The Starfish and The Spider

 "Put people in an open system and they will automatically want to contribute."
- the sixth principle of decentralization in  The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom

 The Starfish and the Spider is a new book that adds to the growing body of knowledge about leadership, collaboration, and emergent organizational design.  The bi-line is The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. To me, this book speaks of Sapient Leadership.  The book is interesting because it reinforces the reality that design, creativity and collaboration are natural to human beings.  It compliments our own Value Web model. 

I speak of my experience with young children in my blog on Group Genius.  What the authors of the Starfish and the Spider reinforce is the natural tendency of people to play ... to tinker with ideas, to find a difference, and to add to the stockpile of ideas.  Indeed, it seems to me that examples in the book are child's play ... Wikipedia, E-bay, Internet, P2P sharing, open source, etc. ... wonderful child's play!

In 1984, Sherri Turkle wrote a ground breaking book called "The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit".  One of the MG Taylor axioms: "The future is rational on in hindsight" comes to mind.  Now 22 years after reading Turkel's book, I can clearly see one of the early influences of the Open Source, wikipedia, and P2P phenomena.  There are many important insights to be gained from reading her book, but I found myself totally captured by her chapter on child programmers.  (It has been a number of years since I read the book, so I am reporting my memory.) A fourth grade classroom was filled with computers and left for the children to explore on their own.  In other words, these were not a part of the regular curriculum.  As the children engaged and became familiar with the programming, they began to invent, to ask, "What can I do with this?" What is possible?  Soon, graphics  began to flutter across the screen. One student had figured out an algorithm and by the next day, one of the students took the work further by adding an element! Soon, almost all the students were playing, learning, sharing ... comfortable and excited by the emergent screen happenings! Where one student's imagination left off, another one saw more and acted on what s/he envisioned.  In hindsight, when I began to hear about Open Source and wikipedia, I thought, of course! This is what kids do naturally! They tinker and play ideas into reality.  Once computers entered the classroom, Pandora's box was opened. They served to create a wedge between top down, sit and get learning and the more natural way of learning by exploration, experimenting, and doing. Students began to understand learning. Real learning.

In those early years with computers the teachers did not know how to use them; or what they were good for; or whether they would ruin education, etc. etc.  The good news is that when left alone ... and some teachers knew how to get out of the way ... magic things began to happen. A new understanding of learning and teaching was forming. 

Today, corporations are in a tight spot. They have learned very bad habits by assuming that people are not creative or cooperative. They attempt to drive innovation from an industrial management paradigm.  Most collaborative processes are fake because they come from closed systems rather than open ones. Adults live in a culture of either/or and they seem to believe that more and more top down control is needed to keep things in order.  "Just try harder" seems to be the culture. When leadership thinks it must stay at the 'top' and control all those 'below', it surely will lose out. Nature knows that ecosystems are interlinking sets of optimizing forces.  Sub optimization is a losing game.  The Starfish organization is about optimizing and balancing the relationships. This is also how a Value Web organizes. 

It will not be easy for today's institutions --- government, business, NGO organizations ... to find their way to becoming starfish or ValueWebs.  First, a new understanding of control and power must be seen and embraced. Seeing seems to be the hard part for it requires the freedom of sapient leadership  within an organization.