Thursday, 4 October 2007

Starfish and Spider Oct 2007

The Starfish and the Spider: The unstoppable power of leaderless organisations
Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom

I’ve been reading The Starfish and the Spider. and it is really very helpful indeed. From the book description:
If you cut off a spider’s leg, it’s crippled; if you cut off its head, it dies. But if you cut off a starfish’s leg it grows a new one, and the old leg can grow into an entirely new starfish.
What’s the hidden power behind the success of Wikipedia, craigslist, and Skype? What do eBay and General Electric have in common with the abolitionist and women’s rights movements? What fundamental choice put General Motors and Toyota on vastly different paths? How could winning a Supreme Court case be the biggest mistake MGM could have made?
After five years of ground-breaking research, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom share some unexpected answers, gripping stories, and a tapestry of unlikely connections. The Starfish and the Spider argues that organizations fall into two categories: traditional “spiders,” which have a rigid hierarchy and top-down leadership, and revolutionary “starfish,” which rely on the power of peer relationships.

This book has had a profound effect on my thinking. It has made me think about decentralisation in new ways and gave me hope for the process we have embarked on in CMS.

The authors break down the 5 legs of a “Starfish-type” organization:


 • Circles of Participants – Starfish organizations are made up of various circles of participants. (Communities of Practice')
 • Catalyst – All organizations need a “Craig” or other instigator, even if they don’t opt for the spotlight.
 • Core Ideology – Note that they use this word and not “mandate” or “mission statement.”
 • Connections  - Preexisting Network – Sometimes the network forms before the idea for the company.
 • Champions – Every great idea needs someone to relentlessly promote it.

And essential to the whole process is CATALYTIC LEADERSHIP
The authors list several abilities and behaviors (called "The Catalyst's Tools") that "catalysts" have in common, including:
1. Genuine interest in others.
2. Numerous loose connections, rather than a small number of close connections.
3. Skill at social mapping.
4. Desire to help everyone they meet.
5. The ability to help people help themselves by listening and understanding, rather than giving advice ("Meet people where they are").
6. Emotional Intelligence.7. Trust in others and in the decentralized network.
8. Inspiration (to others).
9. Tolerance for ambiguity.
10. A hands-off approach. Catalysts do not interfere with, or try to control the behavior of the contributing members of the decentralized organization.
11. Ability to let go. After building up a decentralized organization, catalysts move on, rather than trying to take control.

It seems to me that this style of leadership and the decentralised nature of organisations - more organic and dynamic  - is what the Church is, or rather should be, all about.

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