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.

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