The Starfish and the Spider – Quotes, Principles, Distinctions

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

by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom

Key Quotes

  • “This book is about what happens when there’s no one in charge. It’s about what happens when there is 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 absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization once considered a weakness, has become a major asset.”
  • “In a decentralized organization, there’s no clear leader, no hierarchy, and no headquarters. If and when a leader does emerge, that person has little power over others. The best that person can do is to lead by example.”
  • “Starfish have an incredible quality to them. If you cut an arm off, most of these animals grow a new arm. And with some varieties, such as the Linckia, or long-armed starfish, the animal can replicate this magical regeneration because in reality, a starfish is a neural network – basically a network of cells. Instead of having a head like a spider, the starfish functions as a decentralized network…”

Major Principles of Decentralization

  1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized.
  2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for a spiders.
  3. An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system.
  4. Open systems can easily mutate.
  5. The decentralized system sneaks up on you.
  6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease.

Distinguishing Between a Starfish and a Spider Organization

  • Is there a person in charge?
  • Are there headquarters?
  • If you thump it on the head, will it die?
  • Is there a clear division of roles?
  • If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed?
  • Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed?
  • Is the organization flexible or rigid?
  • Can you count the employees or participants?
  • Are working groups funded by the organization, or are they self-funding?
  • Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries?

Implications for Collegiate Ministry

The implications for collegiate ministry are many; too many to elaborate on presently. I will be delving into these in some depth in the future. Every step of the way there is something to be learned, considered, and implemented from this book for those of us who serve on one or more campuses. There is an invitation implied in this concept; there is also a great challenge involved. The invitation is to spread whatever it is you do (for us, the gospel) more effectively and more widely. The challenge looks squarely at our most tightly held systems and the assumptions behind them offering another path.

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