Social Networking can be an Antidote for Siloed Organizations

Is anyone else old enough to remember that classic TV advertisement Cher did for Jack LaLanne Fitness Centers?  The provocatively clad Cher remarks, “If it came in a bottle, everyone would have a great body.”

Jack LaLanne Health Spa Commercial with CHER

It’s interesting to note that Jack LaLanne is no longer around but Cher sure is.  She’s still out there working it at sixty-four!

The point of the ad—anything worth having takes effort—is appropriate to many common challenges in the more mundane world of business.  Recently I’ve been thinking about the pervasiveness of siloed or stove-piped organizations and how challenging it is to get teams of people working across functional lines and outside of established frameworks.  Of course, many see the benefits of this but breaking old habits is hard work and takes committed, concerted effort.

Social Networking and the tools that enable it can be an effective solution to the problem of siloed organizations.    Information and resource siloes occur for many reasons but the principle reason is they are just plain easier to manage.  Functional heads act as gatekeepers of information, employees are instructed to “stay in their lane”, information flows up and down the line or is made accessible on a “need to know” basis.  For organizations that are geographically dispersed, the effect is more pronounced and the flow of information or the availability of shared resources poses an even greater challenge. More often than not the effort of cross-functional teamwork just doesn’t happen, because it is just “too hard.”

So, yes, matrix-style,  non-siloed organizations can be more difficult to manage and introduce new layers of complexity and perhaps a certain measure of uncertainty and risk.  But in my experience there are a few steps companies can take to “ease the pain” of breaking down established organizational hierarchies and tap into the creative power of the organization at large:

1)     Organize key initiatives around cross-functional project teams.  Most big projects require the efforts of staff across the entire organization, but too often, results are tracked and evaluated within the functional framework and priorities.  But when project teams are established, with goals and milestones clearly understood, collaboration and problem solving can happen more seamlessly.

2)     Reward employees thinking and working outside of information silos. Breaking the habit of siloed thinking requires a cultural shift in some companies.  Everyone throughout the organization needs to see that cross-functional effort is valued and rewarded.  Lessons learned—both positive and negative need to be captured and shared.

3)     Set boundaries & define roles.  A matrixed organization is not a license for anarchy.   Team members still need to have clearly defined roles everyone needs to know who is in the role of decision-maker, and who is mainly in the assist role.  If everyone thinks they are merely contributing to the project, but not ultimately accountable for anything, chaos can ensue.

4)     If there is friction, or if toes get stepped on, try not to sweat it.  Business can be a contact sport and there is bound to be a little body-checking from time-to-time.  Things can get heated at times but learn to accept that this is part of progress.

5)     Cross-train as many people in your organization as possible.   I am a huge proponent of cross-training.  It can have the profound effect of breaking people out of siloed thinking.  It broadens employees skill sets, creates a more resilient organization and promotes a more stimulating work environment.  It’s hard, and even disruptive, but it pays big dividends.

6)     Make sure your organization has the right tools to enable Social Networking and cross-functional  teamwork.    Here at Strategic Social, we understand the importance of technology for streamlining and enabling a cross-functional culture. For example, MediaMAS is a robust web-accessible, permission-based database is essential for getting far-flung teams “on the same page.”  Likewise the Strategic Social Platform is communication and collaboration portal, designed to facilitate information dissemination, and speed-up decision-making. It features a customizable dashboard that provides access to shared files, discussion boards, and feeds to external sources such as RSS, Flicker, Twitter and YouTube.

None of these steps is a guarantee for success.  There are organizations out there that succeed at some level with the same structured, siloed habits they’ve had for decades.  But they will find it increasingly difficult to compete with matrix organizations that are learning and refining the art of working across clearly defined verticals.  It can be hard work.  Not everyone is going to do it.  But the organizations that perfect the skills will be better equipped for the long-haul.

