Jellyfish and Skeletons: The Organic/Organized Balance


"Grandpa, what's this?" my grandson asked as he stood on the beach with the waves lapping around his ankles.

"It's a jellyfish."

"Why is it so squishy and flat?"

​He's a little young to understand that it is flat because it doesn’t have a skeleton to give it height and strength. In the animal world, different organisms have different attributes. Here is where humans bring a unique balance. On the outside, we have warm skin and on the inside we have a skeleton that when it works well, allows us to stand and walk six feet tall. Our bodies are organic with life-giving attributes that give us warmth as well a set of organized bones, tendons, and ligaments that allow us to live with vertical strength and power.


This balance of warmth and strength can also be applied to leadership and organizations. High-performing leaders and organizations find the right organic/organized balance. The organic side is life-giving, inspirational, and creates the “why” of what we do. The organized side gives leaders and organizations strength and the ability to scale up to higher heights.


A jellyfish doesn’t stand tall because while it is organic it doesn't have an organized skeletal system that would give it strength and height. The skeleton in the science lab is tall and rigid but doesn’t have life and warmth. Humans like many other large, land mammals have this unique balance. On the outside, we are warm and soft but on the inside, we have strength and height.


Warmth and strength is a needed balance for almost every leader and organization. Generally, start with the organic side and add organization as needed. Many startups are inherently organic with leaders who have passion and vision for what they are doing. Growth in these organic startups often stalls if they are not able to adequately organize. Strong leaders and organizations are able to maintain their life-giving, organic features while scaling up through added organization.


Putting it into Practice

Do you lean toward the organic side or the organized side? If you are more organic which is common for nonprofit leaders, look at ways that you can get organized in new ways so as to grow in scale through structures and systems. On the other hand, maybe you are more organized which I see more often with for-profits. If this is you, look at ways you can warm up your leadership and add life and passion to your organization.


Finding this organic/organized balance is not simple nor easy. Today, you may have the right balance, but tomorrow you may need to change that balance. When things get a little stale, you may need to strengthen the organic side of things. When things are chaotic or struggling to scale, you may need to strengthen the organized side of things. Finding the right balance may make the different for your leadership and organization.