With the economy being the way it is this year, our family savings taking a big hit and a growing concern that we could be in this for awhile, I decided that instead of simply plopping more debt on the credit cards this Christmas, I would undertake a very simple new business endeavor, a little Christmas “moonlighting” as it were: I am selling some of my barely read books. In the past two weeks, I have been able to make enough cash to help our family buy some of our Christmas gifts and have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it has been. Now, did I take a few boxes down to the local used bookstore? Did I advertise in the paper and run my own “Garage Sale” type book sale? No. I am selling them through Amazon Marketplace, the E-bay-inspired “peer to peer” sales program that is both safe and easy.
Notice: I said “safe” (both for me as the seller and my customers) even before "easy".
Amazon and Ebay are two of the classic “Hybrid Combo” examples that Brafman and Beckstrom use in the Starfish and the Spider as the future of organizations. The key to the combo is that no matter how “easy” it is and “fun” it is (not to mention far more affordable) to shop through a completely decentralized network (Like Craigslist), there are always going to be those who are wary of giving their financial information to complete strangers where there is no guarantee of security.
So, E-bay (a decentralized “Starfish”) bought PayPal (a secure “Spider”) and made a “combo” company that has now been copied by others like Amazon. When I sell a book on Amazon Marketplace, I list it on the website, I wait for it to be sold, when it is I package it and send it. Amazon collects the payment and then pays me every two weeks (minus a small commission). I never see a credit card number, I barely even interact with my customers and they with me. They don’t even see my real name unless they go looking for it.
I am part of the decentralized “Starfish”, Amazon provides the secure “Spider” for financial information and millions and millions of dollars and products pass from one person to another.
In an increasingly decentralized world with lots of potential for illegal mayhem, Security is the one item that must remain centralized.
(A personal illustration: Just two weeks ago, we had our credit card number stolen and someone in India tried to buy a really nice new global satellite telephone. Thankfully, our credit card company noticed that the purchase was unusual and stopped it from going through, they have since given us a new credit card.)
What does this have to do with Starfish thinking in churches and other non-profit organizations? It shows the beauty and necessity of thinking in terms of the “hybrid combo”.
While simple organizations, house churches, and “organic networks” can function entirely as “Starfish”, as soon as there are “assets” to secure (and not just financial!), there needs to be some kind of centralized system of security and accountability. (What Richard Chait and his colleagues have deemed “fiduciary” responsibilities in the best book on non-profit governance that I have read, Governance as Leadership).
By “fiduciary” matters, I don’t simply mean our money and our stuff (like property, equipment, pension accounts, insurances and the like), but everything that we must “faithfully” (that is the root word in “fiduciary) protect and pass on. For a church that is also the theology, the traditions, the values and vision (what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras refers to as “what will never change”). These are the “spider” concerns; the matters that require a “head” person or organization and they are matters of utmost trust that require utmost accountability and security. (As I told my Session, the governing board of our church: “If we fail to in our fiduciary responsibilities, we will lose our positions, our jobs, our ordination, and maybe even our freedoms.”)
But once those things are clearly secured in a centralized structure, then EVERYTHING else can and should be decentralized. Once fiduciary matters are securely centralized then nothing else need be.
Nothing else? Then how do we keep one “cell” from taking over the whole body in a “cancer-like” mutation? How do we insure unity of purpose and principles? How do we keep each decentralized circle working in a healthy network together? What keeps everything from breaking down and breaking apart?
The answer is in what else gets “distributed” from the head: Not just power, authority and control, but also values, vision and mission.
What makes a Starfish different than a Spider, is that while a Spider has a head that controls the actions of the limbs, in a Starfish, every cell has within it the “organizing energy”, the “intelligence” or “brain” of the whole Starfish. And the fundamental leadership task of a successful hybrid-combo organization is getting that “intelligence” into every cell. Which is where I will pick up next post.