“The Starfish and the Spider” Insights

I have really enjoyed reading The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. In many ways, I feel like I found a book to explain how we operate at Mosaic – a decentralized and catalytic organism. My dissertation is about organizing innovation and raising up catalytic leaders (also see “Avoiding Burnout“).

The subtitle is misleading though.  Actually the organizations the authors describe aren’t leaderless but full of leaders!

Here are some insights:

“The blows to the recording industry, the attacks of 9/11, and the success of online classifieds and a collaborative encyclopedia were all driven by the same hidden force. The harder you fight this force, the stronger it gets. The more chaotic it seems, the more resilient it is. The more you try to control it, the more unpredictable it becomes. Decentralization… the absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization, once considered a weakness, has become a major asset. Seemingly chaotic groups have challenged and defeated established institutions. The rules of the game have changed.”

Centralized (coercive system): clear leader in charge, specific place decisions are made, rules need to be set and enforced or the system collapses

Decentralized (open system): no clear leader, no hierarchy, no headquarters, to influence people is to lead by example, everyone entitled to make her own decisions, rules and norms but not enforced by any one person, power distributed among all the people and across geographic regions

“A leader is best when people barely know that he exists; not so good when people obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him.” – Lao-tzu

If you would like the full notes and to sign up for my monthly email newsletter, send an email to me at eric@mosaic.org with “Starfish” in the subject heading.

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