Book Review: The Starfish and the Spider

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom has the potential to be the hot business book of the fall.

Full disclosure, I had a great lunch with co-author Ori a few weeks ago and I’m a fan. He sent me an advance copy of the book. It hits bookstores October 5th.

The premise of the book is straightforward: Cut the head off a spider and it dies. Cut off a Starfish’s leg and it grows a new one. Decentralized organizations — Skype, Wikipedia, Cragslist — can endure because they rely on the power of peer relationships.

This thesis won’t strike anyone who’s been swimming in the peer to peer production / blogging / user generated content world as incredibly profound, but Ori and Rod have done a great job at organizing examples, contrasting rigid hierarchal organizations with decentralized ones, and offering ten concluding rules to remember in a "starfish world." They have provided a good framework for talking about these topics.

The absence of value judgments / interpretation is the only part that left me wanting. There are times when I wanted Ori and Rod to express an opinion about the goodness of the starfish model. They start to walk in this direction when discussing file sharing and the music industry, but in the end back away and say maybe labels should focus just on auxiliary revenue streams such as concerts. They also don’t discuss the other side to the Wikipedia revolution, or what Jaron Lanier calls "Digital Maoism: The Hazards of New Online Collectivism."

But those kinds of discussions probably extend beyond the purview of this book. Starfish and the Spider is focused, engagingly written, and makes important points about what kinds of movements will survive in the 21st century. I recommend it. Congrats Ori!

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