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

book cover for The Starfish and the Spider

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

By Ori Brafman, MBA ’01, Rod A. Beckstrom, MBA ’87
Portfolio/Penguin Group, New York, 2006

If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; if you cut off a starfish’s leg it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.

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?

Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom have discovered some unexpected answers, gripping stories, and a tapestry of unlikely connections. The Starfish and the Spider explores what happens when starfish take on spiders and reveals how established companies and institutions, from IBM to Intuit to the U.S. government, are also learning how to incorporate starfish principles to achieve success.

Selected Editorial Reviews
Brafman and Beckstrom, a pair of Stanford M.B.A.s who have applied their business know-how to promoting peace and economic development through decentralized networking, offer a breezy and entertaining look at how decentralization is changing many organizations. The title metaphor conveys the core concept: though a starfish and a spider have similar shapes, their internal structure is dramatically different—a decapitated spider inevitably dies, while a starfish can regenerate itself from a single amputated leg. In the same way, decentralized organizations, like the Internet, the Apache Indian tribe and Alcoholics Anonymous, are made up of many smaller units capable of operating, growing and multiplying independently of each other, making it very difficult for a rival force to control or defeat them. Despite familiar examples—eBay, Napster and the Toyota assembly line, for example—there are fresh insights, such as the authors' three techniques for combating a decentralized competitor (drive change in your competitors' ideology, force them to become centralized or decentralize yourself). The authors also analyze one of today's most worrisome "starfish" organizations—al-Qaeda—though that group undermines the authors' point that the power of leaderless groups helps to demonstrate the essential goodness and trustworthiness of human beings.
Publishers Weekly
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