Build a starfish organisation

Build a starfish organisation

Starfish are very special animals, but the most remarkable starfish is probably the long-armed Blue Starfish.  Biologists still do not fully understand how this animal is operating.  Starfish have an incredible quality: if you cut off an arm, most of these animals grow a new arm.  And there is more. If you cut the starfish in half, you'll be in for a surprise: the animal won't die. On the contrary, pretty soon you will have two starfish to deal with.  And let me go one step further: if you would cut a Blue Starfish into many different pieces, then each piece will regenerate into a whole new starfish.  The question is: how is that possible?

Well, they can achieve this magical regeneration because in reality a starfish is just a neural network.  It’s basically a network of cells.  And it’s a network without a central command: starfish do not have a head.  So a starfish is essentially a decentralized network, very flexible and very much able to survive the most extreme challenges.  

Let me jump now to a business context.  If you want to lead in a world of unpredictability, build a starfish organisation.  This means, for instance, spreading the risk by giving full autonomy to small units or teams within the organisation.  Give these units the chance to experiment with new business models, new products, new strategies, etc.  Give them the chance to innovate, possibly through collaboration with external stakeholders. If one of those small unit fails, it will not substantially damage the whole organisation. Moreover, these small teams will never fail completely: they can always mine the failure for insights that can improve their next attempt.   However, if one unit succeeds and makes a breakthrough, the other units can benefit from it and can be made stronger.  So in this way, the whole organisation is getting better over time.

Let me perhaps also refer to Charles Darwin.  He discovered that evolution progressed fastest wherever small groups of a species isolated from the main population adapted to stressful conditions.  In the same reasoning, I can say that small, independent and interdisciplinary teams are critical to the future evolution of organizations.  So yes indeed, build a starfish organisation!

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