The Starfish vs the Spider
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Ori Brafman author of The Starfish and the Spider and lecturer at UC Berkeley’s business school. The book has been a big influence on the new wave of blockchain businesses inspired by the unique differentiators a decentralized organizational structure can offer. The name of the Starfish Mission, where we recorded our conversation is even inspired by his book, which is a collaborative workspace for SF based companies in the blockchain space.
When Ori wrote The Starfish and The Spider in 2006, he wrote it as a metaphor for business decentralization, meaning an organization without a top-down structure. If you liken a traditional corporate structure to a spider, if the head is chopped off - the organization like a spider will die. A starfish, however (or decentralized organization) does not die if one of its arms is chopped off, as it has no head and can regenerate, its arm will simply grow back.
At the time, he did not know how prophetic his ideas would be and that just 2 years later blockchain technology would emerge as a testament to his theory. The book outlines a new business approach where organizations diverge from a traditional top-down hierarchy structure to a more decentralized, distributed organizational structure.
The core concept of the book is to eliminate hierarchical rules and create a business culture that is focused on norms vs rules. A top-down structure is dependent on rules to function, which comes at a price. Do away with this top-down hierarchy and companies will be able to create a more decentralized culture that relies on collective norms. It’s a more efficient approach that provides space for employees to better interact with each other and govern from a different perspective, one that is based on norms vs rules.
The book has been recognized worldwide and its methods have been adopted and implemented by various companies and organizations, including the US military. However, the biggest shift happened recently due to technological changes in the way people work, outsourcing and the creation of more distributed teams leading to more effective systems of organization, which has been even more inherent in the blockchain industry.
From the very beginning what's been interesting to me about blockchain isn't just its distributed approach but also that a lot of starfish organizations are at their core based on shared values and that there is a shared ethos in the blockchain community.
Ori sees many companies, which claim to be starfish organizations that aren’t in fact committed to a cultural ethos of shared values. True starfish organizations will create a culture based on norms, where people feel included and know that their contributions matter. Starfish companies create a sense of belonging where people live within a shared ethos and embrace it with norms and rewards, leading to a better chance at creating something incredible and long lasting. There is also a natural tendency for organizations to go from spider to starfish, then go back to a spider like a pendulum.
Currently Ori is teaching a course based his latest book called Radical Inclusion at UC Berkeley and together with his partners has founded The Fully Charged Institute, where company leaders can learn how to create business strategy that is not separated from wellness strategy and fully leverage their peers’ human potential.
This was a fascinating and fun conversation with Ori Brafman. Check out his website to learn more or simply have a listen to our podcast.
This was a fascinating conversation with Ori Barfman. Check out his website to learn more or simply have a listen to our conversation.