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
Featured Pay Per View Films
Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective (2015)
92 min
Within Reach (2013)
87 min
The Economics of Happiness (2011)
65 min
Trending Today
Born Sexy Yesterday: Another Gendered Hollywood Movie Trope That Needs to Die
18 min5,948 views today ·
Why Does Our Culture Focus So Much on Childbirth and So Little on The Time After?
Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett5,223 views today ·
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min966 views today ·
Through Abdullah's Eyes (2017)
42 min894 views today ·
This Facebook Comment About the UK Election Is Going Viral
Chris Renwick609 views today ·
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley488 views today ·
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad463 views today ·
Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies
17 min386 views today ·
War by Media and the Triumph of Propaganda
John Pilger365 views today ·
Load More


Love Films For Action? 

Films For Action empowers citizens with the information and perspectives essential to creating a more just, sustainable, and democratic society.

If you feel like you get some value from this library, consider making a donation today. Every little bit helps.

Join us on Facebook
The Starfish and the Spider: 8 Principles of Decentralization