A Hybrid of Starfish and Spiders

What Toyota and the Baha’i Administration have in common

If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; if you cut off a starfish’s leg it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Simple, yet astonishing. And so it is that organizations can be referred to as spiders, centralized systems with a control centre and rules, or starfish, decentralized systems that have no clear leader, no hierarchy, and no headquarters. At first sight, there is no way for the Administrative Order of the Baha’i Faith to be a starfish. We have a control centre, the Universal House of Justice, and we have system rules as primarily set down in the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. However, decentralized systems also feature flexibility and distributed intelligence which could be regarded as characteristics of the Baha’i community.

SpiderStarfishThe Starfish and the Spider discusses the emerging power of decentralized organizations. Its authors, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, conclude that the healthiest and best-performing organizations will be hybrids between starfish and spiders. A hybrid system has found the best of both worlds and combined it. Toyota has found this sweet spot inasmuch as it has both enough decentralization in its production for creativity, and sufficient structure and controls to ensure consistency. My aim is to correlate this concept of starfish-spider hybrids to the system that is employed in the Baha’i community as its Administration.


An exploration of the features of both types of systems might crystalize this idea. In His Will and Testament, ‘Abdu’l-Baha provides for the establishment of a supreme governing institution, the Universal House of Justice. Today, this institution guides the growth and development of the global Baha’i community, and has the right to legislate ‘on matters not expressly revealed in the teachings.’ (SE, WOB) It represents the Centre of the Baha’i world and thus constitutes the first centralized feature in Baha’i Administration. Shoghi Effendi further discusses these issues and sets forth guidelines and rules for the Administrative Order in the World Order of Baha’u'llah, a second centralized feature.

{josquote}...the Baha’i Administration is built upon exactly that ’sweet spot’ between centralization and decentralization. It is the perfect hybrid, and undoubtedly far superior to Toyota’s structures.{/josquote}

Attributes of a decentralized systems include flexibility, the distribution of intelligence, catalysts, and champions. We can now witness the amazing flexibility of the global Baha’i community, as it has accepted, within a short time period, the Institute Process as its primary activity. Not only have its institutions fully embraced, but its individual adherents and their communities are now focusing their energies on this plan. Intelligence is distributed across the globe as each community makes its own experiences, of which the learning is shared with the world-wide community. A simple example of this is the development of the Ruhi Institute in Columbia that has now been accepted by every local community across the globe.

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Baquia comments on the article in the blog entry, Baha’i Administrative Bureaucracy.