Starfish and Spiders

If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies.

But if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one! And not only that, that leg can grow an entirely new starfish! Amazing!

I’ve been reading a very interesting book recently called “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organisations”. It talks about how traditional top-down organisations are like spiders – take out the leader, and you take out the organisation. However, it seems it is becoming more and more difficult in our post-modern world to lead from the top down.

Enter the starfish.

In the same way that the starfish is able to regenerate itself from a single amputated leg, decentralized organizations like Wikipedia, Skype, eBay, even al-Queda, which are made up of many smaller units capable of operating, growing and multiplying independently of each other, are changing the face of business and the world, and it’s changing the way I look at leadership.

In a decentralised organisation intelligence isn’t centralised, but rather spread out throughout the system. This means that every member of the team becomes a carrier of that knowledge. If you put people into an open system, they will immediately begin to contribute. Put them in a closed system and they will be inhibited from contributing.

Decentralisation also allows for quick mutations and adaptations to meet new challenges. And when a decentralised organisation is attacked, it becomes even more decentralised – instead of breaking down, it is activated! It is why the US Army (with the most resources and intelligence in the world) cannot destroy Al-Queda. Or why music labels are still loosing the battle against online music.

It’s a spider fighting a starfish.

The question for me then is, what kind of an organisation (or organism) is the Church? Is it a spider or a starfish?

We know that the Church historically has always done better when persecuted. It has a way of decentralising, going underground, regenerating itself and multiplying. But I also have seen first-hand that strong visionary leadership within the local church equals a strong, healthy body. Perhaps we are a hybrid of the two?

What do you think? Is the Church a spider or a starfish or both?


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