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The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations Hardcover – October 5, 2006
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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.
“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's
also 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
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Top Customer Reviews
It’s also hard not to see the parallels between these concepts of decentralization and the Christian faith. Jesus was the first decentralizer of the faith, giving the task of the furtherance of God’s mission to his disciples. As one commentator has said, at the end of the Gospels the disciples say, “Okay Jesus, let’s go, we’ve got your back!” and Jesus responds by saying, “Nope, you go, and I’ve got your back!” It was a fundamental shift that allowed Christianity to grow exponentially, especially as the Apostles began to relinquish control. The same is true today – the Kingdom can grow exponentially to the extent that control over it can be given over to the King. As we grab control and try to centralize it along our means, we limit it. In reality, God has given to every man the essential tools of the faith – the Scriptures containing everything necessary for faith, and the Holy Spirit to understand and apply them. As we release those things, the Kingdom grows.
The first few chapters of the book tend to read like short, glowing biographies of the founders or "catalyst" who formed, ran, or run these organizations. After the reviews of the "CEOs" a reader might believe that they would have to possess qualities that would render them worthy of sainthood to become a catalyst. This again slants towards the writers' thesis. Once the book moved into the descriptions and rules governing these companies the book becomes much more concise and focused on the formation and growth of such companies.
The book was well written and had good, even if not novel, ideas on how to construct and combats a decentralized organization. There was limited time given to the argument against their thesis which keeps this from being a truly academic work.
That's been the question plaguing the music recording, news and software companies for some time. It's of great interest to me because I work in the newspaper industry.
This book titled, "The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations," takes a fascinating look at this phenomenon.
Published in 2006 and written by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, "Starfish" looks at movements/organizations that defy the traditional leadership model of "Who's in charge?" Sometimes, no one is in charge. The Aztecs had Montezuma and a capital city, and were easily wiped out by the Spanish who killed the leader. The Apache had no centralized leader and no capital, and thus were better equipped to fight off attacks by armies from developed nations who looked for traditional targets to strike. But the book's authors say that also describes the recording music industry's attempts to fight off Napster: They effectively killed that one Web site, but their efforts antagonized people and spawned lots of imitators.
The authors write that Craigslist provided an unexpected challenge to the newspaper industry. Why pay for a newspaper classified ad when you can advertise a product for free all over the world? Likewise, why subscribe to a newspaper when you can read it for free online?
Newspapers learned to combine ad sales for print and online editions, as well as partnering with sites like CareerBuilder. After many newspapers dropped their attempts to charge subscriptions for online stories, some organizations are taking a second look at this model again.
"Starfish" provided an eye-opening lesson for me in how my industry has been evolving, and I enjoyed reading this book.