Starfish and spiders as problem-solvers


A lot of business books claim to provide vital knowledge. Every so often one of these books actually delivers.

Last fall I read a fascinating book titled “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The term “starfish” refers to leaderless organizations like Wikipedia, while “spider” refers to a company that has a traditional top-down leadership model.

I was fascinated by the concept of leaderless organizations, never having thought of Craigslist or Napster in that fashion. Although those websites had founders who administered them, their success was based on users having the right to act as co-administrators. This makes sense in hindsight – think of the popularity of television shows like “American Idol” where audience members vote to determine the contest’s winner. Realty show voting and Internet sites give everyone a voice in this age of social networking.

I’ve been revisiting “The Starfish” lately to gain new insights into the starfish concept. One chapter is devoted to hybrid organizations, or those that have aspects of both starfish (leaderless) and spiders (top-down management). The chapter mentions the work of David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Business School who developed the concept of “appreciative inquiry.”

Appreciative inquiry is used to solve problems in organizations. People from all levels of a company participate in pairs to interview one another. As the book states, a janitor may ask the CEO questions, which are provided by Cooperrider to encourage people to open up. Cooperrider’s intention is to break down the hierarchy. After the interviews conclude, participants get together to brainstorm, and every person’s idea is treated with respect. Since everyone feels they had a voice, they are more likely to buy into any plans that result from the session.

The “Starfish” authors make their case for the appreciative inquiry technique despite its sounding like a “touchy-feely” method. They note that the technique led to resolving a dispute between truckers and management at one of the world’s largest truck companies. The process also was credited with the creation of a strategic plan at the U.S. Navy.

You don’t have to view conflicts as an unavoidable part of doing business; disagreement can be healthy when it is managed effectively and channeled into creative problem-solving where everyone’s voice is heard in a respectful way. It’s only when respect is thrown out and disagreement is unmanaged that it becomes destructive conflict.

Resetting a balky #Kindle


Thanks to eReadWorld for help in resetting my Amazon.com Kindle 2 reader this morning. It had gotten locked up from a book I was reading last night and kept trying to bring up the menu. According to eReadWorld, you can reset the Kindle 2 by sliding and holding the power switch for 15 seconds. The website tells how to reset a Kindle 1.

The Kindle on a budget


I was a holdout for several years on ebooks, including the much-touted Kindle. I’m a journalist and a bookworm, a lover of the printed word, and to me, nothing could compare to the allure of text on paper. Certainly computers and smart phones cannot compare to reading a newspaper or a (paper-print) novel. The price of ebook readers was another factor. But I could no longer ignore the changing nature of print media – even as I finished earning an MBA to stretch my workplace skills, I began forcing myself to upgrade my technical abilities – I bought a Blackberry, and I began blogging and using Twitter.

Cheapness is the feature that finally won me over to the Kindle (I have been called a cheapskate more than once). Amazon.com had dropped the entry-level price to $139. I began researching the Kindle and discovered rave reviews by users on its E Ink technology that allows words and pictures to appear just like ink on paper. (I learned the reviews were true once I started using my Kindle).

Even as Amazon.com was drawing flack for trying to force ebook prices up, I read that many classic books are available for free on the Kindle. And indeed they are. I have downloaded well more than two dozen free classics, ranging from “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne to “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Wells. I just finished reading Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and have started Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Some versions of these books are free, while other electronic versions cost a few dollars and are still a bargain.

I have also downloaded free games – Mine Sweeper and Blackjack.

A final appealing feature of the Kindle is the access to newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. I have subscribed to the WSJ for $14.99 per month, but am enjoying my first two weeks for free. Additional print media options for the Kindle include The New York Times, USA Today, regional papers like The Houston Chronicle, and magazines like Time. Since my Kindle was a Christmas gift, my only expenses associated with it have been a case and the WSJ subscription.

My next Kindle blog will look at how it and other ebook readers fit in with the future of newspapers.

Kindling an interest among friends


I received an Amazon Kindle (the Wi-Fi graphite) for Christmas, and I intend to chronicle my experiences on it.

These postings will be rudimentary “of course” knowledge to those who have been fortunate enough to use a Kindle these last few years or those who otherwise have followed the Kindle’s history. But I have already run into a number of people – who of course know about the Kindle but have never laid eyes directly on a Kindle and who have shown a great interest in mine. I will refer them to this blog, and I hope I can provide some insights to a cyber audience seeking basic knowledge about the Kindle.

Here is a link to my model’s full description on Amazon.com.

Next blog entry: Basic observations on the Kindle

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