the Way of the Starfish

🎩Hat tip to Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom for this organizational philosophy.

The Starfish Organization

An organization in the form of a starfish is extraordinarily unique. In this organization, power is shared and moves fluidly through a flexible, ambiguous architecture.

Without a brain or a central nervous system, the starfish replicates all major organs in each arm. In the starfish organization, intelligence, power and decision making are spread throughout, a perennial radical idea, as members are empowered to take risks and innovate.

A collaborative process enables adaptation and drives the organization forward. Innovative ideas are immediately put into practice and the ideas that attract the most attention and enthusiasm are the ones that stick.

Members come and go in the starfish organization, no one is essential and in the face of competition or upheaval, the organization naturally adjusts and evolves to serve its members’ shared values.

We know the rules and don’t anticipate radical change.

The starfish organization is categorically amorphous. Regardless of circumstance, operations are anchored by values and in response to difficulty the organization becomes more open, more decentralized and more resilient.

The organization can exist where and when members meet, in flat circles driven by shared norms, free of dated artifacts like dedicated locations or hierarchies.

Each member has access to knowledge and the autonomy to execute as they see fit.

Leading in the Starfish Organization

Power in the starfish organization is symbolic, leadership is by example and members are motivated by more than financial gain. In this ‘leaderless’ paradigm, every member is encouraged to lead and does so through a continuous process of pushing forward and getting out of the community’s way.

Fostering freedom is the principle goal of leadership.

Management in the starfish organization is a function and a responsibility. Leaders listen to the community and promote creation of structures necessary to live up to the organization’s shared values. The leader plays the role of architect, cheerleader and observer as community members are trusted and for the most part left alone.

With a culture of trust you get freedom, chaos and incredible creativity.

Participating in the Starfish Organization

In a starfish organization, members help each other without permission from a control structure, with a sense of trust and community that emerges from the freedom to contribute. Self-funded working groups communicate and coordinate in service of shared goals.

Cut a starfish in half, and you’ll have two starfish.

Contribution to an open system is rewarding and members of the starfish organization are encouraged to open up and see each other as equals. Though membership is highly fluid, anyone can join or leave at any time, new members are empowered to contribute immediately.

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What Happens in a Starfish Organization

The starfish organization is a powerful force, nurturing creative, innovative and just plain crazy ideas. The starfish organization brings value to a community of stakeholders, allowing people interacting with the organization to run it.

Through a centralized lens, the starfish organization looks inefficient and glaringly amateur. Without property rights to protect or monolithic power to guide them, a loose collection of people thrives united by shared values and the belief that people are basically good.

Contributors at the edges are well-informed and deeply tied into their communities. Collectively this group exercises a surprising amount of power resulting from free flow of information and collaboration. Contributors can do what they want and will take on the added responsibility that comes with autonomy.

Starfish organizations free themselves of the operational costs required in managing at scale. Having historically been scarce and social, these organizations are positioned to ‘give it away’ in as many forms as possible. A chaotic appearance conceals a steadfast adherence to clear, shared values.

“The arm starts moving, and then — in a process that no one fully understands — the other arms cooperate and move as well.”

Progression of the Starfish Organization

There are challenges to counting the employees or participants in a starfish organization. Though no one is keeping track of people, the following questions can be posed in regard to the organization’s growth:

Are members participating? Is the network growing?Is the network spreading? Is the network mutating? Is the network becoming more or less decentralized?

@Starfish we know nothing is perfect, anything goes and do our best to apply this organizational philosophy.