Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Starfish and the Spider

I have always been interested in the way that organizations function. There is a new organizational phenomenon among us, one that I hesitate even to call an "organization." This is the decentralized structure exemplified by Napster, Wikipedia, or even the Internet itself.

Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom have written a book entitled The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations that gives a very informal but insightful introduction to this type of structure.

The key to this book is understanding the difference between a starfish and a spider. A spider has a head. If you cut it off, the spider dies. If you cut off a leg, it’s gone; it doesn’t grow back. A starfish does not have a head. If you cut off a leg, it will grow another one. If you cut it in half, you will have two starfish. A spider is a centralized system. A starfish is a decentralized system.

In spider companies, power and knowledge are concentrated at the top. In starfish organizations, power is spread throughout. Contrary to the title of the book, decentralized organizations do have leaders, but they are not traditional leaders. Spider organizations have a head or “president” who is in control. Starfish organizations (at least initially) have a catalyst who promotes chaos.

Key principles of the book are:
1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized.
2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders.
3. An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system.
4. Open systems can easily mutate.
5. The decentralized organization sneaks up on you.
6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease.
7. Put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute.
8. When attacked, centralized organizations tend to become even more centralized.

How can we make the best use of this approach to structure in the mission of the church? What does this say about the way that a "denomination-like" entity such as CBF should operate? I will attempt to unpack some of that in future blogs, but I welcome your input (that's part of the decentralized approach!)

1 comment:

Dr. Danny Chisholm said...

I like the starfish analogy, and I've come to view the CBF in this way. It is somewhat uncomfortable for folks who have grown up with a denominational structure with its levels and hierarchies.

I've been told that the baptist printing press unified the convention and that you could go to SS in Alabama and then SS in another state and not miss a lesson. THere isn't that connectedness.

Starfish structure seem more dynamic and pliable. I'd like to read that book.