Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Starfish and the Spider

I read a fascinating book this weekend (after hearing the author speak live) called "The Starfish and the Spider - The Unstoppable power of Leaderless organizations" by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

The thesis of the book is that organizations that are organized in autonomous cells are unstoppable and require different competitive techniques than those that are centralized with a leader. The analogy he uses is the starfish. If you cut a starfish in half, you get 2 starfish. If you cut it into 5 parts, you get 5 starfish. Unlike a traditional organization (the spider) where you cut off the head and you kill the organization.

Starfish - decentralized, get stronger if broken up, decentralize more when attacked, smaller win (diseconomy of scale), flat is better than heirarchy.

Spiders - centralized, die if the head is cut off, centralize more when attacked.

The books cites many examples of leaderless organizations (or ones that have some characterisitcs of one) including Al Qaida, Napster, Kazaa etc, the Apaches during Spanish times, Craiglist etc.

Good book, interesting read. Challenging thoughts.


At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which category does Synnex fall in? Is it a "Starfish" Or "Spider” organization?

At 8:53 AM, Blogger steven edward streight said...

Also the blogosphere is a self-organizing entity with no central leader, no command and control center.

The net neutrality debate focuses on the hiearchization of the web.

Centalizing can be appropriate when various units or branches of a company are at cross-purposes, or a branch function can be better accomplished by the home office headquarters.

I know of a company that is centralizing what the outlying branches were slow, lazy, incompetent, disorganized in.

Leadership must come from every employee. We empower them so that innovation rises from the "bottom" and permeates the organization.

Looking to CEOs, pastors, and other authority figures for vision and purpose is 1950s. Today, each customer, employee, and supplier can have self-generated zeal for the company, and act as evangelists and marketers.

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is some reasearch from an anthropologist named Robin Dunbar that lends credence and support to the Startfish concept.

He suggests that there is a limit to the number of social relationships that primates can effectively maintain. In humans, this limit is around 150. In groups larger than that, complex sets of rules suddenly become neccessary in order to facilitate communication and cooperation within the group which drastically reduces it's efficiency.

In groups of 150 or less, face-to-face interaction and direct communication within the team can take the place of all the beauracracy.

So, autonomous, small groups are much more effective simply because we are wired to work that way...

It's pretty interesting stuff - a summary can be found here:

Steven Gorman.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Jim Estill said...

SYNNEX would be a spider organization. Does not mean there are not some starfish qualities. 99% of the companies you know would be spider.


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