E49 – Communication Lessons From The Tower of Babel

In today’s episode, we go over communication lessons from the story of the Tower of Babel. This is the ultimate lesson in dealing with the complexity of coordinating, collaborating and communicating with others!

Ever meet someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you? What about someone who speaks the same language as you, but you still don’t get them (e.g. husband and wife)?

This is what is touched upon in the biblical story of the Tower of Babel.

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If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a little snippet from Wikipedia

The Tower of Babel is an etiological myth in the Book of Genesis of the Tanakh (also referred to as the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament) meant to explain the origin of different languages.[1][2][3][4] According to the story, a united humanity of the generations following theGreat Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar. There they agreed to build a city and tower; seeing this, God confounded their speech so that they could no longer understand each other and scattered them around the world.

And this was all inspired by a conversation I had with a COO.
He used the analogy of the Tower of Babel in relation to the tendency for people to choose tools that solve their own immediate problems, but negate the whole.
People choosing their own tools are like citizens of Babel choosing their own languages. In the end, everyone is unable to understand one another effectively.
In order to make it clear to your organization as to why it’s important to choose and stick with a language (or set of tools in this case), you need to make it clear as to how their actions affect the whole at scale.
This is similar to a story I once heard about fire and furnaces.
A fire left on its own, has the potential to get out of hand and destroy everything in its path.
However, with a furnace, it has the ability to warm an entire household. The fire is contained. But it allows you to stay warm and even go about your business feeling safe and secure to tackle other pursuits.
So how can you fix this? 
Here’s a potential solution…
  1. Tell the story of Babel (preferably by a chief executive)
  2. Crowdsource your solution
  3. Set the most popular choice as your base set for x period of time
  4. Create a single page on your wiki or in-house forums with a list of all the tools, which department/team(s) it relates to, and why it’s being used
  5. Create an onboarding process with your HR team to “initiate” everyone on all the tools. Do NOT skip this step.
  6. Keep the organisation in constant contact about the changes taking place, and why (over 3-6 months)
  7. Ensure appropriate rewards and consequences for people who adhere to the change (look at Zappos as a case study)
  8. Roll out the tools

The Tower of Babel is an interesting story, but hopefully you can see the correlation between it and communication issues within growing teams or organisations (as highlighted in the episode).

Remember always: patience, persistence and momentum!

Enjoy the show.


PS. Thanks again to our video partners Cloakroom Media for the video work!

Know of any other stories that highlight similar lessons? Would love to hear from you! Comment below.