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The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations Paperback – July 29, 2008
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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What?s the hidden power behind the success of Wikipedia, craigslist, and Skype? What do eBay and General Electric have in common with the abolitionist and women?s rights movements? What fundamental choice put General Motors and Toyota on vastly different paths?
Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom have discovered some unexpected answers, gripping stories, and a tapestry of unlikely connections. The Starfish and the Spider explores what happens when starfish take on spiders and reveals how established companies and institutions, from IBM to Intuit to the U.S. government, are also learning how to incorporate starfish principles to achieve success.
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Published in 2006, Brafman and Beckstrom explore and explain the increase in the number of decentralized organizations. Their discussions of organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Napster, and Al-Qaeda make the concepts of decentralized organizations not only pertinent to today’s economy and culture, but also understandable. The traditional top-down hierarchy of centralized organizations creates levels of bureaucracy that make change within an organization slow-going. By the time the change is implemented, it is out of date and in need of modification. These spider organizations have a command and control which dictates the movement of the organization; those employed must comply or risk being out of a job. A decentralized organization creates an environment where there is no head; all are equal and free to contribute to the changes and sustainment within an organization, acting as a form of distributed leadership. In this starfish organization, the members of the group must convince all other members to move and change; the collective make changes happen. Norms, not rules, control a starfish organization.
The internet has changed how we view the world, the next generation of professionals and work-force employees will have grown up with access to knowledge, and the ability to contribute to that knowledge freely. Employees are looking for the catalyst for change to get the starfish moving, and then having that catalyst get out of the way so the employees can make the organization successful. This book is a key addition to professional reading lists for leaders and managers at all levels, educators and students, as well as employees within any organization.
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 Starfish and the Spider is a compelling book that uses the symbolism of a starfish and a spider to describe the importance of decentralization in life, culture, and economics.
The thesis is that every organization needs to move towards decentralization, in some manner or form, if they are to not only exist, but also thrive in the future - in other words, the rules have changed.
Spanning across the book, the authors outline eight principles of decentralization, which they use to explain their thesis:
1. "When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized" (Location 290)
2. "It's easy to mistake starfish for spiders" (Location 415)
3. "The intelligence is spread throughout the system" (Location 467)
4. "Open systems can easily mutate" (Location 474)
5. "Because the decentralized organization mutates so quickly, it can also grow incredibly quickly" (Location 489)
6. "As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease" (Location 534)
7. "Put people into an open system and they'll automatically want to contribute" (Location 825)
8. "When attacked, centralized organizations tend to become even more centralized" (Location 1524).
Upon explaining these principles, the authors end by addressing how an organization can embrace both decentralization and centralization along a continuum, along with ten projections for how organizations need to operate in order to thrive in the future.
The genius of this book is that the authors recognize who their primary audience is - spider organizations. Although they favor decentralization, they make sure not to alienate their primarily spider audience by proposing the concept of a decentralized sweet spot. So my primary question is, how do I help my centralized organization, Beulah, find its decentralized sweet spot? "The decentralized sweet spot is the point along the centralized-decentralized continuum that yields the best competitive position" (Location 2094).
This was an easy and engaging read, illustrating a very important concept to thrive as an organization into the future. Thus, I give this book a 5 out of 5.