De samenwerking van de geaffilieerde bedrijven van Niven is redelijk uniek te noemen, daar een dergelijke constructie weinig voorkomt tussen bedrijven. Niven is bij de vorming van deze constructie geïnspireerd door het zogenaamde seaweed-model, een metafoor die bedacht en uitgewerkt is door Prof. R.J. Thomas voor het beschrijven van strategische allianties. Om dit toe te lichten zal een deel uit de speech (gegeven in Leiden, 1995), waarin hij het seaweed model beschrijft, geciteerd worden.
Why seaweed? [I am not a marine biologist and anything I have to say about seaweed is based entirely on observations made as a child raised in coastal California]. Seaweed has the quality of being remarkable simple and remarkable complex. Seaweed builds from a relatively simple unit structure. A seaweed patch is really an assemblage of individual plants that are connected organically but capable of living seperately. The patch is a complex network that shares vital resources (e.g. nutrients), conducts shared processes (e.g. photosynthesis), and, by virtue of its bulk, prolongs the life of the average individual plant.
Though organic, the connections are loose nonetheless. This means that a seaweed patch has the capacity to disintegrate without destroying the seaweed plants and, therefore, without itself being destroyed. This is a critical property when one considers the environment in which the seaweed must survive: ocean water, but especially water that is subject to random turbulence. The patch, therefore, is a variable entity, not an invariant one. The plants and the patch gain volume, stability, acces to resources, and a host of other benefits from aggregation, but they do not lose the capacity to exist apart from the mass.
What would an organization inspired by seaweed be? First, an organization inspired by seaweed would be a remarkable adapteble and resilient entity. It would prosper during periods of stability and during periods of upheaval. It would do both because it would become what is necessary to survive under each condition. Second, an organization inspired by seaweed would have a unique identity. It would be composed of units which are conscious of themselves as units; but it would also contain a consciousness of itself as a unity (as a patch or colony).
[...] The units would be conscious of themselves, of their relations to one another, and of themselves as the larger whole. In this respect each unit would contain the whole and, thus, each would have access to the same history, the same experience and the same knowledge.
[...] Is the seaweed-inspired organization possible? Certainly! Indeed, precedent already exists in organizations (and industries) where identical or nearly identical units are aggregated to form larger colonies/unions, such as franchises, federations, and the like. Large legal practices in the U.S. bear more than a passing resemblance. Other professional organizations, such as certain large consulting firms, have begun to think of themselves in ways that approach the seaweed or holographic metaphor.