The Starfish and the Spider : The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, Paperback Book

The Starfish and the Spider : The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (6 ratings)




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An accessible book that provides a good layman's vocabulary for discussing the strengths and weaknesses of both centralized and decentralized organizations. The authors do a good job, also, in identifying the components that make up a successful decentralized, "starfish" organization. Numerous examples in each chapter help to make the ideas concrete and memorable.

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A thoroughly enjoyable introduction to decentralized networks versus traditional command-and-control organizations.

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My name is David Marquet, from Practicum, Inc and we help our customers achieve organizational success by getting each person to act as a leader.Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom’s book, The Starfish and the Spider, is a compelling description of the strengths and weaknesses of decentralized (the starfish) and centralized (the spider) organizations. Many of the examples of decentralized organizations are recent, such as Craigslist, Napster, Wikipedia, and Skype. They also contrast the decentralized Apaches against the centralized Spanish Army, illustrating that decentralized organizations are not new.The authors explain that we are in the midst of a revolution where the absence of the traditional leadership model results in organizations without hierarchy. Through their examples, they demonstrate that while you’d think chaos and disorder would be the result, these groups can be tremendously effective.The authors find biological evidence that supports this result. MIT scientist Jerry Lettvin conducted an experiment which attempted to locate the unique brain cell that housed a specific memory. He couldn’t find it. Turns out, the brain itself is a decentralized organ. This means that there is no one cell that houses the memory of grandmother. That would be a fragile architecture as injury to that cell would wipe her out of our memory. Instead, the memory of grandmother lives in a rich pattern of cells. This is a more resilient architecture.We like their thesis and telling of the story. It is consistent with our findings. We frequently get asked, if the leader does not lead the people, who does? Our answer is that people lead themselves.In only one area would I describe these decentralized organizations differently than Brafman and Beckstrom and this is a quibble. They claim these are organizations without leaders. We describe these as organizations where everyone is a leader. In any event, they are organizations where there are no followers!

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A really interesting read on organizational structure and leadership. Traditional organizations are often hierarchical and authoritarian. Like spiders, if you cut off a leg (or department), it's weakened; if you cut off it's head (leader/board), and it's dead. Other organizations, however, resemble a starfish, which reproduce a new leg when one is severed (and in fact the severed leg becomes a new starfish!). These organizations are decentralized. Rather than organized around structural authority, starfish organizations share a common ideology and a common DNA (core values) which reproduce along relational networks and is often the work of a catalyst - a movement maker who gets things started, and then gets out of the way, rejecting any authoritarian role. A lot of interesting examples here. If you're interested in leadership and organizational life, it's a fascinating read. My grade: A

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This is 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).

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