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Sam Davidson's blog

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I Read a Book: The Starfish and the Spider

I just finished Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom's new book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.

This is a very though-provoking book, but not in an earth-shattering kind of way. The authors show why eBay succeeded when other online auction sites didn't. They explain why people still download music, even when record companies keep suing. They show why the Apache civilization lasted longer than the Aztecs, and why AA had the success that it did. There theories also explain why it won't matter if anyone catches and kills Osama Bin Laden.

In their opinion, leaderless organizations are like starfish. When you chop off a starfish's arm (or is it leg), it grows back. If you chop one in half, you'll eventually get two fully-grown starfish.

On the other hand, spiders don't grow their legs back. And if you chop off it's head, it will die.

Applied to organizations, those with centralized leadership and a top-down structure have a hard time surviving, especially when confronted with things like innovation, major change, or unexpected crisis. On the other hand, the loose-knit organization and changeability of starfish entities allow them to survive.

This theory obviously works well, and while it's hard to find an exception to the rule, it's not perfect. As a caveat, the authors offer what they call a hybrid organization that takes the best of both worlds.

This book is informative and worth your time (which shouldn't take more than an afternoon or two). If you're leading an organization of any size in today's world, managing change is sure to be one of your biggest tasks. This book will offer some suggestions on how best to do that.