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The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,601 Ratings  ·  282 Reviews
If you cut off a spider’s leg, it’s crippled; if you cut off its head, it dies. But if you cut off a starfish’s leg it grows a new one, and the old leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. What’s the hidden power behind the success of Wikipedia, craigslist, and Skype? What do eBay and General Electric have in common with the abolitionist and women’s rights movements? Wh ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 5th 2006 by Portfolio Hardcover (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
Organizations that are not centralized are powerful and almost impossible to kill. This is the message of this book. I was hoping it would be more prescriptive, as I could benefit from learning how to adopt principles of a starfish in circumstances at work, with two librarians down in my group. How can we function better so that when someone leaves, or is on leave, we can fill in those gaps more fluidly?

The book is really more of a description of leaderless organizations, from the side of the st
Great! I wish Brafman had written this, and I could have read it, decades ago.

Brafman's thesis is that a centrally controlled organization is slowed by that central control, and can be paralyzed if something interferes with that system, while organizations that share a philosophy and goal, a knowledge base, and a methodology, but are not centrally managed, can't be stopped by a single point of failure. For one example, compare the dismal performance of centrally controlled industries and economi
Sarah Hanawald
Apr 12, 2009 Sarah Hanawald rated it it was ok
I read this book a while ago, but a recent conversation caused me to revisit it. It's a pretty interesting read, but doesn't, to my mind, provide any major insights. It is true that de-centralized organizations are really hard to topple. The authors make this point again and again, coming back repeatedly to Napster and online file sharing as their prime example.

The thing is, that all the successful organizations they profile started with pretty low stakes. How many kids came up with ideas for so
Jun 22, 2009 Nicholas rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 09, 2012 Carla rated it really liked it
A great contributor to my learning about distributed networks. Using existing platforms to build from was my biggest ah-ha. I didn't know I had so much to thank the Quakers for. I'm also pretty excited about reading the essays of the abolitionists. I can see platforms everywhere now and it's helping me think about how I can further decentralize a few new business models I'm working on.

An unexpected bonus/drag: this book was also a lens into US foreign affairs. When I read the chapter on centrali
Beau Raines
May 08, 2015 Beau Raines rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that makes me feel both wowed and sad at the same time. This book gives great examples of the power of decentralization and letting the team or organization run itself. At the same time, it points out the weaknesses of very centralized organizations. Through these I see characteristics of teams I've been on and the way I want to work and the shortcomings of teams I'm on and been on and realize why they struggled.

The authors demonstrate the difference between starfish
Feb 03, 2011 Robert rated it really liked it
The book isn't profound, but it's an easy read that provides an effective contrast between hierarchical management and empowering human initiative and creativity.
Dec 18, 2011 Al-x4o rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Определено най-вдъхновяващата книга, която някога съм чел!

Тя е радикална, вдъхновяваща и обсебваща. И е от онези книги, които могат да накарат всеки да промени навиците си и дори бизнеса си, рискувайки всичо в името на една привидно щура идея. Мога съвсем честно да си призная, че тя промени и мен. Вече съм само редактор „Новини“ в сайта, който създадох и след това развих заедно с няколко души, но това ме прави още по-щастлив!

