The Starfish and the Spider: 8 Principles of Decentralization

“The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom is still one of my favorite books on organizational theory and complex systems.

The starfish represents decentralized “organizations” while the spider describes hierarchical command-and-control structures. In reviewing the book, the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum wrote that “[it has] not only stimulated my thinking, but as a result of the reading, I proposed ten action points for my own organization.”

The Starfish and the Spider is about “what happens when there’s no one in charge. It’s about what happens when there’s no hierarchy. You’d think there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many arenas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.” The book draws on a series of case studies that illustrate 8 Principles of Decentralization. I include these below with short examples.

1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized:

Not only did the Apaches survive the Spanish attacks, but amazingly, the attacks served to make them even stronger. When the Spanish attacked them, the Apaches became even more decentralized and even more difficult to conquer (21).

2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders:

When we first encounter a collection of file-swapping teenagers, or a native tribe in the Arizona desert, their power is easy to overlook. We need an entirely different set of tools in order to understand them (36).

via The Starfish and the Spider: 8 Principles of Decentralization.

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