Share

The Rise and Fall of Pollywood

Recent flooding across Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) region and the provinces of Punjab and Sindh has wreaked havoc on an already downtrodden and terrorized Pakistani citizenry. The floods serve as a stark reminder of how vulnerable the people of Pakistan are, especially those in the KP region. In July I had the unique and rewarding opportunity to visit Pakistan’s KP province. For four days, I visited Peshawar and the surrounding villages alongside members of Pakistan’s Pashtun film industry, which has steadily declined since 2001. Today, the Pakistani Pashtun film industry is reduced to a risky and largely underground operation.  With Australian filmmaker and artist, George Gittoes as my guide as well as members of the Pashtun film industry, I was able to gain an appreciation for the hardships this community faces at the hands of extremists, or miscreants as they are called in KP. The Taliban and religious extremist parties like the Muttahdia-Majilis-e-Amal (MMA) have have declared these films haram, or against the laws of Islam. As a result, theaters in Peshawar and across KP have been forcibly closed, DVD sellers killed and their shops razed, and the actors and actresses that are the mainstay of the industry forced underground.

The Miscreants of Taliwood Poster

George Gittoes Poses with Taliwood film stars for the 'Miscreants' Movie Poster

I witnessed the second and third order effects of this clampdown on creative expression firsthand on a visit to the village of a famous Pashtun actor.

Three hours north of Peshawar, in the heart of KP, I received a warm welcome into the modest village and home of one of the industry’s great actors, Javid Muzavi. With more than 300 movies under his belt (both as an actor and a director), this star of BBC radio programs has name and face recognition that would make George Clooney blush.

During the 1990s Javid and his fellow Pollywood stars made more than enough money to support their large extended families. More importantly perhaps, they made films that entertained and resonated with the broader Pashtun community. Today the situation has changed dramatically. The remnants of Pashtun film industry have split; core talent like Javid and his colleagues are now making low budget action/drama tele-movies as a seedier faux-Pashtun cinema emerges out of Pakistan’s Punjab province. It is the Punjabi variety of Pashtun cinema, predominantly funded by criminal elements with ties to the Afghan poppy industry that include storylines which run counter to Pashtun values, that is currently masquerading as true Pashtun cinema. The real Pashtun film industry and its stars remain, in large part, in hiding and out of the limelight. There is, however, room for hope. The MMA party was thrown out of office in the last election and a progressive and educated class of citizens in Peshawar and across KP and the Swat valley are organizing against the miscreants to promote the rebirth of Pashtun arts and culture. While the United States remains deeply unpopular in KP and the tribal regions, the Taliban and other insurgent groups’ popularity and the support from the general population is waning.

When I sat down to dinner one evening in Peshawar with faculty from Peshawar University, local businessmen, and other individuals from the community, it was heartening to hear the hope and optimism they had regarding the future of their region and that of the Pashtun community. At the cornerstone of this resurgence of moderate Pashtun culture is the film industry that at one time so accurately reflected the values and mores of Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With support from local and international NGOs, the Pashtun film industry is slowly being put back to work, distributing their work through established vendors across the region. While the revival of this industry will not signal the defeat of the extremist and miscreants, it will surely provide a sense of hope and semblance of normalcy to a population that has suffered enormously over the past decade.

Share

Shia JFM Creates Graphic Tribute to “The Lions of the Shia Resistance”

Without saying a word, a pro-Shia militant group has asserted that Shia groups are the soldiers of Imam Ali, the most important figure in Shia Islam after the Prophet Muhammad himself.  A posting to an Iraqi Shia militant web forum shows footage of the “Great Lion” Aslan, the central character from the 2005 Walt Disney Movie The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (based on the 1950 C.S. Lewis book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), side-by-side with logos of two militant Shia groups, Kata’ib Hizbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq. It’s ironic that the creator chose Aslan to represent the Imam Ali, as The Chronicles of Narnia contain a significant amount of Christian symbolism and parallels to Christian scripture.  In fact, the Aslan character is thought by some to represent Jesus Christ.  Regardless, by combining the images of Aslan the Lion with the logos of these two groups, the creator of the graphic is declaring them soldiers of the Imam Ali, as fierce and dangerous to their enemies as he.  Further, the creator is saying that primary mission of these militant groups, defeating the US military in Iraq, is a holy one blessed by Imam Ali himself.

