Your Silo Is Burning: Are You Ready to Put Out the Fire?
our silos are like fishbowls in a house on fire. Things feel pretty normal and calm in the cold-water world we know, but it’s about to get very, very hot.
And currently? It’s quite hot. So hot that our silos are, finally, burning. And we have never been more siloed. Look to politics. Here in the United States, our two major parties, and the citizens who support them, are the very definition of self-reinforcing silos. They get their news from media organizations that speak to only their perspective, they share that perspective on the internet only with people who share their perspective, and then they cheer as their politicians, unsurprisingly, refuse to listen even a little to the other side. Countries around the world note their reluctance to trust the long-term promises of the United States. Why would they?
Our presidents declare executive orders instead of passing laws, and the next person comes in and just undoes it all. When we don’t allow different perspectives to challenge our preconceived notions of the world, we fail. Diseases spread because we don’t trust one another. Racism perpetuates because we don’t seek to understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. And even with our best intentions, the environment continues to get worse because we don’t know how to work across our sectors effectively—because we’ve never had a reason to do so before!
To switch metaphors, these issues were like a boiling pot with a lid on it. Unless you picked up the lid a decade or two ago, you wouldn’t see it, but it was only a matter of time before it exploded. And then boom. Uncontrollable wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados ravaging communities. An attempt to overthrow the government. And, of course, a multiyear pandemic. Unprepared for this symbolic and literal overflow, federal, state, and local agencies were overwhelmed, hospitals and emergency shelters overflowed, and multinational corporations and local storefronts alike overcompensated for their sudden financial and public relations crises. Now these same public, nonprofit, and private organizations need to stop trying to act alone and come together in order to find solutions.
Wicked problems cannot be solved by leading alone. Instead, we need to come together at what we call the “intersection.” There, where our worlds collide, we can recognize how we can work together, who to work with, and how to move forward together. This is what we’re going to talk about in this book.
Think Like a System Overview
At the core of systems thinking is the idea that in order to create change or form robust partnerships, we need to understand the broader system in which we and our partners operate.
As Peter Senge and many other systems scholars remind us, organizations are part of complex interdependent systems. Thus, systems approaches can have enormous positive benefits or powerful disastrous results. Collaboration introduces complexity and the need for intense focus on the partnership in addition to the work being accomplished by each partner. Before creating partnerships, we need to spend time and focused attention on learning and thinking about who we are and how we fit.
Noted systems scholars Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair undertook an extensive study of systems change initiatives and found that most fall into one of two broad categories:² (1) the initiatives didn’t work to transform an existing system but instead tried to move the system to a new, perhaps more innovative and effective trajectory, or (2) the initiatives worked intensely on individual subsystems in order to transform the system at large. To us, both of these categories point to a universal truth; you have to work to understand your system before you can tackle its change or look to the larger systems it is part of. Seelos and Mair further emphasized the importance of careful study of systems before intervening in them.
To that end, there are six skills that are particularly important to developing competence and proficiency in thinking like a system in initiatives at the intersection of sectors: •Observing with curiosity •Recognizing patterns and trends •Taking a big step back •Listening with empathy and reflection •Tapping into intuition •Reframing for a new way of seeing things.
These skills each have their own chapter in the book so that you can better understand and begin to practice the skills.
Act Like a Network Overview
We often drive work forward in ways that are comfortable to us, and usually, we need to be alone to feel that way. Yet this approach denies us the profound opportunities of working with others and the rewards of bringing others’ perspectives, experience, and networks to bear on the work. By doing the work ourselves, we may feel more control, but we don’t see our own limitations, and we miss out on ideas and worldviews that produce an impact greater than the sum of its parts.
Here’s an important note: people often confuse acting like a network with networking. Networking is a business activity of connecting with other people you have something in common with or who are interesting to you for the purpose of promoting yourself, your company, or your wares. Acting like a network means intentionally designing and building a network for the purpose of taking your work to the next level. It will include a deep assessment of your skills, talents, and assets so that you can identify people and organizations that would make good partners for the intersection work you want to do. It’s not a small lift, granted, but it’s well worth doing.
Of course, building a network brings a whole new set of voices, which in turn brings in a whole new set of challenges. That’s why we don’t advocate just thinking like a network but also acting like one—that is, working in coordination with others. This is a group of skills that definitely takes hands-on, interactive practice.
You can explore the necessary skills throughout the book. •Acting as a part of a whole •Getting out of our silo •Learning other professional languages •Code-mixing with intention •Understanding hidden ower •Rewarding risk
Lead Like a Movement Overview
One of the misconceptions about social movement action is that it takes place spontaneously. Sometimes this happens, but more often movements are well planned and well executed.
First you must recruit a team with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and lived experiences. Then you must bring together multiple logics and establish feedback loops to ensure those diverse perspectives are integrated together. Finally, you must deal with people who don’t want to go along with the movement or hold secret agendas and still find a way to build a broad consensus that welcomes a wide swath of stakeholders.
The key concept of leading like a movement is collective behavior. In essence, collective behavior is a moment in our society when people gather as a group to engage in some activity without being told to do so. Attending a scheduled weekly meeting is not collective behavior. Having a work conversation organically as you walk back to your desks from that meeting is collective behavior.
leaving your comfortable silos to find partners at an intersection is a choice. You will likely never be told to do so. Therefore, when we look closely at leadership skills, we particularly consider those that are used when large groups come together for a single cause—that is, movements. What starts as one small group with a cause expands to a movement only when it begins to cut across many groups, united at an intersection of ideas.
Once your car is in the flow of traffic, driving teacher Harold Smith explained, if you carve out enough space for yourself, you can create your own flow, because people naturally adjust to your speed as they too seek to find the flow. You are at once part of the crowd and also guiding it. People are responding to your choices, and by your actions, not by some declaration of control, they start seeing you as their leader. You set a powerful direction and inspire others to want to figure out how to make it work. This is leading like a movement.
The books take a deeper dive into each of the skills for Lead Like a Movement. •Building diversity •Integrating multiple logics •Establishing feedback loops •Saying no •Managing dissonance •Managing incumbents •Managing secret agendas.