Just Bariso, Author, EQ Applied
Why Intelligent Minds Like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs Embrace the ‘No Silo Rule’ How did Apple leapfrog Sony to create the iPod, which essentially killed the Walkman? It all came down to the no silo rule
Some years ago, Elon Musk wrote an email to Tesla employees outlining ways the company could differentiate itself from competitors. “We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size,” wrote Musk, “so we must do so with intelligence and agility.” Part of “intelligence and agility,” insisted Musk, was resisting the tendency to create divisions within Tesla, a problem that often infects companies as they grow in size.
Managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs. them mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for depts to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept.
Interestingly, Steve Jobs encouraged a similar philosophy at Apple many years previous. Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, with the company on the brink of bankruptcy. Soon after, Apple began working on a new device that Jobs would cleverly describe as “a thousand songs in your pocket.” That device, of course, was the iPod. The iPod was famously dubbed “the Walkman killer,” a reference to the previous market share king in portable music players, the Sony Walkman. But how was Apple able to leapfrog Sony, a huge corporation that dominated the market, owned its own music company, and itself had come up with the Walkman? Because Jobs embraced the “no silo rule.”
In his biography about Jobs, Walter Isaacson explains:
Why did [Sony] fail? Partly because it was a company, like AOL Time Warner, that was organized into divisions (that word itself was ominous) with their own bottom lines; the goal of achieving synergy in such companies by prodding the divisions to work together was usually elusive. Jobs did not organize Apple into semiautonomous divisions; he closely controlled all of his teams and pushed them to work as one cohesive and flexible company, with one profit-and-loss bottom line. Isaacson goes on to describe how Sony, like many companies, also worried about cannibalization. Building a new music player and service that encouraged people to share digital songs would likely hurt the company’s record division. But Jobs famously preached that a company shouldn’t be afraid of cannibalizing itself.
“If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will,” said Jobs.
As these two stories illustrate, the no silo rule was inseparably weaved into the company doctrines that helped lead to Apple’s and Tesla’s success. It’s a rule that is founded on principles of emotional intelligence, the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you. And it can help your organization, too. Why you should embrace the no-silo rule? As your company grows, so does the potential for divisive behavior. Whether consciously or subconsciously, teams will often compete against one another, and at times work contrary to one another’s best interests, in attempts to make a favorable impression on the boss.
How can you combat this tendency? By embracing the no silo rule.
Encourage company leaders to see the big picture, and to work for the good of a company as a whole. You can do this through your messaging, like Musk. But, like Jobs, you should also do it by the way you organize your teams and the example you set yourself. For example, when assembling a team to work on a project, assign members of different departments to work together. If it’s a marketing project, include at least one member from your product, design, finance, and operations departments–and vice versa. Strive to increase the breadth of individual team member roles, or cross-train people in different departments. Create feedback loops that help individuals understand how their team’s work affects that of other teams. This helps individuals to think more critically, to understand how the company works together, and to develop methods that use resources in one area to solve problems in another. Finally, if you’re working on a team and you or your colleagues run into a difficult problem, share it. Ask for help. Specifically ask people that work outside of your department, to help you to see beyond your limited perspective and to promote innovative thinking.
Of course, the no silo rule works only if you get everyone in the organization to buy in. So, make sure you–and company leaders–are setting the right example. Reward not only those who perform highly, but also those who assist others to perform highly. Reiterate that the only real bottom line that matters is the company’s bottom line. Do this right, and you’ll use the no silo rule to encourage true collaboration within your company–and make emotions work for you, instead of against you.