Book: The Starfish and the Spider

The Starfish and the Spider by Orj Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom

This book was published back in 2006, but I only discovered it recently. The main topic is a discussion of decentralized (starfish) organizations versus centralized (spider) organizations. While I have been living with decentralized organizations for a long time, it is nice to see the differences, and the usefulness, of decentralized organizations laid out in such a clear fashion with some great examples.

From Napster to AA tto British Anti-Slavery groups to Al Qaeda, decentralized organizations take many forms, but they all share some common linkages. Firstly, it is about a catalyst or a champion that spearheads the effort while not being a centralized, command and control, leader in the usual sense. They start the ball rolling. They develop local groups to take action in their local areas. They provide support, cheerleading, persuasion and inspiration more that they provide office space, money or workers.

In my own experience with CareerCamp International, I have had direct experience in being part of a decentralized organization. Each camp is locally organized and managed. I help where I can, usually by sharing my passion for CareerCamp and unconferences in general. People new to the concept of an unconference need to be shown a vision for what can be and I paint them a picture that, hopefully, encourages them to join us in helping people build their careers. The Starfish and the Spider led me to new thoughts about what I am trying to accomplish and how I am going about it. It clarified some of my personal experiences and gave me a few ways to make my own work more useful and productive. It even gave me some warning signs to be aware of when developing a decentralized group and I can see where I had been ignoring those in some ways.

If you want to better understand the power involved in decentralized organizations and how they compete directly (and well) with more centralized groups, take some time with The Starfish and the Spider. You probably instinctively understand many of the issues involved, but having them laid out in such a clear fashion can help you develop a much deeper understanding.


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