The Starfish and the Spider: 8 Principles of Decentralization
The Starfish and the Spider: 8 Principles of Decentralization
By Patrick Meier / irevolution.net
Nov 15, 2011

“The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom is still one of my favorite books on organizational theory and complex systems.

The starfish represents decentralized “organizations” while the spider describes hierarchical command-and-control structures. In reviewing the book, the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum wrote that “[it has] not only stimulated my thinking, but as a result of the reading, I proposed ten action points for my own organization.”

The Starfish and the Spider is about “what happens when there’s no one in charge. It’s about what happens when there’s no hierarchy. You’d think there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many arenas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.” The book draws on a series of case studies that illustrate 8 Principles of Decentralization. I include these below with short examples.

1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized:

Not only did the Apaches survive the Spanish attacks, but amazingly, the attacks served to make them even stronger. When the Spanish attacked them, the Apaches became even more decentralized and even more difficult to conquer (21).

2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders:

When we first encounter a collection of file-swapping teenagers, or a native tribe in the Arizona desert, their power is easy to overlook. We need an entirely different set of tools in order to understand them (36).

3. An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system:

It’s not that open systems necessarily make better systems. It’s just that they’re able to respond more quickly because each member has access to knowledge and the ability to make direct use of it (39).

4. Open systems can easily mutate:

The Apaches did not—and could not—plan ahead about how to deal with the European invaders, but once the Spanish showed up, Apache society easily mutated. They went from living in villages to being nomads. The decision didn’t have to be approved by headquarters (40).

5. The decentralized organization sneaks up on you:

For a century, the recording industry was owned by a handful of corporations, and then a bunch of hackers altered the face of the industry. We’ll see this pattern repeat itself across different sectors and in different industries (41).

6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease:

The combined revenues of the remaining four [music industry giants] were 25 percent less than they had been in 2001. Where did the revenues go? Not to P2P players [Napster]. The revenue disappeared (50).

7. Put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute:

People take great care in making the articles objective, accurate, and easy to understand [on Wikipedia] (74).

8. When attacked, centralized organizations tend to become even more centralized:

As we saw in the case of the Apaches and the P2P players, when attacked, decentralized organizations become even more decentralized (139).

Patrick Phillipe Meier

4.0 ·
1
Trending Today
"The Myth of Time" - Martin Luther King Jr.
3 min · 7,787 views today · Excerpt from MLK Jr.'s last sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution". Delivered at The National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 (4 days prior to his...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 5,055 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Real Underground Kingdom That Has Existed for Millions of Years Went Unnoticed, Until Recently...
Kid Krunk · 4,731 views today · 28 Stunning Photos Of The World’s Largest Cave
Surviving Capitalist Depression
Michael Emero · 3,889 views today · We live in a toxic society filled with toxic people. Even the ones with the best hearts- including ourselves- have been raised in ignorance, with disinformation. Our examples...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,754 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 2,181 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 1,950 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Thich Nhat Hanh: How We Can Learn to Love Our Enemies
5 min · 1,687 views today · This is a short excerpt from Peacemaking. I often think about this story when I think about the kind of activism I would like to bring into this world. I want to help build a...
Hans Rosling Brilliantly Explains Complexity of Population and Resource Issues Using Simple Tools
3 min · 1,585 views today · Let me show you the world, says Swedish academic Han Rosling as he demonstrates the dynamics of population growth, child mortality and carbon dioxide emissions. The challenge...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,534 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
True Justice Should Have Compassion in It
Thich Nhat Hanh · 1,390 views today · I believe that true justice should have compassion in it. When someone does something harmful, destructive, the destruction is done not only to the person who is the victim...
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
3 min · 1,355 views today · In his new film, director Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished - a radical narration about race in America, using the writer's original words. He draws...
The Charter For Compassion
2 min · 1,252 views today · The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 753 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
The Price of Certainty
7 min · 724 views today · It’s alarming to see how polarized politics have become in the United States. The wider the gulf grows, the more people seem to be certain that the other side is wrong...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 619 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Mark Greene · 421 views today · Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
Meet the Earthship
7 min · 374 views today · Outside of Taos, New Mexico, you'll find a community of people living in off-grid homes made of garbage. The homes are called Earthships and were invented by Michael Reynolds...
The Importance of Empathy
3 min · 352 views today · With an increasingly polarized and divided world, we need empathy more than ever before. Too often we are talking at each other, unable to listen and jumping to entirely wrong...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 348 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
The Starfish and the Spider: 8 Principles of Decentralization