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Title: The Starfish and the Spider – The unstoppable power of leaderless organizations.
Authors: Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom
Publishers: Portfolio Hardcover (October 5, 2006)

Personal notes and observations:

Some organizations are like spiders – several legs joined together by a head. If you chop off a leg
it dies, period. Other organizations however are like starfish, if you cut-off a leg, the starfish will
grow another one. In some species, a new starfish will even grow out of the amputated leg.

Principles of decentralization:

• 1st major principle of decentralization: when attacked, a decentralized organization

becomes even more open and decentralized.
• 2nd major principle of decentralization: It is easy to mistake starfish for spiders.
◦ It is easy to overlook the power of a starfish – they look insignificant and weak
◦ AA was formed by decentralizing the recovery from alcoholism away from the
centralized hands of the experts and towards peers.
• 3rd major principle of decentralization: An open system has no central intelligence.
◦ Intelligence is spread throughout the system
◦ Knowledge is at the edges/fringes – where the action is.
• 4th major principle of decentralization: open systems easily change and mutate
◦ AA mutated into gaming and food addiction recovery
• 5th major principle of decentralization: a decentralized organization sneaks up on you.
◦ Decentralized systems can grow very quickly
◦ Explosive expansion
◦ Spiders = slow weaving of web, slowly amassing resources and expanding.
• 6th major principle of decentralization: as industries decentralize, overall profits
• 7th major principle of decentralization: put people into an open system,and they'll
automatically want to contribute.
◦ Their contributions are remarkably accurate
◦ John Wimber: Everybody gets to play.
• 8 major principle of decentralization: when attacked, centralized organizations become
even more centralized.

How to identify a Starfish:

Ask the following questions:-

1. Is there a person in charge?
a. If you see a CEO, you are probably looking at a spider
b. Pyramid structures rely on coercive command and control.
c. Open systems are flat – no pyramid
2. Are there headquarters?
a. All spiders have headquarters
b. Starfish do not depend on a physical location
c. The organization is spread across networks
3. If you thump it on the head, will it die?
a. If you chop-off a spider's head, it will die
b. Starfish probably do not have a head to chop off.
▪ Zech 13:7 / Mark 14:27 – Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be
4. Is there a clear division of roles?
a. A department = a leg of a spider -each “leg” supports the spider
b. Decentralized organization = anyone can do anything
5. If you take-out a unit, is the organization harmed?
a. Decentralized organization = units are autonomous
▪ Cut-off a unit > the unit becomes a new organization
b. Centralized organization = every department is important
▪ Cut-off a spider's leg > mobility is seriously affected.
6. Are knowledge / power concentrated or distributed?
a. Spiders = knowledge/power > concentrated at the top
b. Starfish = knowledge/power > spread throughout
7. Is the organization flexible or rigid?
a. Decentralized organizations = amorphous/fluid
▪ Power/knowledge are distributed so units can respond quickly to
internal/external forces.
8. Can you count employees/participants?
a. Usually impossible with starfish, only possible with spiders
9. Are working groups funded by the organization, or are they self-funded
a. Starfish are almost always self-funded.
10. Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries?
a. Spiders = information processed through HQ.
b. Open systems = communication is direct between members

Decentralized organizations stand on five legs:

When all five legs are functioning, the starfish becomes an unstoppable force.

• Leg No.1: Circles

◦ Autonomous
◦ Because of a lack of structure and hierarchy it is hard to maintain/enforce rules
within circles.
▪ Rather than rules, circles depend on norms.
▪ Norms become the backbone of the organization
▪ Norms = DNA/core values
◦ Self-enforcement of norms by members

• Leg No. 2: The Catalyst

◦ Iron is a catalyst. Hydrogen + nitrogen = no bonding. If you add iron to the
mixture, they react and form ammonia (but ammonia has no iron)
◦ A catalyst = an element that initiates a reaction without fusing into it.
◦ Decentralized organizations: catalyst gets things done and then cedes to
▪ Ownership/responsibility transferred to circle
▪ Catalyst = like an architect - Blueprint but no construction.
▪ See: Apostle Paul being a wise master builder (1 Cor. 3:10)

• Leg No. 3: Ideology

◦ The glue that holds decentralized organizations together
◦ Strong ideology = powerful movement

• Leg No. 4: The Pre-existing Network

◦ Almost all decentralized organizations that have made it big have been launched
on the back of a pre-existing platform.
◦ Decentralized networks provide circles and an empowered membership
▪ There is a high tolerance for innovation

• Leg No. 5: The Champion (Evangelist)

◦ Relentless in promoting an idea
◦ Whereas catalysts are charismatic, champions take it tot he next level
◦ More like salesmen - enthusiastic/passionate

These 5 legs must operate together for maximum effectiveness: The catalyst is creating circles,
tapping into an ideology whose time had come, drawing upon a pre-existing network and joining
with a champion.

