On family road trips, I was always captivated by the tall silver cylinders that rose out of the ground to the sky in the endless flats of grain country. They’d often be the only thing on the shimmering landscape; no trees, no buildings taller than a single story, just the these monolithic containers, reaching above the world like rural, windowless skyscrapers.
I always wondered what was inside.
It wasn’t until my adult years that I discovered these were silos: giant canisters to store grain or silage (feed for livestock) that needed to be protected from insects and the elements, that needed to be contained, and that needed to be easily dispensed when the time came.
When I discovered what silos held, I became more fascinated instead of less. I imagined the tonnage of wheat, or oats, these structures held: billions of particle in those shiny columns. If you put a spigot on them, think how long the golden grains would flow, and the vast piles that would be exposed to light for everyone to see.
We talk at work about not wanting to silo knowledge. In support at Automattic, the company where I work, we do not specialize. We are generalists in our knowledge and our methods of support, so that if one product’s support queue gets backed up, or if live chat is slammed when our email queue is under control, we are all able to pitch in without having to wait for the experts to arrive: those shiny towers of knowledge that are inaccessible except when the dispenser is open.
Still, we each become knowledgable based on the information we learn as we go about our jobs: workflows that help us gain efficiency, phrases that convey our empathy for certain circumstances, workarounds when something is broken.
Even in a generalist model, in our busyness it’s easy to let those grains of knowledge pile up in the containers of our minds, secreted away like silage in a silo. Or as generalists, we can often fall into the trap of thinking, “Everyone already knows this, there’s no need for me to share.”
At the recent SUPCONF NYC, a colleague shared his persepective on providing support using a partnership model rather than a transactional one, where you build relationships with customers instead of treating each ticket as a discrete problem to solve. He worried before his talk, “Everyone is already going to know this. Who’s going to care?”
His talk was riveting to me. I didn’t already know the insights he shared, and I cared. I brought back new ideas for my own work that I would not have had without his talk.
It’s important to open the spigot and let our insights out, to show what’s in there, even if we feel like it’s just boring old grain that won’t be special to anyone else. That often will not be the case. Release your knowledge into the open for everyone to consume and gain nourishment from.
This was a ten-minute free write on the topic “silos” pulled from my prompt box.