It is rare that I find a short, well-written, interesting, and informative book that I can read in one sitting. Thanks to authors Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom for achieving that goal with The Starfish and the Spider. Brafman and Beckstrom make a strong case for the positive aspects of leaderless organizations (the Starfish) as opposed to more traditional top down entities (the Spiders). In a nutshell when you lop the “head” off of a spider it is dead, however when you try the same with a starfish you find there is no head and if you cut it up you end up with more starfish. Starfish are decentralized.
The Internet is a Starfish. No one entity controls it or can stop it…entirely. There are lots of examples of how traditional measures are attempted to stem the actions of Starfish,
“The harder you fight a decentralized opponent, the stronger it gets. The labels [music] had the power to annihilate Napster and destroy Kazaa. But waging that battle was possibly the worst strategic move the labels made. It started a chain reaction that now threatens the entire industry. As the labels go after the Napsters and Kazaas of the world, little programs like eMule start popping up.” [Note: eMule is a peer to peer (“P2P”) file sharing application that seems to have been developed by ghosts. The labels have no one to sue]
I found it interesting that some U.S. military leaders have discussed the book with the authors. Terrorist organizations are described as starfish and the best organization to fight a starfish is with another starfish. In reading this, our preoccupation with capturing bin Laden to lop the head off of the organization when individual cells were independent.
There was one point in the book where the authors suggested that trade unions were starfish. When you look at trade unions, they, in my mind, epitomize spiders. The authors did not really get into politics, but I immediately thought of the TEA Party movement (the original publication was before the TEA Party Movement). The problems both Democrats and Republicans have with the TEA Party is that there is no titular head. There are prominent folks who have the same message, but they are not CEOs or presidents.
The Starfish and the Spider is a must-read book for anyone in business. Many sucessful organizations combine aspects of both starfish and spiders.