Monday, August 13, 2012

The Starfish and the Spider

Maybe its weird, but I really enjoy organizational dynamic and leadership books. Here's one that's an important read, because it shows the nature of these dynamics and (I believe) offers a hopeful future for the Church.

Beckstrom, Rod A., Brafman, Ori.  2006. The Starfish and the Spider. New York: Penguin Group.

Ori Brafman holds a BA in peace and conflict studies from the University of California at Berkley and an MBA from Stanford Business School.  He has been an entrepreneur all of his life, ranging from wireless startups to public benefit projects.  Rod A. Beckstrom is the chief catalyst of Twiki.Net and founded CATS Software Inc.  He serves on several boards, including the Environmental Defense and Jamii Bora Africa.  He holds a BA and MBA from Stanford and was a Fullbright Scholar.
Beckstrom and Brafman argue that, “decentralization has been lying dormant for thousands of years.  But the advent of the Internet has unleashed this force…the rules of the game have changed” (6-7).  It is from this notion that the authors show the unstoppable power of an organization without a head and headquarter.  They provide 9 chapters of examples and strategy that support their claim.  

In Chapter 1, they show the victory of the Apache’s as a result of their decentralized structure.  Because there was no perceived hierarchy or headquarters, the power was distributed and fluid.  Chapter 2 shows the difference between a spider and starfish.  Both look similar – legs coming from a central area.  But whereas a spider dies if you kill its head, the starfish replicates as it is cut.  An organization, that is similarly decentralized, will replicate over and over, never dying if the supposed head is killed (because there is no real head).  In this chapter, we also find that the intelligence is “spread throughout the system” and that these systems “can easily mutate” (39-40).
 Chapter 3 uses several examples: Skype, Craigslist, Apache, and Wikipedia, to show that in an open (starfish) system, “people will automatically want to contribute” (74).  Chapter 4 shows the power of standing on five legs.  It defines these legs as: circles, the catalyst, ideology, preexisting network, and the champion.  Each of these works in tandem, allowing a decentralized organization to flourish.  Chapter 5 focuses on the catalyst.  Unlike a spider-system, the catalyst (of a starfish) let’s go and trusts its community.  The catalyst inspires by listening to interest, connecting, mapping, inspiring, and trusting others to work towards the goals and vision.  The catalyst is the antithesis of the CEO.  Chapters 6-8 look at more mechanics of the decentralized organization, hybrid organizations, and warns against centralization.  Finally in chapter 9, we discover the power of networks, chaos, fringe knowledge, and the impetus for passing on an ideology.
 I believe Beckstrom and Brafman’s book to be a critical guide for the future work of the church.  It is incredibly similar to the notion of a priesthood of all believers.  As the church recognizes its ideology as Missio Dei, it can (and should be) a starfish organization.  Each church or ministry is then functioning within its own unique context to contribute to Missio Dei. 


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