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Showing 1-10 of 154 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 240 reviews
on August 1, 2017
The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations compares centralized and decentralized organizations. A centralized organization is much like a spider; cut off its head and the spider dies. A decentralized organization, on the other hand, is like a starfish. When an arm of the starfish is cut off, the starfish generates an entirely new body.

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 By the time the change is implemented, it is out of date and in need of modification.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.
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on June 21, 2014
This book points to and describes a style of leadership architecture more as by a docent than as an architect. There are deeper logics at play that need understanding if one is to attempt what is being described with any useful effect. However, it is good to understand that there exists a growing body of artifacts in the organizational arena that are the products of non-linear, distributed processes that seem to operate holographically among sapient populations to produce (buzzword alert!) synergistic organizational effects. What used to be called 'the informal organization' - what happens around the watercooler and the lunchroom - is now becoming the dominant modality in all areas of emergent anthropologic phenomena, beyond entrepreneurial commerce. I am finding this book is a useful resource for illuminating these new patterns for people who are on the cusp of transforming their own modes of participation and of adding value.
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VINE VOICEon October 5, 2012
I read the book and had a chance to hear Ori talk two days later.

I really liked the book to begin with, but after hearing Ori talk I really love the concept.

The premise is that strictly hierarchal organizations don't do as well as more ad hoc organizations, e.g., a flock of birds, in volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous times.


Often books like this tend to over state their points, but the Starfish and the Spider pokes fun at itself and explores the ragged edge of its own theory.

It is also a very quick read.

Well done!

I highly recommend this book!

In service,

The Original Dr Games since 1993
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on March 8, 2013
What do you do when you've always charged for delivering a service or product and some Web site comes along and offers something much like it for free?

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.
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on October 18, 2012
Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom are both authors, entrepreneurs, and MBA graduates from Stanford. Brafman is not only interested in thinking and writing about leadership and organizational dynamics, but he also is a practitioner who has put many of his principles into practice. For Beckstrom, his areas of specialty are cybersecurity, global issues, and organizational strategy and leadership. Furthermore, he has diverse leadership experience that ranges from being a CEO to working for the US Homeland Security.

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.
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on December 6, 2015
Highly recommended book to add to your personal library. The book contains key lessons between different types of organizational structures with examples from modern organizations.
Book is written very well and easily articulates it's key points.
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on June 21, 2015
A three-star general recommended this book to me. When a general officer makes a recommendation there's typically something to it. So I acted upon the sage advice and purchased the book. I enjoyed the read and can honestly say I learned a thing or two. As a speaker and author myself I was able to better understand the dynamics of group structure, the effects of change (and the resistance to change), architectural construct and the effects of choice in business cultures. Bottom line: If you're looking for a book that best captures the essence of change in today's business world, the this book is a great addition to your arsenal of knowledge sources.
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on January 22, 2008
In this book, the authors address the differences between starfish and spider organizations. A spider has a tiny head and eight legs coming out of a central body. If you chop off the spider's head, it dies. A centralized organization has a clear leader who's in charge. Get rid of the leader and you paralyze the organization. A decentralized organization is a starfish. The starfish doesn't have a head. The major organs are replicated throughout each and every arm.

In 2005, MGM sued Grokster because it allowed the sharing of music and movies over the Internet. Five years earlier, Napster was sued for allowing file sharing. The recording industry went after the people who were swapping the music as well. But this did not prevent the problem of music piracy. The harder they fought, the stronger the opposition grew. The best explanation for these events comes from a book by Tom Nevins about the Apaches.

Spanish explorer Cortes fought the Aztec, who had a central government, and took their gold; killed their leader; and starved the city's inhabitants. Two years later the entire Aztec empire had collapsed. The same fate befell the Incas. But they lost against the Apaches. It was all about the way the Apaches were organized as a society. The Apaches distributed political power and had very little centralization. They persevered because they were decentralized. A centralized organization has a clear leader who's in charge. In a decentralized system there's no clear leader and no hierarchy. The power is distributed among all the people and across geographic regions. Instead of a chief, the Apaches had a Nant'an--a spiritual and cultural leader who led by example. As soon as the Spaniards killed a Nant'an, a new one would emerge. No one person was essential to the overall well-being of Apache society. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized. Every time the labels sue a Napster, a new player comes onto the scene that's even more decentralized and more difficult to battle. The harder you fight a decentralized opponent, the stronger it gets.

