The Silo Reconsidered

The silo is an ambiguous unit of organizational structure that is a favored strawman for management consultants. Admit it: you’ve probably ranted about silos at some point in your working life. The connotations of the word today are nearly universally pejorative. I have only ever heard the term used to refer to inefficiency, creeping bureaucracy, personal fiefdoms and poor communication. When the silo in question is also a locus of technical competency, it is also the target of accusations of narrow-minded scholasticism (“tunnel vision” is the phrase that appears here). This notion of silo is common enough that there are actually leadership courses out there promising to eliminate the silo mentality from your organization.

As you will see, this is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it can be a terrible thing.

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Concepts and Prototypes

We think about abstract concepts in terms of prototypical instances. These prototypical instances inform how we construct arguments using these concepts. At a more basic level, they determine how we go about constructing definitions themselves. Prototypes pop up in all sorts of conceptual domains, ranging from “war” to “airplane” to “bird.” So how do prototypes work in our thinking? Let’s start with an apparently simple example — the concept of triangle — that can get tricky really quickly.

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Book Review: Wikinomics

Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams

Despite the name, which suggests both a me-too jumping on the Levitt/Dubner Freakonomics bandwagon and a possible reductive identification of all evolving Web technologies with wikis, this is a surprisingly good book, written at a calibrated level of abstraction, with a tasteful blend of concepts, anecdotes and statistics. It has none of the anecdotes-of-a-gunslinger-economist machismo of Freakonomics, and the wiki in the title is synecdoche, not reductive imagining.

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