Depiction of Imam Ali accompanied by a lion

The lion has special significance in Shia Islam because of its association with the Imam Ali.  During his lifetime, Imam Ali was given the nickname of “Haydar,” meaning “Lion,” and was often referred to as “The Lion” or “The Lion of Allah.”  Because of this association, Imam Ali is often accompanied by a lion in graphical representations, or depicted as a lion himself.  Shia militant groups in Iraq, like Kata’ib Hizbollah, and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, frequently refer to their fighters as “the Lions of the Shia Islamic Resistance.”[1] Two of the most notorious Shia militant groups in Iraq, Kata’ib Hizbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq are suspected of being offshoots of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which was officially disbanded by the Shia cleric in 2008.  Both groups are thought to have received support from Iran and/or the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbollah and have conducted attacks against US military forces in Iraq.  Kata’ib Hizbollah has even been officially designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department.

A lion depicted with a body of calligraphic invocations to Allah

Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups occasionally compare their fighters to lions as well.  For example, when a group like the Islamic State of Iraq[2] claims to have conducted a suicide bombing attack, they may claim responsibility with a reference to the lion, saying that the attack was carried out by the “brave Lions of the Islamic State of Iraq.”  However, when Sunni groups make such claims, their comparisons lack the religious significance that they hold for Shia groups.  The Sunni comparison comes as a reference to the lion’s ferocity, strength, and reputation as a top predator, not as an association with a holy figure.

The Lion Imam Ali T-Shirt design, sold by Islamic Artistic Design

The association between Imam Ali and the lion is so strong that it often appears in popular culture.  For example, in this YouTube video, footage of an actor portraying Imam Ali on horseback chasing down an enemy is interspersed with footage of a lion chasing down another animal.  In another example, a clever and entrepreneurial group of artists has designed a T-shirt for sale online showing a lion with facial features represented by intricate Arabic calligraphy, to include the word “Ali” in the center of his face.

Yet another example of this association permeating popular culture is a common Iraqi joke.  Intended as a commentary on the current state of Sunni vs. Shia sectarian violence in Iraq today, this joke is a bit of gallows humor that further demonstrates the strong connection that Shia Muslims make between Imam Ali and lions:

An Iraqi lion arrives in the United States to apply for asylum.  When immigration officials ask the lion for his reason for requesting asylum, he shows them a picture of Imam Ali with a lion.

“You see?” says the lion,“the Sunnis are after me because they have seen pictures of me with Imam Ali!”


[1] The names of these two groups are translated as “The Hizbollah Brigades in Iraq” and “The League of Righteous People.”

[2] The Islamic State of Iraq is a political front organization used by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in Iraq to issue public statements on behalf of the group.

Share

Culture is our Weapon

AfroReggae is a Brazilian NGO that empowers destitute youths through cultural empowerment.  The organization was founded in 1993, right after Rio de Janeiro police massacred twenty-one civilians in the Vigario Geral favela (the Portuguese equivalent of slum).  The founders of the organization recognized that young people in these favelas were given no cultural reference points aside from pervasive violence and the drug trade.  Because they are given no alternatives, many of these impoverished Brazilians become tied up in narcotrafficking gangs at a very early age and are unable to ever escape.  AfroReggae’s mission is to promote development by bringing culture to these people who have lost their culture.

