Monday 30 April 2012

Hellebore in Acrylic Part 1

First of two sessions.  Presented the Hellebore chosen in last session, showed various different representations of flower (psychodelic, boosted colour, pencil sketch...), divided into four for each participant to grid and prepare for 4 A4 stretched canvases.  Get the paints out next time.

Monday 23 April 2012


Flower printing and pressing.  We'll be painting Hellebores next time, and more flower pressing.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Silo Thinking

We are on holiday in Cornwall admiring East Pool Whim on Mitchell's shaft, working on electric rather than the original steam.  An ex-engineer showing us around assures us the silent, smooth action looks and sounds just as it did, as the huge 52 tonne cast iron 'bob' swings up and down on top of the distinctive Cornish Engine House.

Inside, as we look at the model engine, I look to the silo bins, lined up to deposit the various minerals onto waiting trains, reminding me of the phrase appearing so frequently at the moment - Silo thinking:

 'An information silo is a management system incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems...a pejorative expression that is useful for describing the absence of operational reciprocity'

Silo thinking is a danger in the mechanisation of humans - complex tasks broken down into simple repeatable tasks.  I've only found it in 21st century writing but, as a concept, it is as at home in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries - Taylorism, industrialisation, and at Boulton's Soho House manufactory taken to a point where there is a breakdown of 'reciprocity' between the various parts. It was recognised by early advocates of industrialisation and capitalism, like Adam Smith:

"[If the worker] has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention...generally become as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become." (Adam Smith An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, thanks David Gauntlett, Making is connecting p.31)

Silo mentality, the silo effect, silo thinking, is now widely recognised and management consultants employed to address and train to avoid silo phenomena in a range of industries and services.  The solution is a 'flattening' of an organisation to make it more less 'vertical' and more 'horizontal'. By removing middle management, reducing number of work groups (larger groups) and improving communication and integration across work groups, the danger of 'silo thinking' can be alleviated.

There is a logic in it's application, but its blind application can be dangerous.  In one Northern Engand city, the library service has become effectively merged with benefits support services, leading to better integration, fewer managers and cost savings.  It has also led to staff more used to advising on housing benefit struggling to lead storytelling with under 5s.  The workforce is further demoralised and sceptical of senior management, whose apparent view that all the staff can be used flexibly in any role, de-professionalises everyone and damaging further the relationship between senior management and everyone else.  In this, and many cases, silo analogy and management consultants have worsened existing problems.  They are not addressing the cause, only the symptom, and have become part of the problem.

Silos are for silage, and silo talk applied to human systems is insulting and ultimately stinks.  When a low morale team has it's silos 'restructured', unless the driving force is from within the team, it will increase the fear and protectionism which caused the 'poor reciprocity' in the first place.  The various parts need to share all information, not just promotional material, devolve decision taking as well as consultation, exposing the challenges and problems as well as the successes.  It's about building trust, which can then include external people like consultants as part of the team, not separate from it.  It's about understanding the differences between teams as well as their similarities to make best 'reciprocal' exchange.

Boulton and Watt exchanged ideas, experimented, invited some of the greatest thinkers of their age to their 'Lunar Society, exchanging letters, many of which are still accessible through Birmingham Archives and Heritage.   They really were 'The Friends who made the future' ( See Jenny Uglow), in large part because of the exchange ideas between their friends.

The engine at Mitchell's shaft was designed by local engineer, Richard Trevithick, who was successfully sued for infringement of Boulton and Watt's engine design copyright. He also apparently had a court order to ensure he could not travel within one mile of Boulton's Soho House Manufactory - something possibly to do with his father's involvement in the disappearance of some of Watt's early steam engine drawings (Jenny Uglow, The Lunar Men, 2002, p.256). The man at East Pool assures us of the superiority of Trevethick's engine, but he could not compete with the juggernaut of Boulton, Watt and Co.  Boulton and Watt worked with many Cornish engineers, but certainly did not trust Richard Trevithick (Jnr), despite his obvious talents.  Who knows how much quicker and better the steam engine might have developed if they had?  

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