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The Sound of Silos

It’s a little-known fact (or a well-kept secret) that, many years ago, we worked in the grain industry. We were, in fact, grain farmers. And one of the people we worked with was Paul Simon. (Yes. That Paul Simon.)

Back then, Uncle Clem had a silo for darn-near everything — the corn, the barley, the rye, the hay, the animal feed, the coal, and Aunt Agnes. (Aunt Agnes was none too happy about that.) He said it was important to keep the contents of each silo separate, to keep the dry stuff dry, to keep the wet stuff from fermenting too quickly, and to keep Aunt Agnes from making a general nuisance of herself.

We believed the years we spent grain-farming taught us valuable lessons about keeping things in their proper places and away from other things that also were in their proper places. When we left the farm and took office jobs, silos didn’t seem quite so utile anymore. By the time we found our way into communications, silos had become pretty much useless, if not self-defeating.

When we started working in an advertising agency, for example, there was an Executive Silo, a Business Development Silo, a Creative Silo, a Traffic Silo, and an Account Silo. Except for swapping the occasional Creative Brief, Layout, Change Order, or Status Report, nobody in any one silo talked to anybody in any other silo. And once prospects became clients, they never talked to anyone in the Executive, Business Development, Creative, or Traffic Silos anymore. They only got to communicate with people in the Account Silo.

What was most fascinating, though, is that everyone in every silo thought he was an expert at what everyone in every other silo did, even if he’d never done it. Copywriters thought they were graphic designers. Art directors thought they were salespeople. Traffic people thought they were copy editors. And account people thought they were real executives, rather than just account executives. It would have been humorous if it hadn’t been so annoying.

The good news is it taught all of us humility. It taught all of us to mind our own business, especially if we didn’t know what we were talking about. And it taught all of us to respect the judgment of others. All of us that is, except Aunt Agnes. She still thinks Uncle Clem’s judgment was a little suspect.

Most of all, it gave Paul the inspiration for one of his most famous lyrics: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sound of silos.

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