The thesis for the book is neatly summarized in the title: there are two kinds of organizations, starfish organizations and spider organizations. Starfish are interesting beasts because if you cut off a leg, the starfish will grow a new one – and perhaps the amputated limb might grow a new starfish! Two for the price of one! On the other hand, a spider is not nearly so resilient. If you cut off a spider’s leg, he gets to sign up for handicapped parking. Cut off the spider’s head and well… parking will be the least of his worries. Spiders, like many of the rest of us, don’t typically regrow new bits when they get chopped off.
Fundamentally, this is a comparison of the hierarchical organization (the spider) with the heterarchical, or decentralized organization (the starfish). As you can tell right from the title, Brafman and Beckstrom favor the starfish. They do a terrific job of supporting their hypothesis with some wonderful examples. My personal favorite is the example of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA was apparently started in the 1930’s by a guy with a drinking problem. He sought out the support of a circle of friends and they came up with the 12 step program we are all so familiar with today. The organization grew of course, eventually becoming a nation wide, if not world wide phenomena. However, to this day there is no leader. There is no president of AA. AA has no central headquarters. It is a completely decentralized organization that is run be those who are passionate about making it work. AA is a starfish organization.
The book is a very easy read. The language is accessible and the examples are compelling. It’s hard not to read this book and run out and try creating your own starfish organization right away. Perhaps we should.
Check the book out over at Amazon
Starfish and Spider website