Some examples of starfish organizations:

(a) The Internet is a decentralized starfish network where no one is in charge. Spider organizations have structures, hierarchies, and a president.
(b) At Alcoholics Anonymous, no one is in charge. If you were to ask how many members or chapters it has, there'd be no way to tell because it is an open system. An open system doesn't have centralized intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system. Spider organizations weave their webs over long periods of time, but the starfish can take over an entire industry in the blink of an eye.
(c) Craigslist attracts three billion page views a month. The way craigslist runs is that people who use it post, and if they find something inappropriate they flag it for approval. So the people who use the site run it. It allows users to interact with each other directly without anybody telling anybody else what they can and cannot do. In an open system, what matters most isn't the CEO, but whether the leadership is trusting enough of members to leave them alone.
(d) The first popular browser for surfing the Web came from the University of Illinois. But the University did not respond when engineers sent patches to be integrated, so they decided to post the patches on their own and called the project Apache. The software was completely open-source, and Apache quickly became the industry standard, with 67 percent of websites running on it.
(e) Wikipedia allows website users to easily edit, police, and contribute the content of the site themselves. Put people into an open system and they'll automatically want to contribute! When you give people freedom you get incredible creativity and a variety of expressions.

Differences between Spider organizations and starfish organizations:

(a) Most centralized organizations are divided into departments. If a spider loses a leg, its mobility is significantly affected. Units of a decentralized organization are completely autonomous. Cut off a unit and, like a starfish, the organization does just fine.
(b) In spider companies, power is concentrated at the top. In starfish organizations, power is spread throughout.
(c) Decentralized organizations are fluid. Centralized organizations depend more on rigid structure. It is possible to count the members of any spider organization, but members of starfish organizations are impossible to count because anyone can become a member.
(d) Information in centralized organizations is processed through headquarters. In open systems, communication occurs directly between members.
(e) In decentralized organizations, the founder plays the role of a catalyst. He would lead by example, but he never forces his views on others. A catalyst gets the decentralized organization going and then cedes control to the members.

Strategies to combat a starfish invasion:

(a) Ideology, the shared philosophy among members, is the glue that holds decentralized organizations together. If the ideology can be successfully changed, the results are detrimental.
(b) The Apaches remained a significant threat until the Americans prevailed by giving the Nant'ans cattle. Once people gain a right to property they quickly seek out a centralized system to protect their interests. The moment you introduce property rights, the starfish organization turns into a spider.
(c) If you can't beat them, join them. The best opponent for a starfish organization is another starfish.

This is by far the best business management book I have read this year!
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on December 28, 2011
Brillant metaphor that will make you think about your organization and how it operates in the 21st Century.

The author compares two types of organizations: starfish and spiders. Starfish grow another arm when one is cut off. Spiders die if you hit them on the head. Starfish organizations are decentralized. People are empowered to think for themselves, to take risks, to learn. Spider organizations are riddled with fear and gripped with power. People keep to themselves. They don't share information. Silos are everywhere.

The author's point? The future is in decentralization. This explains why an organization run by volunteers (Wikipedia) was able to defeat Microsoft's well-funded Encarta and run them out of business within the space of a decade. This is how Apple rose from the brink of bankruptcy in the late 1990s and became the most valuable technology company in the world in May of 2010.

How does this concept apply to schools? Teacher leadership. We've been saying it for awhile now. The answer is teacher leadership. When teachers (and all other staff members) feel empowered to make a difference, we can take the cap off of student achievement and school improvement. We won't have to worry about test scores because the children and adults will all be lovers of learning. However, if we choose the way of the spider--more rules, more laws, more "accountability" to keep people in line, watch out. We may end up with exactly what we wanted, but not want what we get.

We may end up with compliant, fearful, spider-organizations where people do enough to get by. According to Beckstrom, those companies will not thrive in the 21st century.

I sure hope he is right. We definitely need less spiders.
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on December 23, 2013
I bought the Starfish and Spider book and thought it was superficial and just plain wrong in many cases. A lot of their examples were based on the infrastructure of the internet.

One "starfish" model was the kids who stole music via Napster, and the fact that when Napster shut down other "sharing" platforms popped up in its place. Well, I guess stealing is a "starfish" model and does continue to pop up without a head, but even the specific music-stealing activity the author describes couldn't happen without the sharing software.

Another story was about Craig's List and how people began connecting one-on-one, to the detriment of the classified ad industry. That's true, but actually Craig's List is a "spider." Craig built it and he owns it. The fact that he is not greedy is great, but it doesn't negate the fact that there is leadership and structure to the enterprise.

Another story was about how French businessmen naively asked some early Internet entrepeneur, "Who is the President of the Internet?" Ha Ha. Stupid French people.

But actually the French understood better than the authors. Someone built the Internet and someone manages the network. Wikipedia explains, "The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was one of the world's first operational packet switching networks, the first network to implement TCP/IP, and the progenitor of what was to become the global Internet. The network was initially funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA) within the U.S. Department of Defense for use by its projects at universities and research laboratories in the US." Later they spun it off to IICAN, who sets the rules and assigns the domain names, etc.

So there IS a President of the Internet, but behind the scenes. Without ARPA and IICAN, there is no internet.

It is interesting to think through how movements form and grow, but this book is primarily talking about the users of a system and doesn't acknowledge the importance of leadership and infrastructure to sustain ongoing organizations.
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