Repost: The Power of the Starfish

This morning in staff meeting, we finished up our discussion of the book Exponential by Dave and Jon Ferguson. In this final section about movements, they talked about the power of developing greater momentum with others around a shared, compelling and networked vision. At one point, they mention the book, The Starfish and the Spider. Here’s a repost of some reflection on that book that I wrote about three years ago. I have slightly different thoughts on the book now based on where I am and what I am doing, but I still enjoyed interacting with my thoughts at that point. I hope it’s of interest to you.

I’ve been reading a very interesting book recently on the power of decentralization in organizations called The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. While examining a variety of business organizations from GM to eBay, this book makes a strong case for embracing the move to increasingly decentralized structures that engage more people and give more input into the life of organizations.

Why am I reading this? Mostly because I came across it in another book I’m reading by Alan Hirsch and through the web-site of Neil Cole and CMA Resources. Hirsch is one of my favorite writers and thinkers on the church presently. Cole is a significant catalyst for the movement to networks of house churches; I have utilized his resources on discipleship previously.

While there is a lot to be gleaned from this fun read here are ten rules that the authors offer in the final conclusion of the book that might get you thinking:

  1. Diseconomies of scale: While in the past bigger organizations were better, in this day and age, being smaller may be better. Costs and energy utilized are less for smaller organizations, thus making them more able to operate and adapt.
  2. The Network Effect: The value of an organizational network increases as each new person joins the network. The more phones, the more people you can talk to. The more people giving feedback on sellers for eBay, the more helpful the advice becomes.
  3. The Power of Chaos: Freedom given to members of decentralized organizations creates chaos. But the chaos can often give rise to greater innovation and creativity.
  4. Knowledge at the Edge: Decentralized organizations value sharing of knowledge, allowing all members of the organization to have input and shape the life of the organization. Often those at the edges have more creative ideas for the benefit of the organization.
  5. Everyone Wants to Contribute: People fundamentally want to make a contribution. Building off the knowledge that they have (even at the edges of the organization), contributions have the power to be creative and important.
  6. Beware the Hydra Response: Decentralized organizations do not have a clear head – they have many. This makes it difficult to fight against or put down a decentralized organization.
  7. Catalysts Rule: Catalysts suggest an idea and then let go. In decentralized organizations, they inspire people around them into action that moves out of their control. They are not CEOs and if they try to be, the organization will suffer.
  8. The Values Are the Organization: Decentralized organizations are built and sustained by a clear ideology. Oftentimes, they are started by what seems to be a radical ideology.
  9. Measure, Monitor, and Manage: Although at times ambiguous, decentralized organizations can still be measured, monitored, and managed. This is more intuitive than precise. Key questions are: How’s the organizations health? Do members continue participating? Is the network growing? Is it spreading? Is it mutating? Is it becoming more or less decentralized?
  10. Flatten or Be Flattened: In the increasingly globalized and digital world, decentralization will continue to change the world. We can fight it or join it.

What would it look like if we brought some of this into the church?

How do we maintain clear vision and values while also decentralizing and catalyzing our people to have ownership and input into what is happening?

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