Двамата автори имат много прост
Lorna Pryor
Jul 03, 2013 Lorna Pryor rated it it was amazing
This book has the clue to the answer as to what we are to do about the corporations and the government ruining our country. It is OUR country. All of ours. Armed revolution is not the answer. It never works in the long run. We must do something that does work. Read this book and start thinking how it applies to everyday life. Remember geographic locations are real and people are real. Governments and "nations" are not real. They are made up, just like high school football teams, clouds, or Capta ...more
Ian Fleischmann
Jan 22, 2015 Ian Fleischmann rated it it was ok
This is probably on your boss's reading list right next to his/her Malcolm Gladwell collection.
I found Brafman's phrasing to be boring. His writing style just doesn't do it for me. Content-wise, I find it hard to accept the unstoppable power of leaderless organizations as a premise. Resilience perhaps, but not power. It also doesn't help that his flagship example (Napster) has been sued into submission and sold to Rhapsody a 'spider-like' organizations.
Brafman would do better to present more exp
Joshua Bowen
Oct 08, 2015 Joshua Bowen rated it liked it
I re-read this book to see if I could glean ideas and principles that I could apply to commanding my company. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything really applicable. Further, it was quite a repetitive book and seemed to drag on a lot.
However, after reading the book, I read The Chaos Imperative (same author) and it brought up a great point about Starfish/Spider. It addressed utilizing the principles in this book to analyze our enemy. The military operates in a complex world against a hybrid thre
Sep 01, 2009 Mary rated it really liked it
Great, great book. You find it under "Management and Leadership" at B&N but I promise that it doesn't read like a text book. Very interesting and a very easy read; explains how and why leaderless organizations (starfish) thrive and how structured, top down organizations (spiders) run into trouble and sometimes fail. Not saying that all structured organizations/companies with a CEO fail but it shows how organizations/institutions like AA, Wikipedia, online music sharing, Craigslist, terrorist ...more
Jimmy Ele
Jan 10, 2016 Jimmy Ele rated it liked it
This was an interesting read. The parts I liked the best were about the spiritual leaders of the Apache and how they survived against their various enemies. Other than that the book goes into other organizations such as Wikipedia and how they work without a leader. It then goes into the pros and cons of both centralized organizations and decentralized organizations. I enjoyed the book for the new information that I was able to learn about. The concept of the starfish for decentralized organizati ...more
Apr 01, 2010 Jonathan rated it it was ok
If you liked this book, you will also like The Cluetrain Manifesto. While I enjoyed the book, it felt to lack the weight of a definitive work. It seemed like they had a theory and found a few examples that would support it rather than deeply studying a phenomenon and finding the intrinsic nature of it. I also think that the authors allowed their politics (not a capital P) slip into the book just enough to reinforce that feeling that they had an agenda rather than reporting on a world-changing ag ...more
Jan 30, 2016 Robert rated it really liked it
I enjoyed listening to the CD version of The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, based on the same 2006 book written by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. The authors use a biological example to compare and contrast centralized and decentralized organizations: “Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.” Unlike spiders that die when their head is cut off, starfish, having ...more
Jan 22, 2016 Frank rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
As the Internet has collapsed the relative costs for forming and maintaining large groups, it has paved the way for a new breed of distributed, decentralized organizations. The Starfish and the Spider is all about emerging, leaderless organizations in comparison to traditional, centralized organizations.

The authors use the great title metaphor to setup and explain the two types of organizations. Here, centralized organizations are like spiders, with a head and command and control system, and dis
Nov 10, 2015 Marfita rated it it was ok
Shelves: bidness
This was the audiobook version. Reader was fine - it's just non-fiction so even Dick Estell couldn't ruin it.

I picked this up when another book by the author which was recommended to me (by Goodreads) was not available. The starfish/spider metaphor is a bit overdone, but we get the picture. A starfish organization is not particularly "organized" in the sense we think. It's more organic. Most organizations are spiders - they have a head and are run from the top down. Cut off the head and you have
Mar 05, 2015 Erwin rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I'm not opposed to all "lets feel good about business" books, in fact I thought Start with Why was great, and the biographies of great entrepreneurs (Walton, Kroc, Schultz, Welch, Turner or even Branson) are fascinating. Unfortunately, this was more of a Gladwellesque "chicken soup for the businessman's soul" counter-factual list of anecdotes about a very basic idea.

In the words of another reviewer:

This is a good book to recommend to people who are not familiar with the idea of "community and
Jessica Lu
Dec 20, 2014 Jessica Lu rated it liked it
Although this book is not thick, it was not a flowing read as it repeats a lot.

However, this book published in year 2006 does meaningfully explain well the unstoppable trend in management practice – from spider structure to starfish structure.

The book takes us through stories of Apache, P2P, Napster, AA, Craigslist, Yahoo, Skype, Google, Wikipedia, Burning Man, eBay, GE and Toyota, etc. and helps us to see their successes in relating to the shift in different dimensions: power structure, politi
Eric Schreiber
Oct 05, 2014 Eric Schreiber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Easy read. Good flow. Great examples. Intriguing. I come out energized to try to leverage the ideas.

