“The Starfish and the Spider” by Brafman and Beckstrom

The Starfish and the Spider, by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom was on my reading list for years, but not on my bookshelf. When I found it at my favorite used book store, I grabbed it.

unnamed (1)Spiders are top down. Sever the head and it dies. Starfish don’t have a top. Cut off an arm and it grows another back. Some can even grow a new body from the one arm severed.

Subtitled, “The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations”, the authors use examples like AA, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Skype, etc., to show how their members contribute to the prolific growth and overall success and direction in non-hierarchical organizations.

Such organizations stand on five legs.

  • Circles of members.
  • A catalyst.
  • A common ideology.
  • They utilize pre-existing networks.
  • They have a champion.

By their definition, Cru would be a hybrid of a Starfish and Spider organization. For example, we distribute ownership down and out and we have a compelling ideology (DNA of win, build, send). If you’ve been around a while like I have, you’ve seen us move back and forth on the centralized/decentralized continuum.

The book details how decentralized organizations benefited from the energy and expertise of its membership.

“In starfish organizations, knowledge is spread throughout the organization…The best knowledge is often at the fringe of the organization.

“Toyota understood this lesson and encouraged its assembly-line workers to innovate and make suggestions, since they knew better than anyone else what was actually happening on the line. IBM and Sun incorporated this lesson as well—they opened up their software and let engineers all over the world help make it better. Jimmy Wales understood that in some far corner of the world there was someone with unique knowledge about greyhounds, someone else who was an expert on South American history, and yet another person with frighteningly deep knowledge about Twinkies. Wikipedia allows them to share that knowledge.” P. 204

Most organizations tend to gravitate toward standardization and centralization. As they do, they cut off explosive growth and lose the creativity and energy of the distributed ownership.

When my wife and I were on campus, we made a point to gather existing and up-and-coming leaders before each semester to brainstorm together about what we could trust God for that semester.

How about you?

  • Do you give students and volunteers say in the direction and activities of your ministry?
  • What events do you have planned where you are soliciting their ideas and suggestions?
  • How do you decide whether to implement an idea that they come up that you might not prefer?

The Starfish and the Spider is a thoughtful read that will expand your thinking on organization effectiveness.

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