The one sentence summary

The world does not function effectively if it is always streamlined, so businesses should strive to prevent silos.


  • Putting everything in its place isn’t such a bright idea.
  • Ever since civilised society began, we have felt the need to classify, categorise and specialise. This can make things more efficient, and help give the leaders in organisations a sense of confidence that all is well.
  • But it can also create a structural fog, with the full picture of where the organisation is heading hidden from view.
  • The word silo comes from the Greek siros meaning corn pit, and the meaning then moved across to military missile silos, and then to systems and departments that work in isolation. Synonyms include ghettos, buckets and tribes.
  • Silos are rife in many modern institutions. They have the power to collapse companies and destabilise financial markets.
  • They blind and confuse, often making companies act in risky and damaging ways, particularly in financial trading.
  • Anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu believed that human society creates certain patterns of thought and classification, usually to reproduce the status of the elite, albeit unintentionally. What matters in a society’s mental map is not what is overtly stated, but what is not discussed.
  • However, people do not have to be trapped in the mental maps they inherit. There are 5 things that can help prevent silos being detrimental:

1. Keep team boundaries flexible and fluid

2. Make pay and incentives holistic, not conducive to tribe behaviour.

3. Information flows really matter so that knowledge is truly shared.

4. Periodically try to reimagine taxonomies used to recognise the world.

5. Technology can help because it does not suffer from human bias (assuming it is set up appropriately).


  • The author is an anthropologist as well as a journalist, and so is used to questioning the assumptions and practices of a culture.
  • She uses an anthropological lens to explore how companies work in silos of thought, process and product, drawing widely from Sony, UBS, JP Morgan, police forces, hospitals, and more.
  • “I classify, therefore I think I am a social being.”
  • “People don’t do what you expect, but what you inspect.” Lou Gerstner


  • This is not a pure business book, more an anthropologist’s take on business that has implications for the way businesses behave.