Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Starfish and the Spider- the book.

Is your organization a Starfish or a Spider? Or a mix of both? According to Brafman and Beckstrom in "The Starfish and the Spider", a Starfish is synonymous to an open system or a decentralized organization while a spider is synonymous to a centralized Organization.

What sets the two apart? A spider like a centralized system has a head and eight legs. When you cut the head of the spider, it dies. However, a Starfish is like a decentralized organization. It has no head. When you cut the Starfish in half, you are faced with two. If you cut one of its legs, it grows another one.

To elucidate this further, the authors describes six principles of a decentralized organization and gave examples. In highlight:
1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become more open and decentralized.
2. It is easy to mistake a starfish for a spider
3. A decentralized organization is an open system. It does not have central intelligence. The intelligence is spread throughout the system and information naturally filter in at the edges, closer to where the action is.
4. The open system can easily mutate.
5. The decentralized organization sneaks up on you and grows quickly.
6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease.

A centralized organization is coercive, it depends on order and hierarchy. But a decentralized organization is flat and fluid. No pyramid or hierarchy and it does not depend on central headquarters. It is a movement.

The decentralized system:

* Has no one person in charge
* No headquarters
* If you kill the head, the organization will not die.
* No clear division of the role; any and every activity is within anyone's job description.
* Units are autonomous
* Knowledge and power are distributed
* organization is flexible
* Units are self-funding
* Members are spread across and cannot be counted because of exponential growth
* The is direct communication between members.

This open system is built with a sense of trust and community by a Catalyst. Unlike the CEO who runs the centralized organization, the catalyst initiates a "circle" and fades away into the background in a decentralized organization. He lets go of leadership role and transfers ownership to the circle. He is seen as the inspiration, connector and charismatic. In the organization, relationship is built on trust and understanding. Ideology is the fuel that drives the decentralized organization.

But is one model better than the other? The author notes "It's not that open systems necessarily make better decisions. It's just that they're able to respond more quickly because each member has access to knowledge and the ability to make direct use of it."

What is setting Skype apart from AT&T? Craigslist from the traditional ad? Wikipedia from other sources? It is the starfish revolution! Any organization aiming for more creativity and exponential growth and sustainability would definitely embrace the starfish model- it is an unstoppable movement.

Reading Up-side-down

"Hey ladies. Hope you are all enjoying the beginning of your vacation time. (Some of you perhaps are just beginning to enjoy it right now). I only want to remind you all to get a hold of The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell to read for our Jan 29th training session."-- yet another book reading reminder from Atlas Corps Training Manager! Oh! I just want to crawl back to bed...but then instead I crawl into the pages of the book. We have to read it to be able to participate in the intellectual discourse during the training. No superficial contributions are celebrated.

Leaders are readers! And as An Atlas Corp Fellow training to be among the best non-profit leaders in the world, you must be willing to read-- something new! From books about non-profit management to Harvard Business Review :)

Reading a book per month, amidst the rigorous training and busy work schedule in our work placement/organizations, is not as easy as its spelling. I am excited about books, especially personal and professional development books but lately....phew! I have them all piled up on my desk...each page bleeding (not literally) for my attention.

The books we have read so far includes-- "How to change the world", "Be Bold", "Tipping Point" and "Forces for good".

David Bornstein in his book "How to change the world" gave a clear perspective in defining who is a Social Entrepreneur. He also provided an indept profile of different Social Entrepreneurs around the world doing extra ordinary things to create positive projected the "best practices" worth emulating and inspired ordinary people like us to be bold and take a leap and not relent in our commitment to make a positive difference in the world. (I am yet to finish reading this book).

What does it mean to be bold? Then came the next book of the month- "Be Bold" by Echoing green- " A meaningful life will mean something different for everyone. It may mean following a lucrative career track in the for-profit world, it may mean pursuing athletic or artistic talents, or it may mean being a terrific Parent... For many, a career of service is the path to meaningful life..." Pg 12.The goal of Be Bold is to inspire you to make a powerful personal movement that will impact the world around you. The Book "Be Bold" is not just another inspiring or motivational book. Okay, I admit it will certainly get you all pumped up with a provoking but inspiring attitude after reading :)

Hmmm... what is the difference between David's "How to Change the world" and Echoing Green's "Be Bold"? While mulling over that, allow me flaunt one of my favorite book so far-- The Tipping Point!

Reading "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" by Malcolm Gladwell was a different cup of tea. In a nutshell, the book really changed my perspective on how to view issues-- especially social issues and how change occur. Many have argued that it doesn't take one person to start a change, but if as Gladwell states, "Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do" then we now know that ideas, like viruses...starts with one person and tips....spread to others...through "The law of the few", "The stickiness factor" and "the power of context".

Tonight, I am flipping through, the last few pages I can read before tomorrow's training, "Forces for good" by Heather McLeod Grant & Leslie R. Crutchfield. For this book reading, I found it interesting doing a group-reading and discussion (before training discussion) with Paola and Masoora and then sharing an online Google document where we all input our thoughts as we made progress with the reading. (A method we must adopt each time we feel overwhelm with finding time to read).

Reading these books aint no child's play. We are expected to put the lessons we learned from each book into practice--- and so far, so good.

Atlas Corps Fellow monthly book-reading is exciting in its own way-- I look forward to receiving the next email buzz from the training manager announcing the book of the month. Step by step, putting one foot in front of the other and striving to embrace opportunities over excuses-- opportunities of imbibing the lessons learned in the books for professional development, over excuses of how little time we have to read. After all, leaders are readers ...and good time managers :)!

Hmmm...yeah, I wonder what book we will be reading next month! I hear it is "The Spider and The Starfish". Bring it on!

Oh! the title of this blog has nothing to do with my reading style. Have you ever tried reading up-side-down? It is easy ,just change your reading position if you are lying on your bed (as oppose to actually flipping your book up-side-down).

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a book-review. Just a one-naira reflection on the adventure of a fellow in the pages of her books.