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  • Writer's pictureSarah Carter

Happy Hybrid

Neither the Spider nor the Starfish are perfect in the animal kingdom or in the corporate environment. Brafman and Beckstrom spend the latter part of the book describing the hybrid organization which allows the eyes of the Spider to be opened to creativity but reigns in a few of the Starfish qualities so that the organization is still profitable. They call this balance the decentralized sweet spot which "is the point along the centralized-decentralized continuum that yields the best competitive position" page 189. (Pictured above is the adorable boxer I'm watching from a friend right now.)

"When we're used to seeing something in a certain way, it's hard to imagine it being any other way" pages 33-34. Most of us are used to seeing organizations in a very vertical, hierarchical, products-go-out-profits-come-in kind of way. How very spidery of us. As industry has gone digital, things have changed and it is hard to look at online based companies as we do traditional brick and mortar companies. Online companies that sell everything from toothpaste to cars, use user reviews to ensure they are constantly presenting the consumer with the best products, and sellers that are more like Sue next door than big name brand stores do not fit in the traditional box our brains are conditioned to see organizations. Brafman and Beckstrom use eBay to examine online based, multi industry retail businesses because it is an excellent example of a hybrid.

"Companies like eBay combine the best of both worlds - the bottom-up approach of decentralization and the structure, control and resulting profit potential of centralization" page 164. eBay has a CEO, a legal team, and everything on down to regular employees. They have a physical address and a headquarters too. Looks pretty Spider like in those ways but that's just the surface. Look past the initial Spider indicators and you will see that buyers and sellers are anyone from Sue next door to a big name brand store warehouse. Each seller has a rating generated by buyers, who also have ratings, who are encouraged to contribute to the eBay world through reviews and ratings. Sue and the name brand could be selling the same product but the price and condition could vary. The other well loved beauty of an online store such as eBay is that you can buy from people like Sue and name brand stores and pay for it all at once! It may not ship all at once but it is all one transaction which is a win in the convenience realm any day.

Let's look at an online store that is not examined in the book but drives home one of the book's points: "Decentralization brings out creativity, but it also creates variance" page 191. I love Etsy! (Big surprise I know given my love of all things crafty.) I recently decided to order a sign from a home-shop based in SC after a basic search on Etsy for "NFL House Divided Sign." That search brought up burlap wreaths, wooden wall mounted or staked signs, fabric versions, and everything in between. Super creative but whoa variety. That much creativity for the same end result is exactly what is desired of a crafty catch all like Etsy but a law firm or hospital may not seem like the right setting.

Au contraire mon frere! Who's been watching New Amsterdam? If you haven't, you just might after this. The new Hospital Director, Dr. Max Goodwin, uses his signature question "How can I help?" to inspire people to think outside the box, voice their opinion, and make a real difference in how the hospital operates and in the lives of the patients. He does not just ask the doctors, board of directors, or patients he asks the nurses, janitors, cops, delivery people, and anyone else he can find. He is a catalyst and he leverages another one of Brafman and Beckstrom's points from the book that "Not only do people throughout a starfish have knowledge, but they also have a fundamental desire to share and to contribute" page 204. This approach creates an open dialogue and a space for collaboration we do not typically think hospitals have which makes it another good example (ok, yes fiction but maybe it really does exist -I've never been to New Amsterdam) of a Happy Hybrid.

I mentioned that I believe the character of Dr. Goodwin is a catalyst. If you read any of the reviews of The Starfish and the Spider, you saw a whole lot of praise for the section on Catalyst Versus the CEO which begins on page 129. The catalyst is, in my brain, my idealistic version of a CEO/upper level manager I would love to work for. The catalyst "empowers people and gets out of the way" page 112, "interacts with people as a peer...comes across as your friend" page 129, "avoid attention and tend to work behind the scenes" page 129, and "thrive on ambiguity and apparent chaos" page 129. They are not the image that probably pops into your Spider trained mind when thinking about the C-suite/higher management of a company which is fine, I do not think that's where they belong exactly either. I think the catalyst's place is at the small to medium group level where they can present the book ends of a project (initial vision and deadline) to the group members, inspire them to dream, then let them be and see what happens.

As the corporate world continues to expand globally via digital means, hybrids are going to become more common occurrences. I feel if Brafman and Beckstrom were to write a sequel to The Starfish and the Spider it would be called The Hybrid Organizations that Changed the World and it would be filled with examples of how companies blended the sturdy, time-tested qualities of the Spiders with the free flowing, constantly changing aspects of the Starfish. The first example in the sequel would be Apple. Steve Jobs is fitting example of a catalyst turned CEO and Apple is the happy hybrid he created. Apple has a traditional structure infused with Starfish elements of creativity, consumer reviews, input from all levels of employees for all aspects of the organization, and many more that I'm sure would take up at least one chapter. What other examples can you think of to fill up the book? What other traits would you add to the Happy Hybrid mix?

I would love to hear from you! Please leave comments below, shoot me an email, or leave a heart on Instagram. Our next book will be Brave Enough to Succeed: 40 Strategies for Getting Unstuck by Valorie Burton. Come on back on December 7th for our first look into those pages.

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