06 December 2008

The Starfish and The Spider

If you cut off a spider's head, it dies; if you cut off a starfish's leg it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.

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? After five years of ground-breaking research Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom have discovered some unexpected answers, gripping stories, and a tapestry of unlikely connections. The Starfish and the Spider argues that organizations fall into two categories: traditional 'spiders,' which have a rigid hierarchy and top-down leadership, and revolutionary 'starfish,' which rely on the power of peer relationships.

The Starfish and the Spider explores what happens when starfish take on spiders (such as the music industry vs. Napster, Kazaa, and the P2P services that followed). It reveals how established companies and institutions, from IBM to Intuit to the US government, are also learning how to incorporate starfish principles to achieve success. And it will teach you:

  • How the Apaches evaded the powerful Spanish army for 200 years
  • The power of a simple circle
  • The importance of catalysts who have an uncanny ability to bring people together.
  • How the Internet has become a breeding ground for leaderless organizations
  • How Alcoholics Anonymous has reached TK million members with only a shared ideology and without a leader

The Starfish and the Spider is the rare book that will change how you understand the world around you. You'll never see things the same way again.

The Title

Our initial working title was "The Decentralized Revolution." We still love this title but it was just too abstract, not to mention a mouthful. "The Starfish and The Spider" on the other hand, is concrete, has meaning, and is easy to remember. The concept of using the starfish as an image for representing decentralized networks came from brilliant environmental scientist, Dr. Jane Lubchenco. We were having dinner with her and told her about our work and ideas. She encouraged us to study the starfish which has a completely decentralized nervous system.

The Starfish is a perfect metaphor for decentralized organizations. The spider, in turn, sort of looks like a starfish--it has a bunch of legs coming out from a centralized body. But the spider has a head--it's centralized. The contrast between these two animals is the basis for the title.

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