More about Goats and Silos

Owens Valley Silo Stairs B&WThe morning after my talk on Goats and Silos at the Cloudstack Collaboration Conference I was sitting at a table with Mark Burgess and John Willis. I was busy working through my email, so I only half heard their conversation, but one thing Mark said really stuck with me. Basically Mark pointed out the importance of “breaking down the silos in our mind.”

This of course stuck out to me, and as I began to think about it, that is exactly what this whole idea of Goats and Silos is about. Much of the talk in DevOps is about breaking down organizational silos, which is hard to impossible for us at the individual contributor level. But there is nothing stopping us from breaking down our preconceived notions and biases. within our minds. Go out and explore across the organizational silos in order to break down your own silos. And if you are a manager, give your goats the rope to go and explore across these silos.

Later when Mark left the table, I started talking with John about the idea of “breaking down the silos of our mind.” John reminded me of a talk by David Foster Wallace. Wallace speaks of our cognitive bias, how the exact same experience can be interpreted completely different by two people, and how humans have a default setting of being self centered.

Later in the week, a friend was telling David Nalley and I about a monitor he keeps on his desk. This monitor was used by a trader at a brokerage firm. The trader was using a VDI instance and the instance froze up because of a problem. Needless to say, the trader was in the middle of trying to execute a large deal, and wasn’t able. Frustrated, he punched the monitor and cracked the LCD. That monitor now sits there as a constant reminder that “the work we do matters.”

That is what it is really about; breaking down those silos in our head so we remember the person on the end of what we produce.

The Evolution of an Idea

goats in towerFive months ago a presentation was given in Amsterdam. In that presentation a comment was made that I woke up with a goat in my hotel room. That coupled with the fact that almost every presentation at the conference had a picture of a grain silo in it made some to think they were at a farmer’s conference, not a technology conference.

A quick google search by Arjen Wolfs  found a calculus problem called “The Goat and Silo”, and a challenge was thrown down. I was challenged to build a presentation around “The Goat and Silo”. But as I researched this idea, and talked to others, I found that the idea was not as half cocked as I thought.

Initially, when I talked to people about the idea they thought I was crazy, but as I explained it more they realized the analogy of a goat tied to a silo was an excellent comparison to some IT organizations and the people within them. I wrote an article for Information Week describing the idea of hiring goats, and the response helped to validate the idea. Further validation on the idea was provided at Cloud Connect Chicago where I presented the ideas of goats, silos, and the misconception that silos must be “torn down”.

So now we circle back to Amsterdam, and the Cloudstack Collaboration Conference. I’m excited to be heading back to some of the people that initially hatched the concept, and reflect together with them on the journey over the last five months. Am I crazy (maybe), or do the ideas really reflect what we see on a day to day basis in IT. But what is more exciting is getting to interact with the great attendees and speakers, as well as attend the great talks scheduled.

Image credit: