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2 October 2011

Prioritising the best peer pressure

Filed under: BHAG, catalysts, collaboration, futurist, Humanity Plus — David Wood @ 9:36 am

In a world awash with conflicting influences and numerous potential interesting distractions, how best to keep “first things first“?

A big part of the answer is to ensure that the influences we are closest to us are influences:

  • Whose goals are aligned with our own
  • Who can give us prompt, helpful feedback when we are falling short of our own declared intentions
  • Who can provide us with independent viewpoints that enrich, complement, and challenge our current understanding.

In my own case, that’s the reason why I have been drawn to the community known as “Humanity+“:

Humanity+ is an international nonprofit membership organization which advocates the ethical use of technology to expand human capacities. We support the development of and access to new technologies that enable everyone to enjoy better minds, better bodies and better lives. In other words, we want people to be better than well.

I deeply share the goals of Humanity+, and I find some of the world’s most interesting thinkers within that community.

It’s also the reason I have sought to aid the flourishing of the Humanity+ community, particularly in the UK, by organising a series of speaker meetings in London.  The speakers at these meetings are generally fascinating, but its the extended networking that follows (offline and online) which provides the greatest value.

My work life has been very busy in the last few months, leaving me less time to organise regular H+UK meetings.  However, to keep myself grounded in a community that contains many people who can teach me a great deal – a community that can provide powerful positive peer pressure – I’ve worked with some H+UK colleagues to pull together an all day meeting that is taking place at the Saturday at the end of this week (8th October).

The theme of this meeting is “Beyond Human: Rethinking the Technological Extension of the Human Condition“.  It splits into three parts:

  • Beyond human: The science and engineering
  • Beyond human: Implications and controversies
  • Beyond human: Getting involved

The event is free to attend.  There’s no need to register in advance. The meeting is taking place in lecture room B34 in the Malet Street building (the main building) of Birkbeck College.  This is located in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square), London WC1E 7HX.

Full details are on the official event website.  In this blogpost, to give a flavour of what will be covered, I’ll just list the agenda with the speakers and panellists.

09.30 – Finding the room, networking
Opening remarks
Beyond human: The science and engineering
11.40 – Audience Q&A with the panel consisting of the above four speakers
Lunch break
12.00 – People make their own arrangements for lunch (there are some suggestions on the event website)
Beyond human: Implications and controversies
14.40 – Audience Q&A with the panel consisting of the above four speakers
Extended DIY coffee break
15.00 – Also a chance for extended networking
Beyond human: Getting involved
17.25 – Audience Q&A with the panel consisting of the above four speakers
End of conference
17.45 – Hard stop – the room needs to be empty by 18.00

You can follow the links to find out more information about each speaker. You’ll see that several are eminent university professors. Several have written key articles or books on the theme of technology that significantly enhances human potential. Some complement their technology savvy with an interest in performance art.  All are distinguished and interesting futurists in their own way.

I don’t expect I’ll agree with everything that’s said, but I do expect that great personal links will be made – and strengthened – during the course of the day.  I also expect that some of the ideas shared at the conference – some of the big, hairy, audacious goals unveiled – will take on a major life of their own, travelling around the world, offline and online, catalysing very significant positive change.

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2 March 2010

Major new challenges to receive X PRIZE backing

Filed under: catalysts, challenge, futurist, Genetic Engineering, Google, grants, innovation, medicine, space — David Wood @ 7:16 pm

The X PRIZE Foundation has an audacious vision.

On its website, it describes itself as follows:

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit organization whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity thereby inspiring the formation of new industries, jobs and the revitalization of markets that are currently stuck

The foundation can point to the success of its initial prize, the Ansari X PRIZE.  This was a $10M prize to be awarded to the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.  This prize was announced in May 1996 and was won in October 2004, by the Tier One project using the experimental spaceplane SpaceShipOne.

Other announced prizes are driving research and development in a number of breakthrough areas:


The Archon X PRIZE will award $10 million to the first privately funded team to accurately sequence 100 human genomes in just 10 days.  Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking explains his support for this prize:

You may know that I am suffering from what is known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which is thought to have a genetic component to its origin. It is for this reason that I am a supporter of the $10M Archon X PRIZE for Genomics to drive rapid human genome sequencing. This prize and the resulting technology can help bring about an era of personalized medicine. It is my sincere hope that the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics can help drive breakthroughs in diseases like ALS at the same time that future X PRIZEs for space travel help humanity to become a galactic species.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth.  Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, provided some context in a recent Wall Street Journal article:

Government agencies have dominated space exploration for three decades. But in a new plan unveiled in President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget earlier this month, a new player has taken center stage: American capitalism and entrepreneurship. The plan lays the foundation for the future Google, Cisco and Apple of space to be born, drive job creation and open the cosmos for the rest of us.

Two fundamental realities now exist that will drive space exploration forward. First, private capital is seeing space as a good investment, willing to fund individuals who are passionate about exploring space, for adventure as well as profit. What was once affordable only by nations can now be lucrative, public-private partnerships.

Second, companies and investors are realizing that everything we hold of value—metals, minerals, energy and real estate—are in near-infinite quantities in space. As space transportation and operations become more affordable, what was once seen as a wasteland will become the next gold rush. Alaska serves as an excellent analogy. Once thought of as “Seward’s Folly” (Secretary of State William Seward was criticized for overpaying the sum of $7.2 million to the Russians for the territory in 1867), Alaska has since become a billion-dollar economy.

The same will hold true for space. For example, there are millions of asteroids of different sizes and composition flying throughout space. One category, known as S-type, is composed of iron, magnesium silicates and a variety of other metals, including cobalt and platinum. An average half-kilometer S-type asteroid is worth more than $20 trillion.

Technology is reaching a critical point. Moore’s Law has given us exponential growth in computing technology, which has led to exponential growth in nearly every other technological industry. Breakthroughs in rocket propulsion will allow us to go farther, faster and more safely into space…

The Progressive Automotive X PRIZE seeks “to inspire a new generation of viable, safe, affordable and super fuel efficient vehicles that people want to buy“.  $10 million in prizes will be awarded in September 2010 to the teams that win a rigorous stage competition for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 MPG energy equivalent (MPGe).  Over 40 teams from 11 countries are currently entered in the competition.

Forthcoming new X PRIZEs

The best may still be to come.

It now appears that a series of new X PRIZEs are about to be announced.  CNET News writer Daniel Terdiman reports a fascinating interview with Peter Diamandis, in his article “X Prize group sets sights on next challenges (Q&A)“.

The article is well worth reading in its entirety.  Here are just a few highlights:

On May 15, at a gala fundraising event to be held at George Lucas’ Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco, X Prize Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis, along with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and “Avatar” director James Cameron, will unveil their five-year vision for the famous awards…

The foundation …  is focusing on several potential new prizes that could change the world of medicine, oceanic exploration, and human transport.

The first is the so-called AI Physician X Prize, which will go to a team that designs an artificial intelligence system capable of providing a diagnosis equal to or better than 10 board-certified doctors.

The second is the Autonomous Automobile X Prize, which will go to the first team to design a car that can beat a top-seeded driver in a Gran Prix race.

The third would go to a team that can generate an organ from a terminal patient’s stem cells, transplant the organ [a lung, liver, or heart] into the patient, and have them live for a year.

And the fourth would reward a team that can design a deep-sea submersible capable of allowing scientists to gather complex data on the ocean floor

Diamandis  explains the potential outcome of the AI Physician Prize:

The implications of that are that by the end of 2013, 80 percent of the world’s populace will have a cell phone, and anyone with a cell phone can call this AI and the AI can speak Mandarin, Spanish, Swahili, any language, and anyone with a cell phone then has medical advice at the level of a board certified doctor, and it’s a game change.

Even more new X PRIZEs

Details of the process of developing new X PRIZEs are described on the foundation’s website.  New X PRIZEs are are guided by the following principles:

  • We create prizes that result in innovation that makes a lasting impact. Although a technological breakthrough can meet this criterion, so do prizes which inspire teams to use existing technologies, knowledge or systems in more effective ways.
  • Prizes are designed to generate popular interest through the prize lifecycle: enrollment, competition, attempts (both successful and unsuccessful) and post-completion…
  • Prizes result in financial leverage. For a prize to be successful, it should generate outside investment from competitors at least 5-10 times the prize purse size. The greater the leverage, the better return on investment for our prize donors and partners.
  • Prizes incorporate both elements of technological innovation as well as successful “real world” deployment. An invention which is too costly or too inconvenient to deploy widely will not win a prize.
  • Prizes engage multidisciplinary innovators which would otherwise be unlikely to tackle the problems that the prize is designed to address.

The backing provided to the foundation by the Google founders and by James Cameron provides added momentum to what is already an inspirational initiative and a great catalyst for innovation.

6 December 2009

The art of community

Filed under: books, catalysts, collaboration, ecosystem management — David Wood @ 8:42 pm

A PDF version of the presentation I gave last Thursday to a meeting of the Software/Open Source SIG of the Cambridge Wireless Network, “Open ecosystems – Communities that build the future“, is now available for download from the resources page of the Cambridge Wireless website.

The overall contents of my presentation are introduced by the text from slide 2:

Slide 12 provides a summary of the second half of my presentation

Someone who clearly shares my belief in the importance of community, and in the fact that there are key management skills that need to be brought to bear to get the best out of the potential of a community, is Jono Bacon, who works at Canonical as the Ubuntu Community Manager.  Jono’s recent book, “The art of community: building the new age of participation” has been widely praised – deservedly so.

The whole book is available online for free download.

Over the course of 11 chapters spanning 360 pages, Jono provides a host of practical advice about how to best cultivate a community.  Although many of the examples he provides are rooted in the world of open source software (and, in particular, the community which supports the Ubuntu distribution of Linux), the principles generally apply far more widely – to all sorts of communities, particularly communities with a significant online presence and significant numbers of volunteers.  To quote from the preface:

The Art of Community is not specifically focused on computing communities, and the vast majority of its content is useful for anything from political groups to digital rights to knitting and beyond.

Within this wide range of possible communities, this book will be useful for a range of readers:

  • Professional community managers – If you work in the area of community management professionally
  • Volunteers and community leaders – If you want to build a strong and vibrant community for your volunteer project
  • Commercial organizations – If you want to work with, interact with, or build a community around your product or service
  • Open source developers – If you want to build a successful project, manage contributors, and build buzz
  • Marketeers – If you want to learn about viral marketing and building a following around a product or service
  • Activists – If you want to get people excited about your cause

Every chapter in this book is applicable to each of these roles. While technology communities provide many examples throughout the book, the purpose of these examples requires little technical knowledge.

I’ve just finished reading all 360 pages.  Each new chapter introduces important new principles and techniques.  I was reading the book for three reasons:

  1. To compare ideas about the best way to run parts of an open source software community (as used to be part of my responsibilities at the Symbian Foundation);
  2. To get ideas about how to boost the emerging community of people who share my interest in the “Humanity Plus” ideas covered in some of my other blog postings;
  3. To consider the possible wider role of well-catalysed communities to address the bigger challenges and opportunities facing society at the present time;

The book succeeded, for me, on all three levels.  Parts that I particularly liked included:

  • The importance of establishing a compelling mission statement for a community (Chapter 2)
  • Tips on building simple, effective, and nonbureaucratic processes that enable your community to conduct tasks, work together, and share their successes (Chapter 4)
  • How to build excitement and buzz around your community – and some telling examples of how not to do this (Chapter 6)
  • The importance of open and transparent community governance principles – and some reasons for occasionally limiting openness (Chapter 8)
  • Guidance on how to identify, handle, and prevent irksome conflict (ahead of time, if possible), and on dealing with divisive personalities (Chapter 9)
  • Ideas on running events – where (if done right) the “community” feeling can deepen to something more akin to “family” (Chapter 10).

(This blogpost contains an extended table of contents for Jono’s book.  And see here for a short video of Jono describing his book.)

The very end of the book mentions an annual conference called “The community leadership summit”.  To quote from the event website:

Take the microphone and join experienced community leaders and organizers to discuss, debate and explore the many avenues of building strong community in an open unconference setting, complimented by additional structured presentations.

I’m attracted by the idea of participating in the 2010 version of that summit 🙂

18 October 2009

Influencer – the power to change anything

Filed under: books, catalysts, communications, Singularity — David Wood @ 12:48 am

Are people in general dominated by unreason?  Are there effective ways to influence changes in behaviour, for good, despite the irrationality and other obstacles to change?

Here’s an example quoted by Eliezer Yudkowsky in his presentation Cognitive Biases and Giant Risks at the Singularity Summit earlier this month.  The original research was carried out by behavioural economists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1982:

115 professional analysts, employed by industry, universities, or research institutes, were randomly divided into two different experimental groups who were then asked to rate the probability of two different statements, each group seeing only one statement:

  1. “A complete suspension of diplomatic relations between the USA and the Soviet Union, sometime in 1983.”
  2. “A Russian invasion of Poland, and a complete suspension of diplomatic relations between the USA and the Soviet Union, sometime in 1983.”

Estimates of probability were low for both statements, but significantly lower for the first group (1%) than the second (4%).

The moral?  Adding more detail or extra assumptions can make an event seem more plausible, even though the event necessarily becomes less probable. (The cessation of diplomatic relations could happen for all kinds of reasons, not just in response to the invasion. So the first statement must, in rationality, be more probable than the second.)

Eliezer’s talk continued with further examples of this “Conjunction fallacy” and other examples of persistent fallacies of human reasoning.  As summarised by New Atlantis blogger Ari N. Schulman:

People are bad at analyzing what is really a risk, particularly for things that are more long-term or not as immediately frightening, like stomach cancer versus homicide; people think the latter is a much bigger killer than it is.

This is particularly important with the risk of extinction, because it’s subject to all sorts of logical fallacies: the conjunction fallacy; scope insensitivity (it’s hard for us to fathom scale); availability (no one remembers an extinction event); imaginability (it’s hard for us to imagine future technology); and conformity (such as the bystander effect, where people are less likely to render help in a crowd).

Yudkowsky concludes by asking, why are we as a nation spending millions on football when we’re spending so little on all different sorts of existential threats? We are, he concludes, crazy.

It was a pessimistic presentation.  It was followed by a panel discussion featuring Eliezer, life extension researcher Aubrey de Grey, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and Singularity Institute president Michael Vassar.  One sub-current of the discussion was: given how irrational people tend to be as a whole, how can we get the public to pay attention to the important themes being addressed at this event?

The answers I heard were variants of “try harder”, “find ways to embarass people”, and “find some well-liked popular figure who would become a Singularity champion”.  I was unconvinced. (Though the third of these ideas has some merit – as I’ll revisit at the end of this article.)

For a much more constructive approach, I recommend the ideas in the very fine book I’ve just finished reading: Influencer: the power to change anything.

No less than five people are named as co-authors: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.  It’s a grand collaborative effort.

For a good idea of the scope of the book, here’s an extract from the related website, http://influencerbook.com:

When it comes to influence we stink. Consider these examples:

  • Companies spend more than $300 billion annually for training and less than 10 percent of what people are taught sticks.
  • Dieters spend $40 billion a year and 19 out of 20 lose nothing but their money.
  • Two out of three criminals are rearrested within three years.

If influence is the capacity to help ourselves and others change behavior, then we all want influence, but few know how to get it.

Influencer delivers a powerful new science of influence that draws from the skills of hundreds of successful change agents combined with more than five decades of the best social science research. The book delivers a coherent and portable model for changing behaviors—a model that anyone can learn and apply.

The key to successful influence lies in three powerful principles:

  • Identify a handful of high-leverage behaviors that lead to rapid and profound change.
  • Use personal and vicarious experience to change thoughts and actions.
  • Marshall multiple sources of influence to make change inevitable.

As I worked through chapter after chapter, I kept thinking “Aha…” to myself.  The material is backed up by extensive academic research by change specialists such as Albert Bandura and Brian Wansink.  There are also numerous references to successful real-life influence programs, such as the eradication of guinea worm diseasee in sub-saharan Africa, controlling AIDS in Thailand, and the work of Mimi Silbert of Delancy Street with “substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless and others who have hit bottom”.

The book starts by noting that we are, in effect, too often resigned to a state of helplessness, as covered by the “acceptance clause” of the so-called “serenity prayer” of Reinhold Niebuhr

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference

What we lack, the book says, is the skillset to be able to change more things.  It’s not a matter of exhorting people to “try harder”.  Nor is a matter that we need to become better in talking to people, to convince them of the need to change.  Instead, we need a better framework for how influence can be successful.