My largest complaint is that I work for a spider company (explicitly mentioned in the book), and while there are some proposed ways to include starfish-like behaviors in spider companies (decentralize the customer experience, decentralize internal parts), I find myself in a mid-management position not clear about what I can do. I would have loved more ideas for what employees can do that don't req
Sep 21, 2014 Lee rated it liked it

The book identifies a set of people the authors call "catalysts", who tend to be skilled at creating decentralized organizations. They typically have...

Genuine interest in others.
Numerous loose connections, rather than a small number of close connections.
Skill at social mapping.
Desire to help everyone they meet.
The ability to help people help themselves by listening and understanding, rather than giving advice ("Meet people where they are").
Emotional Intelligence.
Trust in others
Jan 22, 2016 Shawn rated it really liked it
From a military and national security perspective, authors Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom’s business and civilian examples of “starfish” organizations were appreciated. The examples provided a different, non-military, point of view of the disruptive power of decentralized groups working with only a common vision and ideology to bond them. The military examples the authors provided were pretty basic and well known though, with Al Qaeda being the primary one. The real value of this book for the mi ...more
Feb 03, 2008 Nick rated it really liked it
This is a good book to recommend to people who are not familiar with the idea of "community and conversation over command and control." If you are at all familiar with this concept, why/how open source communities work, and why the war on terror or the war on drugs are destine to fail, you could probably write this book yourself. Nonetheless, a good collection of anecdotes.
Santosh Mathew
This is indeed a very unconventional book that explores decentralised organisations. The authors provide very clear and easy to understand examples of how centralised and de-centralised organisations work. He uses the example of starfish and the spider. A spider is a centralised creature with a brain and everything. A starfish has no central controls... If a starfish is cut, it will multiply!
Exceptional examples from Apaches, AA, Napster, eMule etc. He clearly shows how these organisations have
Derek Neighbors
Nov 23, 2011 Derek Neighbors rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book outlines the future of the world of work. Leaderless organizations have a resiliency to perserve. More importantly they are primed to handle continual increasing complexity and change. They are writing the rules of how we will evolve. If you are a leader or trying to make a difference this is a must read book.
Dec 06, 2012 Daniel rated it liked it
Some good concepts in the book, but I think it misses the weakness of Starfish use the analogy the author uses, although a Starfish may survive for a long time, it is not dominent in the seas...Sharks still rule the ocean. If your strength is to be a large organization, you can stick to those strengths.
Daniel Cukier
Jul 24, 2013 Daniel Cukier rated it it was amazing
"This book is about what happens when there is 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. "
Jan 26, 2008 Jerry rated it really liked it
Shelves: this-moment
This book is a quick read, but it does a great job of giving examples of leaderless organizations and describing why this is a competitive advantage.

Accessible stories of a counter-intuitive shift that's going on right now.
Patrik Hallberg
Jan 14, 2014 Patrik Hallberg rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
Have you ever wondered what Geronimo and Mary Poppins have in common?

Last week I read an article on the fact that Zappos (a company I love, mainly due to the insight I got into this company and its culture via the book - Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose)is moving to a flat structure without managers based on a model called Holacracy created by Brian Robertson (read more about it on then remembered that I borrowed a book about leaderless organi
Nathan Smith
Nov 03, 2008 Nathan Smith rated it it was amazing
This is a great book that would go well with "Good to Great." It allows us to see the obvious nature of how organizations form and why they form and how that effects what they organize themselves to do.
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Share This Book

“Nevins explained that the traits of a decentralized society-flexibility, shared power, ambiguity-made the Apaches immune to attacks that would have destroyed a centralized society.” 1 likes
“Let's see what happens when a coercive system takes on an open system. The Spanish (a centralized body) had been used to seeing everything through the lens of a centralized, or coercive, system. When they encountered the Apaches, they went with the tactics that had worked in the past (the take the gold and kill the leader strategy) and started eliminating Nant'ans. But as soon as they killed one off, a new Nant'an would emerge. The strategy failed because no one person was essential to the overall well-being of Apache society.” 1 likes
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