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The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by [Ori Brafman, Rod A. Beckstrom]

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The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations Kindle Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 666 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

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“The Starfish and the Spider is a compelling and important book.” —Pierre Omidyar, CEO, Omidyar Network and Founder and Chairman, eBay Inc.

“The Starfish and the Spider, like Blink, The Tipping Point, and The Wisdom of Crowds before it, showed me a provocative new way to look at the world and at business. It'salso fun to read!” —Robin Wolaner, founder, Parenting Magazine and author, Naked in the Boardroom

“A fantastic read.  Constantly weaving stories and connections.  You'll never see the world the same way again.” —Nicholas J. Nicholas Jr., former Co-CEO, Time Warner

“A must-read.  Starfish are changing the face of business and society.  This page-turner is provocative and compelling.” —David Martin, CEO, Young Presidents' Organization

“The Starfish and the Spider provides a powerful prism for understanding the patterns and potential of self-organizing systems.”  —Steve Jurvetson, Partner, Draper Fisher Jurvetson

“The Starfish and the Spider lifts the lid on a massive revolution in the making, a revolution certain to reshape every organization on the planet from bridge clubs to global governments. Brafman and Beckstrom elegantly describe what is afoot and offer a wealth of insights that will be invaluable to anyone starting something new—or rescuing something old—amidst this vast shift.” —Paul Saffo, Director, Institute for the Future  “The Starfish and the Spider is great reading.  [It has] not only stimulated my thinking, but as a result of the reading, I proposed ten action points for my own organization."—Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

From Publishers Weekly

Brafman and Beckstrom, a pair of Stanford M.B.A.s who have applied their business know-how to promoting peace and economic development through decentralized networking, offer a breezy and entertaining look at how decentralization is changing many organizations. The title metaphor conveys the core concept: though a starfish and a spider have similar shapes, their internal structure is dramatically different—a decapitated spider inevitably dies, while a starfish can regenerate itself from a single amputated leg. In the same way, decentralized organizations, like the Internet, the Apache Indian tribe and Alcoholics Anonymous, are made up of many smaller units capable of operating, growing and multiplying independently of each other, making it very difficult for a rival force to control or defeat them. Despite familiar examples—eBay, Napster and the Toyota assembly line, for example—there are fresh insights, such as the authors' three techniques for combating a decentralized competitor (drive change in your competitors' ideology, force them to become centralized or decentralize yourself). The authors also analyze one of today's most worrisome "starfish" organizations—al-Qaeda—though that group undermines the authors' point that the power of leaderless groups helps to demonstrate the essential goodness and trustworthiness of human beings. (Oct. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B000S1LU3M
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Portfolio (October 5, 2006)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ October 5, 2006
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 872 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 239 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 666 ratings

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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5
666 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 29, 2018
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic illustration of the power of individuals who have a cause
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 29, 2018
This is a brilliant book that explains the circumstances in which victory goes to “leaderless organisations” – that is, organisations based on individuals pursuing voluntary preferences, rather than those that use coercion and hierarchical authority to enforce desired action. The authors explain that top-down organisations (symbolised by the spider, a centrally-controlled creature) flourish under economies of scale, when innovation is less important than efficiency and productivity. In contrast, leaderless organisations (symbolised by the starfish, a decentralised creature) flourish when innovation (in hi-tech) or surprise (in military strategy) is more important than focused power.

To explain further, a spider has a centralised nervous system, so that, if it loses a leg, the handicap will remain, whereas the starfish has a decentralised nervous system, so that walking requires a peer-to-peer communication between the legs, and if one limb is cut off, the body will grow another, and the leg will grow a complete body.

The starfish thus symbolises peer-to-peer human networks through which flows an inspirational ideal in accordance with which individuals tend to act voluntarily. The book described the Apache Native American tribe, which had no central organisation, but defeated the Spanish colonists because the Apaches had no central figures or infrastructure to capture, and their will to fight was shared culturally without coercion. Thus, individuals sprang up in response to Spanish outrages, and inspired others to fight locally, thus always maintaining the element of surprise.

The principle of voluntary organisation within a human network is now becoming more familiar in fields such as politics, and in modern technology. The large, rigid, hierarchies that dominated early capitalism are now fading away, and being replaced by groups of individuals in peer-to-peer networking.

The book describes many, many examples of “starfish” organisations that defeated government regulations, or large industrial organisations, but rather than quoting examples, I will list some of the “rules of the game” that typify leaderless organisations.

Rule 1. Dis-economies of scale (Skype v. ATT).

Rule 2. The network effect. It used to cost millions to create a significant network effect, for many starfish organisations, the cost has gone down to zero. eBay is an example.
Rule 3. The power of chaos. Starfish organisations are wonderful incubators for creative, destructive, innovations, or crazy ideas. Where creativity is valuable, learning to accept chaos is a must.

Rule 4, Knowledge at the edge. In starfish organisations, knowledge is spread throughout the staff. People on the front line know what’s going on. Open source software and Wikipedia are examples.

Rule 5. Everyone wants to contribute. People contribute to Wikipedia, and to Intuit’s TaxAlmanac.org. Users contribute reviews to Amazon, and engineers stay up at night writing code free for Apache server software.

Rule 6. Beware the hydra response from Greek mythology, in which beheading the hydra caused it to immediately grow two new heads. The starfish has similar power, because there is no head to cut off, and each cut limb regrows. The Spanish learned the hard way, fighting the Apaches. When the record companies destroyed Napster, it was replaced by Kazaa and eMule that were more decentralised and difficult to defeat.

Rule 7. Catalysts rule. Starfish have no CEO. Instead, people known as ‘catalysts’ initiate and persuade only. When the Spanish fought the Apaches, they looked for a leader such as Montezuma to kill, but found only independent individuals called ‘Nant’ans’, who inspired local attacks then disappeared. Mary Poppins similarly disappeared after serving each family in the Hollywood movie.

Rule 8. The values are the organisation. Ideology is the fuel that drives the decentralised organisation. The Animals Liberation Front, (ALF), is so decentralised that it is hard to fight legally. Granville Sharp helped abolish slavery through inspiration alone, although we forget his name, because he was not a public leader. The peer-to-peer organisation called ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ has achieved worldwide success, without any central organisation at all.

Rule 9. Measure, monitor and manage. When measuring a starfish organisation, it’s better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong. When we monitor a starfish organisation, we ask about its health, whether it’s growing or spreading, becoming more or less centralised. Catalysts connect people and maintain the drumbeat of the ideology.

Rule 10. Flatten or be flattened. We can fight a starfish by changing an ideology or centralising its organisation. But it may be easier to join them if you cannot beat them. Some modern organisations are hybrids, making a profit in the centralised part, and operating more effectively in the decentralised part.
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on January 22, 2008
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Top reviews from other countries

Eugene Sheehy
4.0 out of 5 stars Great concept
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on August 6, 2018
Pete B.
4.0 out of 5 stars On networked organisations
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on October 23, 2011
2 people found this helpful
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E. Cross
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're a catalyst…..you'll love this
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on November 13, 2013
Steve Sewell
5.0 out of 5 stars Really great read, built around stories and examples
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on August 3, 2017
chillphil
3.0 out of 5 stars Good place to start.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on March 21, 2013
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