Russ Volckmann

The Starfish and the SpiderOri Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. New York: The Penguin Group, 2007.

Like the brain where memories are not stored in hierarchies but in networks, distributed structures, human systems sometimes are formed without hierarchy, where no one is in charge. “You’d think that there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many areas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.” Examples range from al Quaeda to Internet phenomena like Wikipedia and Craig’s list. Indeed, decentralization is becoming a competitive advantage.

There are a series of learnings about such organizations in this book. Here is a sample:

There are five legs to such an organization:

  1. Circles: leaderless groups, virtual and otherwise, have freedom and flexibility and a way of generating rules (norms) that provide guidance and boundaries.
  2. The catalyst: these are initiators who let go of the leadership role by transferring ownership and responsibility to the circle.
  3. Ideology: any organization can create a sense of community, but it is a shared set of beliefs, values or aspirations that create the glue for circles.
  4. The Preexisting Network: Decentralized organizations that have “made it big” were built on a preexisting platform. “Decentralized networks…provide circles and an empowered membership and typically have a higher tolerance for innovation.”
  5. The Champion: An individual who is relentless about promoting a new idea.

It is interesting to note the “Catalyst’s Tool” and think about them in relation to other “leadership advice:”

  1. Genuine Interest in Others
  2. Loose Connections—with lots of people
  3. Mapping—how people fit in the network
  4. Desire to Help—an essential motivation
  5. Meet People Where They Are
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Trust
  8. Inspiration—to others
  9. Tolerance for Ambiguity
  10. Hands-Off Approach—getting out of the way so others can take change
  11. Receding—leave

While there is more to be discovered in this idea-filled presentation, I will close on a personal note. During the years of building Integral Leadership Review I have been discovering and growing my own role. I have learned a lot, particularly about what is important to me in working with others. Initially, ILR was a vehicle for getting my ideas out in the world. And this is still true, to some extent, but I have discovered additional venues for doing that. Increasingly, it is about facilitating others ideas, their expression and sharing these with a wider, growing, receptive audience that is looking for a fresh way to approach the challenges and opportunities life has the habit of continuously placing in our paths. The author’s description of the catalyst role is the best I have seen, in the sense that I resonate with all eleven points. Perhaps this will help me be even more conscious of these and have them infuse my behaviors and priorities. Ori and Rod, thanks!

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Teaching an Anthill to FetchStephen James Joyce, Teaching an Anthill to Fetch: Developing Collaborative Intelligence @ Work. Alberta, Canada: Mighty Small Books, Publishing, 2007.

IQ, EQ and now we have CQ=Collaborative Intelligence.

“Collaborative Intelligence (CQ) is defined as the capacity to harness the intelligence in networks of relationships.”

Hence the reference to the anthill where no one ant knows everything that is going on and, still, collectively, the colony is able to sustain itself. Jim Doheny, CEO of CapitalOne is credited with the saying, “You can’t teach an anthill to fetch.” This represents the challenge of aligning an organization with objectives and fulfillment of aspirations in the face of continuous change.

Joyce provides an approach to this that is focused on skill building for individuals who are members of anthills, figuratively speaking, of course. The elements of CQ are:

  • Assumptions
  • Perception
  • Self-Mastery
  • Communication
  • Creativity/Flexibility
  • Meaningful Participation
  • “High CQ” Teams

This is a hands on book of practices and activities to build skills in these areas. Here are a couple of examples.

Joyce’s opening on assumptions is particularly intriguing:

The sea squirt provides us a cautionary tale. When it is born, it floats through the open oceans seeking a place to make its home. Once the sea squirt finds a solid piece of ocean floor on which to attach itself it does a peculiar thing. The sea squirt eats its brain, Having achieved its objective, a firm anchor within the ocean, it no longer needs its brain. You may know people like the sea squirt…

Making assumptions is, thus, equivalent to eating one’s brain. I love it! Tasty, isn’t it?

I like the subheading, “Perception is Projection.” To overcome this dilemma is to apply emotional mastery by choosing how to look at something. Joyce offers exercises to help us learn to shift our awareness, starting with the observation that to change the way we see, we need to change the way the self.

Self Mastery understandably draws on the work of Robert Fritz ( The Path of Least Resistance) and others. One interesting “shift” is his suggestion, “Leadership and followership are two sides of the same coin and both are becoming increasingly important in the highly dynamic society in which we live.” Communication includes attention to meaning and the information transactions as well as dialogue. Connection is about relationships and the importance of groups and networks for organizations, the role of technology and alternative organizational structures. Creativity is increasingly important and to foster it there must be flexibility and adaptability. Finally, meaningful participation and building high CQ teams is discussed.

Courage is an element of meaningful participation that is particularly salient in all organizations. This is about having the difficult conversations, confronting, effective conflict management and whole bunch more. “True courage is never a calculation or risk—it is a commitment to what needs to be done irrespective of the cost or risk.” Thus, you will find in this volume, tools, insights and challenges to working effectively in organizations.

— Russ Volckmann