The hidden power of the catalyst

• Catalysts are very different type of people - you automatically feel yourself drawn-in.
◦ They are pathologically optimistic.
◦ Bill Johnson: Heavenly minded/DNA/Core values/Culture change
• It is all about letting go and trusting the community
◦ Empowering people and getting out of the way
• Catalyst spends a lot of time imparting core values/DNA throughout the organization/
◦ Values are a stronger binding force than authority.
• Catalysts ask, "what keeps you up at night?"...."what brings you joy?"
◦ What are the dreams in your heart?
• It takes a certain personality - someone who likes to help people
• Sharing inspirational stories = Best way to motivate people

The catalyst's tools:

• Genuine interest in others

◦ People are walking stories
▪ Looking for the gold within
• Loose connections
◦ Thrive meeting people
◦ Interesting personal conversations with many
• Mapping
◦ Spends time thinking how each person fits into their network / How people
relate to one another / Who knows who, etc.
• Desire to help
◦ This is the fuel that drives a catalyst's ability to connect people
• Passion
◦ Lock onto a target and do not waver
◦ Catalyst provides the drumbeat for decentralized organization
◦ Constant cheerleader
• Meet people where they are
◦ Not being pushy
◦ Listening and probing questions rather than telling people what to think/believe/
◦ A catalyst understands you
▪ People left feeling heard, understood and supported.
• Emotional intelligence
◦ Lead with emotions, not only intellect
◦ Emotional connections first, then brainstorm/strategy
▪ God-encounter first?
• Trust
◦ Trusting the network
◦ Personal relationships based on trust/honour
• Inspiration
◦ Being an inspiration to others
▪ But humble (not rock-star) attitude
• Tolerance for ambiguity
◦ Very fluid environment
▪ No order/structure
▪ Not having all the answers
▪ Creates a platform for creativity
◦ Starfish survive in ambiguity
• Hands-off approach
◦ Getting out of the way
▪ When people ask "what are we supposed to do?".....Creativity!
• Receding
◦ Catalysts map a network, make connections, build trust, inspire people to
act.....then they leave.

New rules for a New World

• Rule No. 1: Dis-economies of scale

◦ Small is the new big
◦ There are advantages to being small
▪ Creative/flexible/adaptive/nimble

• Rule No. 2: The Network effect

◦ With each new member, the value of the network increases
▪ Network effect = greater than the sum of its parts

• Rule No. 3: The power of chaos

◦ Starfish organizations = incubators of creativity
◦ Anything goes = must learn to accept/embrace chaos

• Rule No 4: Knowledge at the edge

◦ In a starfish, knowledge is spread throughout the organization - at the fringe

• Rule No. 5: Everyone wants to contribute

◦ Fundamental desire to share/contribute

• Rule No. 6: Beware of the hydra response

◦ if you cut-off a head, 2 more will grow!
• Rule No. 7: Catalysts rule
◦ Suggest a course of action an then let go
◦ Bill Johnson: "How far can we go with a government of honour?" - changed the
whole course of the Global Legacy movement.

• Rule No. 8: The values are the organization

◦ Ideology is the fuel that drives the starfish
◦ Most starfish started with a radical ideology

• Rule No. 9: Measure, monitor and manage

◦ Look at the circles and study:
▪ How are they?
▪ How distributed is the network?Is the network spreading?
◦ Managing a decentralized organization needs a cross between an architect, a
cheerleader, and an awestruck observer.
◦ Catalysts connect people and maintain the drumbeat of the ideology

• Rule No. 10: Flatten or be flattened

◦ Many organizations must take the hybrid approach
◦ What looks like entropy turns out to be one of thew most powerful forces the
world has seen

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