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

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Penguin, 2006 - Business & Economics - 230 pages
15 Reviews
Understanding the amazing force that links some of today s most successful companies

If you cut off a spider s leg, it s crippled; if you cut off its head, it dies. But if you cut off a starfish s leg it grows a new one, and the old leg can grow into an entirely new starfish.

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? How could winning a Supreme Court case be the biggest mistake MGM could have made?

After five years of ground-breaking research, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom share 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. The book explores:
* How the Apaches fended off 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 untold millions 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. BACKCOVER: Advance praise for The Starfish and the Spider
The Starfish and the Spider is a compelling and important book.
Pierre Omidyar, CEO, Omidyar Network and Founder and Chairman, eBay Inc.

The Starfish and the Spider, like Blink, The Tipping Point, and The Wisdom of Crowds before it, showed me a provocative new way to look at the world and at business. It's also fun to read!
Robin Wolaner, founder, Parenting Magazine and author, Naked in the Boardroom

A fantastic read. Constantly weaving stories and connections. You'll never see the world the same way again.
Nicholas J. Nicholas Jr., former Co-CEO, Time Warner

A must-read. Starfish are changing the face of business and society. This page-turner is provocative and compelling.

David Martin, CEO, Young Presidents' Organization
The Starfish and the Spider provides a powerful prism for understanding the patterns and potential of self-organizing systems.
Steve Jurvetson, Partner, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
The Starfish and the Spider lifts the lid on a massive revolution in the making, a revolution certain to reshape every organization on the planet from bridge clubs to global governments. Brafman and Beckstrom elegantly describe what is afoot and offer a wealth of insights that will be invaluable to anyone starting something new or rescuing something old amidst this vast shift.
Paul Saffo, Director, Institute for the Future

The Starfish and the Spider is great reading. [It has] not only stimulated my thinking, but as a result of the reading, I proposed ten action points for my own organization."
Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum


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Decentralized organizations are extraordinary, and a lot more common than I would have expected. Even though this book is written from a corporate perspective, it can be applied to other contexts. This is a very valuable, and inspiring piece of literature.

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Not only a good book, but one of the best books I have ever read. I was introduced to this book while attending class at Special Forces Air Force School, FL. The school house commander (in charge) made this required reading for all instructors. I thought if it was that important to him I should take a look. After reading this book I could not get it into my friend's hands fast enough.
The book is simple to read and is short enough to read in a few hours. The author does a good job laying out his idea then giving example after example to build his argument. The primary idea is that ideology cannot be stopped if people stay out of the way. Some time this happens naturally and other time forced by external pressure. The reader is challenged to look at resolving issues with culture in a new and dynamic way.
Everyone should read this book.



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About the author (2006)

Ori Brafman is a lifelong entrepreneur.  His adventures include a wireless startup, health food advocacy group, and a network of CEOs working on public benefit projects, which he co-founded with Rod Beckstrom.   He holds a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies from UC Berkeley and an MBA from Stanford Business School.

Rod A. Beckstrom is a serial start-up entrepreneur. He founded CATS Software Inc, which he took public and has helped start and build other high tech firms.  Rod has served on various private and nonprofit boards.  He holds a BA and MBA from Stanford and is a Fulbright Scholar.

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