The organization’s efforts have been a model of success, as its founders used their connections in the local favela communities, the Rio government, and even the narcotraffickers, to gradually expand AfroReggae’s operations to more of Rio’s impoverished favelas.  At a recent event in Washington D.C., Damien Platt, the author of a recently-published book about AfroReggae called Culture is our Weapon, detailed the full extent of AfroReggae’s efforts in Rio: several bands, five culture centers that offer classes, a samba group, an all-girl percussion group, a theater group, a dance and procussion group, a circus school, a TV program, a magazine, and two to three radio programs.  Damien first encountered AfroReggae while working for Amnesty International in Rio, and later worked as AfroReggae’s International Relations coordinator from 2006 to 2008.

The experience of AfroReggae shows that targeted cultural development programs, carefully tailored to the local environment, can have transformative effects on impoverished communities.  Clearly, AfroReggae’s efforts should be encouraged by the local government in Rio de Janeiro so that they can spread to the city’s other destitute favelas.  However, this organization’s successes raise the question of whether similar efforts can be undertaken elsewhere in Brazil.  For example, Brazil’s Tri-Border Areas, particularly the triple frontier with Paraguay and Argentina, have received considerable international attention in recent years, due to allegations that Middle Eastern terrorist groups have profited enormously from the illegal drug trade in these loosely-governed border areas.  Could Brazil improve its efforts to undermine the drug trade in the southern Tri-Border Area by promoting efforts similar to AfroReggae’s in Rio?

In his talk, Damien Platt highlighted that race relations have played an important role in AfroReggae’s success in Rio: not only are AfroReggae’s Afro-Brazilian clients socioeconomically marginalized, but they are also racially marginalized.   AfroReggae addresses both of these social problems, giving their favela clients specific Afro-Brazilian cultural reference points.  If similarly marginalized minorities exist in the Tri-Border Areas, Indian tribes and Middle Eastern immigrants for example, AfroReggae’s development model could be put to use elsewhere within Brazil.  AfroReggae’s development efforts in Rio have taken over a decade to grow their current stage, and fostering this kind of grassroots development in the Tri-Border Area will take time – all the more reason to get started soon.  If any of you know of any studies indicating whether this model could be successful in Brazil’s TBAs, please send it our way.

Share

Iran’s nascent, government-controlled video game industry

People the world over have become well acquainted with the Iranian government’s draconian censorship policies regarding domestic use of the internet.  In the wake of the country’s most recent elections, the international press heralded the use of Twitter to mobilize opposition to Iran’s authoritarian government.  Rightfully, a considerable amount of attention and analysis has since been paid to how effective the use of social media can be for domestic opposition groups

Lost in this storm however has been one of the most popular uses of computers among young people: video games.  When most people in the United States think of video games, they picture games like World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto, or sports games like Madden football.  Iran, under the government’s careful supervision, has developed its own video game industry.  According to True/Slant, some of these games are actually pretty good.

A few years ago, Fox News reported on the development of the Iranian video game “Rescue the Nuke Scientist,” which “simulates an attempt to rescue two Iranian nuclear experts kidnapped by the U.S. military and held in Iraq and Israel.”  The game was developed by the Union of Students Islamic Association, supposedly in response to a game designed in the United States called “Assault on Iran.”  Mohammad Taqi Fakhrian, a leader of the student developers, explained, “This is our defense against the enemy’s cultural onslaught.”  The group has very close ties to the Iranian government and hosted the infamous 2005 conference where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously called for the destruction of Israel.

This kind of video-game-as-propaganda is unsurprising.  It mimics the Iranian president’s belligerent statements towards Israel and the United States and promotes an anti-Western political discourse.

However, the Iranian government has also used video games to promote traditional Persian culture.  By far and away, the most popular Iranian video game is the Quest of Persia series.  These games draw strongly from Persian history and culture.  According to a regional gaming website, Quest of Persia is “100% Persian” and was developed by Puya Arts.

Despite its draconian control over the Internet and social media, the Iranian government for several years has used the country’s domestic video game industry as a tool for both political and cultural propaganda.  It is likely that video games will continue to be used as a tool in strategic communications because of their interactivity and popularity the world over.

Share