Part of the framework is to take the time to learn about the “handful of high-leverage behaviors” that, if changed, would have the biggest impact.  This is a matter of focusing – leaving out many possibilities in order to target behaviours with the greatest leverage.  Another part of the framework initially seems the opposite: it recommends that we prepare to use a large array of different influence methods (all with the same intended result).  These influence methods start by recognising the realities of human reasoning, and works with these realities, rather than seeking to drastically re-write them.

The framework describes six sources of influence, in a 2×3 matrix.  One set of three sources addresses motivation, and the other set of three addresses capability.  In each case, there are personal, social, and structural approaches (hence the 2×3).  The book has a separate chapter for each of these six sources.  Each chapter is full of good material.

  • For example, the section on personal motivation analyses the idea of “making the undesirable desirable”
  • The section on social motivation analyses “the positive power of peer pressure”
  • The section on structural motivation recognises the potential power of extrinsic rewards systems, but insists that they come third: you need to have the personal and social motivators in place first
  • Personal ability: new behaviour requires new skills, which need regular practice
  • Social ability: finding strength in numbers
  • Structural ability: change the environment: harness the invisible and pervasive power of environment to support new behaviour.

Rather than bemoaning the fact that making a story more specific messes up people’s abilities to calculate probabilities rationally, the book has several examples of how stories (especially soap operas broadcast in the third world) can have very powerful influence effects, in changing social behaviours for the better.  Listeners are able to personally identify with the characters in the stories, with good outcomes.

The section on social motivation revisits the famous “technology adoption” lifecycle curve, originally drawn by Everett Rogers:

This curve is famous inside the technology industry.  Like many other, I learned of it via the “Crossing the chasm” series of books by Geoffrey Moore (who, incidentally, is one of the keynote speakers on day 2 of the Symbian Exchange and Expo, on Oct 28th).  Moore draws the same curve, but with a large gap (“chasm”) in it, where numerous hi-tech companies fail:

However, the analysis of this curve in “Influencer” focused instead on the difference between “Innovators” and “Early adopters”.  The innovators may be the first to adopt a new technology – whether it be a new type of seed (as studied by Everett Rogers), a new hi-tech product (as studied by Geoffrey Moore), or an understanding of the importance of the Singularity.  However, they are bad references as far as the remainder of the population are concerned.  They probably are perceived as dressing strangely, holding strange beliefs and customs, and generally not being “one of us”.  If they adopt something, it doesn’t increase the probability of anyone in the majority of the population being impressed.  If anything, they’re likely to be un-impressed as a result. It’s only when people who are seen as more representative of the mainstream adopt a product, that this fact becomes influential to the wider population.

As Singularity enthusiasts reflect on how to gain wider influence over public discussion, they would do well to take to heart the lessons of “Influencer: the power to change anything”.

Footnote: recommended further reading:

Two other books I’ve read over the years made a similar impact on me, as regards their insight over influence:

Another two good books on how humans are “predictably irrational”:

1 March 2009

A different kind of job title

Filed under: catalysts, communications, openness, vision — David Wood @ 11:29 pm

The companies where I’ve worked for the last twenty years – first Psion PLC, then Symbian Ltd – were, in the end, commercially driven companies, with a mission from shareholders to generate profits. The Symbian Foundation is different: it’s a not-for-profit organisation.

That’s not to say we are blind to commercial considerations. On the contrary, our task is to support a collection of member organisations, many of which are highly profit-focused. We have to manage our own finances well, and we have to enable our member organisations to earn significant profits (if that’s what they want to do). But we’re not, ourselves, a fundamentally commercial entity.

With this thought in mind, we took the decision that we ought to rethink other aspects of how we organise ourselves, and how we communicate. We did not want to take it for granted that elements from the setups of our previous companies would automatically also appear in the setup of the Symbian Foundation.

One outcome of this is a decision to avoid overly business-oriented language like “vice president”, “officers” and “chiefs”, in describing the senior management team. Instead, we’ve eventually settled on the term “Leadership Team”. Hopefully this terminology conveys an emphasis on openness, approachability, and a pioneering spirit.

