5.3 Rising Importance of Change Champions

Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom used a creative analogy from the animal kingdom to illustrate the rising importance of change champions within organizations. They argued that future organizations will function more like starfish, and less like spiders. They state,

If you chop off a spider’s head, it dies. If you take out the corporate headquarters, chances are you’ll kill the spider organization…Starfish don’t have a head to chop off. Its central body isn’t even in charge. In fact, the major organs are replicated through each and every arm. If you cut the starfish in half, you’ll be in for a surprise: the animal won’t die, and pretty soon you’ll have two starfish to deal with.Brafman and Beckstrom (2006), p. 35.

Illustrating their point, they argue that the organizations of the 21st century, what they call “starfish” organizations, are demonstrated by customer-enabled Internet firms such as eBay, Skype, Kazaa, Craigslist, and Wikipedia; “leaderless” nonprofit organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and the Young Presidents Organization; and highly decentralized religious movements like the Quakers and al Qaeda.

With respect to this chapter, their insights about champions are particularly interesting. A champion is someone who is consumed with an idea and has the talent to rally others behind that idea. Brafman and Beckstrom argue that the passion and enthusiasm of champions attracts followers, and their persistence enables the group to endure all the obstacles to change. Classic champions of the past include Thomas Clarkson, a Quaker driven to end slavery, and Leor Jacobi, a vegan driven to end meat-eating. In the end, this book argues that change champions are as much if not more important to the future survival of the organization than even the formal leaders of the organization.