The creation of Adam. Michelangelo.

Silo Connectors

Definition: silo connectors are people within an organization who have deep knowledge and experience in two or more areas of expertise, and use this knowledge to “connect” or “bridge” these areas and synergize them. In many ways they are like a really good translator who not only speaks both languages but also has lived in those countries, experienced each culture, and fosters crystal clear communication for both parties. For those who have read ‘ How Google Works ‘, silo connectors are like ‘smart creatives’.

silos Typically businesses refer to isolated groups within an organization as silos. Silo connectors bring about convergence between these silos. They make use of their specializations to forge new workflows, new approaches, and new ways of thinking among these silos. Typically they bring about a change in two or more silos. Ideally they affect such a change that a “hybrid” is created: merging the silos. The walls of communication and workflow break down enough that information now flows freely from one group to the other.

In my previous post, Chasing digital strategy, I wrote about digital efficiency and how digital strategy should be about how different areas within an organization give synergistic lift to another. Silo connectors bring about this convergence. This makes the silo connector invaluable in any digital organization. And let’s face it; almost every organization will have some component that is digitally based.

People and process are key ingredients to success as we move through digital transformation – John Mellor, VP Business development and strategy, Adobe

Though silo connectors are difficult to find now, they will be the norm in the future. Silo-ed specialization will soon die. What will be needed in the future is synergism. It only makes sense. The human body has specialized areas within it but all these areas are connected together. In the digital realm, there are so many digital organizations that believe only the brain (CEO, Senior Team), or the mouth (Sales, Account Directors), or the eyes (Art Directors), do all the work. Some organizations have all the digital parts but never think that they need to wire them all together. Synergism and silo connectors will enable this inter-connectivity within a digital organization.

So it seems to us that incumbent businesses have a choice to make. They can continue to operate as they always have, existing in a world where technology is something to be used not as a tool of transformation but simply to optimize operational efficiency and maximize profits. In a lot of these incumbent businesses, technology is that interesting thing run by that slightly odd group in the other building; it isn’t something that anchors the CEO’s agenda every week. And the impending disruption caused by new competitors entering their markets is something to be fought with battalions of lobbyists and lawyers. Although it might take a long time (and cost a lot of money), this dig-a-moat-and-bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach is bound to end tragically. The forces of technology and disruption are too powerful. So the incumbent that follows this strategy will eventually fail, or at the very least become irrelevant. Along the way, it will hamper customer choice and squelch innovation in its industry, because that is exactly its intent. Innovation means change; for incumbents the status quo is a much more comfortable place to be. (2014-09-23). How Google Works.

Who are these people?

A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist. -Buckminster Fuller.

I have had the privilege of working with some stellar silo connectors over the years: animator-art director-programmers; graphic artist-automator-developers; motion-designer-programmer-automators, just to name a few. The brilliance of these people lies in their keen desire to learn, to do more with less, and to truly collaborate with other people. These people bridge the silos of client, customer, account director, graphic artist, animator, motion designer, software developer, automator, and operations. They were all experts in several of these silos and they always pushed the boundaries of their own workflow. They always asked the question, “What could I do to make this better, faster, and more valuable?” They were always customer centric because they realized they were the customer in many ways, or viewed what they created from the customer’s point of view. In many ways the phrase, “what if I…?”, was constantly on their minds. They were, and are, fascinated by the things they see around them, from a wide range of sources, and are constantly on the verge of discovery.

I remember an art director I worked with who was very innovative; super creative. He was a fantastic artist and also a top-notch classical animator (a graduate of Sheridan College’s animation program). Over top of all of this he was a programmer! “What?,” you say. Is that possible? Yes, he was a silo connector. Converging all of this was his keen business sense and innovative brilliance. He got s**t done: it was stellar; done in record time; and spot on. Oh, and he was a great collaborator.

Skills can be learned, it’s aptitude that matters

velcro_collage_sm Silo connectors discover things because they remain open and vigil to new ideas. They experiment, and test, and seek, and don’t settle for “we’ve always done it this way”. Silo connectors are converging various things around them from various aspects of their lives, and constantly asking the question, “What if?” In 1941 George de Mestral was walking with his dog when he noticed that burrs had been caught in his dog’s fur. He then examined the property of burrs and ‘discovered’ Velcro. George’s inquisitive nature prompted him to delve deeper, to probe a little more, to slow down and examine. As Socrates once stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Philosophy matters, even in the digital world.

Slowing Down to Speed Up
two lego men push a lego cart with square wheels while a lego man behind them holds a circular wheel. The two men reply "no thanks" and "too busy" and the title reads "are you too busy to improve" As I’ve written in my previous post, Chasing digital strategy, the process of creating digital assets and executing on digital strategy is equally as important as having a digital strategy and choosing what digital projects to pursue.

  • Adobe recently combined Node.JS with Photoshop. You might not know what that means. Here’s what it means: a process, which took hours, can now be completed in real time. Someone at Adobe must have thought, “what if?” People are beginning to combine various pieces of software to accomplish more with less. Here’s a quick excerpt from a post around this idea, if you’d like to delve into some of the technical details. For those that don’t, here are some points to whet your appetite:
  • Would you like to connect Illustrator with a database? Check.
  • Read and write files within After Effects?  Check.
  • Remote control InDesign via a smartphone app?  Check.
  • Send and receive email?  Check.
  • Encrypt data?  Check.
  • Visualize data?  Check.
  • Use the command line?  Check.
  • Integrate Photoshop with Flickr?  Check. Twitter?  Check. Facebook?  Check. Amazon Web Services?  Check. Digital Asset Management systems?  Check.
  • Should I stop now?  Check.     Hallgrimur Bjornsson

Silo connectors are using industry standard, digital media tools in new and original ways, to create digital content. They produce stellar digital content that is highly optimized for the web, at speeds unattainable in the past.  People like Joshua Davis, probably one of the earliest experimenters with generative digital art, were, and are, able to produce vast amounts of rich media in a fraction of traditional production time.Chasing digital strategy.
With a little ingenuity and a little desire to improve the current way things are done in producing digital media, great things can be accomplished, and the majority of those accomplishments are being done by those who are gaining expertise outside their typical domain, and these are the silo connectors.

Apologies to those who continue to cut and paste, we have a rule among silo connectors; never introduce bridge thinking too quickly, it can have disastrous consequences. If you are experiencing a headache, please click here.

Update June 24, 2015…

Further reading…

Our research showed that the reason why most cross-functional teams fail is because siloes tend to perpetuate themselves: for example, engineers don’t work well with designers, and so on.


Cross-functional teams have become ubiquitous because companies need to speed innovations to market. The teams are like arteries, connecting parts of the body, enabling the whole organism to renew itself. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to pay attention to the way cross-functional teams are set up and how well they work: when they don’t function, the organization’s arteries harden. When they do, goals are met and the organization is ultimately more successful.

Harvard Business Review

“We had to tie together our silos, we had to change our culture, we had to lead by example,” – ‘Retiring Cisco CEO delivers dire prediction: 40% of companies will be dead in 10 years’,  Business Insider, John Chambers CEO Cisco

Steve Harrington

- not the douchebag one

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