets me so much about managers and leadership wanting to implement "best practices" or expecting people to implement "best practices" without having a goal or objective or "winning aspiration" to aim for, or expecting that people will "work better" without a) extrinsic motivation (i.e. an external goal) and b) intrinsic motivation (e.g. maybe learn some new stuff?)
And, in a way, that's it. Or at least, that's a big part that's missing. You pick something that implicitly would require de-siloing to be achieved, and then you actually follow it up with the resources/time/etc needed to do achieve that goal. Which means not doing other things in the meantime. Because if it were important, then you'd be treating it as important.
Setting things up so that the people involved in achieving that goal don't fall flat on their faces is super important, otherwise one result is totally going to reinforce peoples' "oh, another buzzword, we'll just wait $business_cycle and it'll blow over" pattern recognizer.
And that's where connecting the dots starts coming in. It's been nobody's job to look at those dots. Or, if it has been somebody's job to connect the dots, they've probably had the title like "Chief Innovation Officer" which means they have influence (if they're lucky) and no authority because they don't directly control anything. They can make suggestions. But they can't make anyone do anything, at least not usually. So then they end up with a lab. Which is off to the side. And doesn't matter. Because it's a lab. (Not all the time, there are totally models where labs work, but one major feature of labs is that it lets leadership ignore the pain/cost/hard work involved in actually changing/growing).
So you need to look at the dots, and now people are empowered to. But they probably don't know how, or are starting from scratch. There's no real framework. They don't have the time. You're not "resourced" for it. People can't even look at those dots and that line in a different way, other than the assembly line silo way that defines their inputs and outputs because, remember, that's their job. It would be seriously unfair to expect them to be able to instantly switch into a different Way of Seeing and be anywhere from competent to expert at it, never mind if you also set an unreasonable deadline for the pretty good goal you're patting yourself on the back for.
People haven't worked together in this way. It's totally reasonable to need help. There are totally easy, standard tools to help provide the new context and shift which on the surface might look like business process diagrams but hey look, you can borrow from the design/research community. Tell stories. Real ones, about what happens from the beginning to the end, and the bit in the middle. Put real times on them.
When I worked with California's Child Welfare team, I drew a pseudo user journey/cartoon that went right from a mother being arrested with her child in the early evening through to her child being removed and being emergency placed with a relative. I drew it all out. Little pictures for each person. We talked to everyone, got real, actual details that each of the "stakeholders" would agree would be reasonable and had been in their experience. Stuck times on them. Drew a timeline. Annotated the bits of data that were collected. Had a whole cast of characters. We didn't even have to go out into the field -- not yet -- because I had a bunch of domain experts with actual field domain experience.
Nobody had ever seen the actual story this way before. Every single person involved knew their part, but not the whole, because the whole was an abstract administrative goal "get a placed in an emergency with a relative".
They had this in business process diagrams and workflows. But those are abstract. They're not real. Honestly, I tell people that when I look at these I can understand them and be super smart about them but they are also boring because, you know, they don't involve that trendy fad of "storytelling".
But that kind of storytelling works. because guess what: I hacked your brain so that you care about what happens Charlie, this five year old boy, who's alone and scared and fell asleep without his mom next to a caseworker's desk because it's 10:25pm.
Just that one part, just doing that one part is part of what's needed to start breaking down silos and changing processes and getting people formerly in "manage your process" mode into "be collectively invested in changing how you work to achieve a high-level outcome".
Nobody has time to do this. It's nobody's job to do this. But you can't get there without doing work like this.
Anyway, here's Charlie, from a good 3-4 years ago:
Have you ever started organizing a union... while in a cab, on the way to the bar?
You will. And the company that will bring it to you? AT&T.
Anyway, I did more AT&T You Will jokes because of course I did.
Someone's paraphrasing of the crappy rationale behind sticking NFTs/crypto etc into videogames did its job and caught my attention about crypto and videogames again and I quickly summarize why:
Do publishers really want to see videogames start to be evaluated and reviewed in, I don't know, Polygon, with their potential as investment/retirement assets?
Do they want Metacritic to include rando Seeking Alpha reviews/ratings?
Do they want to go towards having to include disclaimers about Forward Looking Statements in patch notes?!
Which also spurred a conversation about it being reasonable to like some sort of reward for "investing", say, 300 hours some of which is even called grinding in a videogame, and sure if that's not financial reward (which it doesn't have to be!) then... what? I mean, we already get digital trophies and achievements to show off in our videogame friend social networks and sure, they're easily convertible into NFTs for... displaying?
And yet on the other hand there are a bunch of virtual marathons where you go run and then you get an Actual Real Medal for finishing, like, a real thing you can hold in your hands, made out of atoms mummy, you had atoms when you grew up didn't you mummy?
But the thing is bits are cheaper than atoms and you'll make more money by selling bits than atoms because atoms are messy and even when you abstract them out and externalize them so Other People Have To Deal With Atom Logistics (hey, guess what, those people are people and... they're still people if you pretend they don't exist), you end up spending More Money in a world where You Just Need Money To Get By.
But, you know. We could have things. made out of atoms. By people.
Or fine if you want to go down the other route just send a signed/customized STL file for whichever Horizon: Insert A USB Stick Up A Metal Dinosaur's Butt game or whatever you're playing and you can print it out at your local FedEx/Kinko's.
Sigh. I am Not having a Good Day and it's Friday. And I have decided, arbitrarily, that 50 episodes shall make a season.
How about you?