A Relationship Story
Building a Subculture of Starfish
While polls show that confidence in our democracy and our government is near an all-time low, volunteerism and civic participation since the 1970’s are near all-time highs, with 27% of Americans volunteering in 2006. Political scientists are perplexed about this. If confidence is so low, how is it that increasing numbers of people are volunteering?
In the book The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, recommended to me by my friend Russ Williams who is the founder of the Passkeys Foundation Jefferson Center for Character Education, the power of decentralized groups and movements is examined – the power of leaderless organizations.
The book describes how a spider dies when its head is cut off, but when you cut a starfish into pieces, each piece just grows into another starfish. There is no head and no leader. The book also describes how decentralized movements also share common characteristics including being driven by a unifying ideology and being inspired by a catalyst.
It appears that an ideology in our country is driving increased volunteerism, even in the face of unprecedented Machiavellian forces and an “it’s all about me” and “empty glitz” culture. What can we do, as individuals and in our companies, to contribute to growth of the movement to do well by doing good (a phrase coined by Benjamin Franklin)?
We can contribute to this emerging subculture of difference makers in two ways – through our works and through our words. We all know that others (employees and our own kids) learn more from what we do than what we say; we must actively set an example. However, our choice of language and the power of our words can set a tone to encourage growing momentum toward difference making.
Here is what seems to be a good example. Within McDermott & Bull, the firm where I serve as an executive search consultant, a “starfish” kind of movement has begun – spearheaded by Jenn Moody, one of our team members. On September 23rd, a team of 20+ from our firm is participating in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to fight breast cancer, a disease that affects 1 of every 8 women (yes, that’s right, 1 in 8!)
With Jenn encouraging us (our catalyst), and inspired by the Mother of another of our team members currently recovering from the disease (our ideology), we have joined this cause to raise both awareness about the disease and money to help serve those who can’t afford testing or treatment. The volunteer effort among the people in our firm is a great example of a decentralized movement that will help to change the priorities, language, and the example set by those of us who participate.
Why should we consider doing things like this? Why not just go on our Machiavellian way and maximize wealth and pleasure without spending time and energy trying to help those who have less than we do?
Beyond it being just the right thing to do, there is also a very practical argument. Through our efforts to support underprivileged people and communities, some who otherwise may make choices out of desperation or disillusionment, we may help to reduce poor choices; I would argue that desperation and disillusionment contribute to a lot of ills in our society, so working to minimize them is in the best interest of everyone.
How much better could our world be if volunteerism, and the caring that goes along with it, could increase from the current 27% to even just 30-35%? It’s not so much to ask – the 27% number was only 21% less than 20 years ago. Our works and our words can help to make this possible. Let’s all consider what we can do to help make the example greater through our works and the voice louder through our words.
Thanks for sharing your time with me. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Recommended Links: Passkeys Foundation Jefferson Center for Character Education – Russ Williams http://www.passkeys.org/index.html
Book Recommendation: The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom
Sincerely, Jeff BlackPrincipal Consultant, McDermott & Bull Executive SearchCell: (714) 356-1949 Office: (949) 753-1700 ext. 3102 Venture, Suite 100 Irvine, CA 92618
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