To designate my own particular area of responsibility, I’ve taken a deep gulp, and I’ve plumped for the description:

Catalyst and Futurist, Leadership Team

In brief:

  • As catalyst, my role is to enable the Symbian software movement to discover and explore innovative solutions for the many challenges and opportunities faced by the mobile industry;
  • As futurist, my task is to distil compelling visions of the future of technology, business, and society – visions that provide the energy and inspiration for deeply productive open collaboration among the many creators and users of mobile products.

As catalyst, it falls to me to accelerate reactions that might otherwise occur too slowly. These reactions draw on energy that’s already present in the ecosystem, but my activities should help to ignite that energy. I’ve written before about the important role of catalysts in ecosystems, in my review of the book “The starfish and the spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

What’s involved in igniting reactions? In part, it’s to hold out an attractive vision of a different way of working, a different kind of product, a different software architecture, a different user experience, and so on. That’s where the “futurist” part of my job description fits in. In part, it’s also to act, on occasion, as an irritant.

From time to time, I’ll be acting as an ambassador for Symbian, as an agitator, as a networker, and as an evangelist. I’ve got mixed views about the term “evangelist”. On reflection, here’s why I prefer “catalyst”:

  • Evangelists come with pre-cooked solutions – they already know the answers;
  • Catalysts come with suggestions and ideas, but the answer actually comes from the ecosystem, rather than from the catalyst;
  • Evangelists listen, but only to improve their prospects for converting the listener;
  • Catalysts listen, in order to find the ingredients of a solution that no one fully understood in advance.

If I should forget this advice in the future, and speak more forcefully than I listen, I’m sure that members of the ecosystem will find the way to remind me of what true openness really means!

14 December 2008

The starfish and the spider

Filed under: books, catalysts, ecosystem management, Open Source — David Wood @ 11:43 pm

In my quest to understand the full potential of open and collaborative methods of working, I recently found myself re-reading “The Starfish and the Spider: The unstoppable power of leaderless organisations” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

I found this book to be utterly engrossing. I expect that its metaphor of the starfish vs. the spider will increasingly enter common parlance – the same way as “Tipping Point” did. In short:

  • A starfish has a fully de-centralised nervous system, and can survive and prosper when it undergoes an apparent “head-on” attack;
  • A spider has a CEO and a corporate headquarters, without which it cannot function.

The examples in the book show why there’s a great deal at stake behind this contrast: issues of commercial revenues, the rise and fall of businesses, the operation of the Internet, and the rise and fall of change movements within society – where the change movements include such humdingers as Slave Emancipation, Female Equality, Animal Liberation, and Al Qaeda.

There are many stories running through the book, chosen both from history and from contemporary events. The stories are frequently picked up again from chapter to chapter, with key additional insights being drawn out. I found some of the stories to be familiar, but others were not. In all cases, the starfish/spider framework cast new light.

The book contains many implications for the question of how best to inspire and guide an open source ecosystem. Each chapter brought an important additional point to the analysis. For example:

  • Factors allowing de-centralised organisations to flourish;
  • The importance of self-organising “circles”;
  • The significance of so-called “catalyst” personalities;
  • How successful de-centralised organisations often piggy-back pre-existing networks;
  • How centralised organisations can go about combatting de-centralised opponents;
  • Issues about combining aspects of both approaches.

Regarding hybrid approaches: the book argues that smart de-centralisation moves by both GE and Toyota are responsible for significant commercial successes in these companies. EBay is another example of a hybrid. Managing an open source community surely also falls into this category.

The book spoke personally to me on another level. As it explains, starfish organisations depend upon so-called “catalyst” figures, who may lack formal authority, and who are prepared to move into the background without clinging to power:

  • Catalysts enable major reactions to take place, that would otherwise remain dormant;
  • They trigger the deployments of huge resources from the environment;
  • They make things happen, not by direct power, but by force of influence and inspiration.

There’s a big difference between catalysts and CEOs. Think “Mary Poppins” rather than “Maria from Sound of Music”. That gave me a handy new way of thinking about my own role in organisations. (I’m like Mary Poppins, rather than Maria! I tend to move on from the departments that I build up, rather than remaining in place.)

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