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The Starfish and the Spider

The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations
Narrated by: Sean Pratt
Length: 5 hrs and 32 mins
Categories: Business, Career Skills
4.5 out of 5 stars (785 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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? What fundamental choice put General Motors and Toyota on vastly different paths? How could winning a Supreme Court case be the biggest mistake MGM could have made?

After five years of ground-breaking research, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom share some unexpected answers, gripping stories, and a tapestry of unlikely connections. The Starfish and the Spider argues that organizations fall into two categories: traditional "spiders", which have a rigid hierarchy and top-down leadership, and revolutionary "starfish", which rely on the power of peer relationships.

The Starfish and the Spider explores what happens when starfish take on spiders (such as the music industry vs. Napster, Kazaa, and the P2P services that followed). It reveals how established companies and institutions, from IBM to Intuit to the U.S. government, are also learning how to incorporate starfish principles to achieve success. This audiobook explores:

  • How the Apaches fended off the powerful Spanish army for 200 years
  • The power of a simple circle
  • The importance of catalysts who have an uncanny ability to bring people together
  • How the Internet has become a breeding ground for leaderless organizations
  • How Alcoholics Anonymous has reached untold millions with only a shared ideology and without a leader

The Starfish and the Spider is that rare book that will change how you understand the world around you.
©2006 Decentralized Revolutions, LLC (P)2007 Gildan Media Corp

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Centralized and decentralized models

Starfish -- decentralized communities or organizations, like the Apache tribes, Alcoholics Anonymous, P2P music sharing communities. (Starfish because starfish has no heads; if you cut a starfish into two, both will grow into new starfish)
Spider -- traditional hierarchical organizations with strong central control.

This book describes the various aspects of Starfish organisations / communities, and how such communities can pose a threat to traditional Spider businesses. While acknowledging the importance of Spider organizations for efficient resource utilization, the book discusses how we can look out for the emergence of Starfish business models, and even capitalize on them.

This book will be an interesting introduction to the idea of decentralized models for listeners / readers unfamiliar with the centralized-decentralized dichotomy. However, I finished the book with a "so what" feeling. I did not feel there was any takeaway I could readily apply. Nonetheless, it did provoke my thinking about current operations in my organization.

The book also talks about hybrid organizations like Amazon and Ebay. These are traditional organizations that have managed to tap on a wider starfish-like community to generate value for their businesses.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

10,000ft Bungee Jump View

For those of you looking for precise methods and answers on how to change your business structure to incorporate a more de-centralized business system, this is not the book for you.

Having said that, if you are looking for a way to broaden your mind's eye view of how social structures directly and indirectly affect business and commerce in the past, present and future then this book will be an invaluable tool.

This book will really help set your mind racing and drawing colorations between the two types of structures in not just business but in all aspects of society. It is up to the reader to take the examples given, the pros and cons of the structures presented, what happens when the two structures go toe-to-toe and relate it to their specific business and industry.

I can tell you this though, if you read this book and grasp the concepts and your competition doesn't, then you will have a definite advantage in recognizing current and future opportunities that your competition would NOT even be aware of.

If for the above reason only, this is a MUST READ for any student of business.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Loved It

Academic technology organizations are "starfishes" - in that authority and knowledge are distributed - and that we are mission driven. Recommended to anyone who thinks about organizational effectiveness. This book fits beautifully within the genre of short works that communicate serious academic research by telling interesting stories and providing fascinating examples. We don't assign enough books like this in our college courses - thinking that since is a "popularizing" book it must therefore be "inferior". I'm starting to think that we've been too snobby....and that in privileging good writing and storytelling over total academic rigor we may be inhibiting our students from absorbing the central points.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Linda
  • Colorado Springs, CO, United States
  • 12-08-08

Wonderful insight into modern organizations

The Starfish and the Spider offers a new look at how organizations run and what can make them successful (or not). Also the outlook on different leadership styles is telling. The real life examples from contemporary history and the present day are fascinating. It's a great book for people who are interested in organizational behaviors and attitudes, how to motivate people, and lovers of history. This is a well written and well read audiobook.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Needs Editing

This would be an interesting book if its contents weren't so repetitive. I got bored and frustrated with it, and ended up not finishing it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful Book! Must Read!

I have read a lot of organizational, management, leadership books recently and this has been one of the best. Very engaging stories told very well and well organized for a book about decentralization. So thought-provoking and interesting!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Misleading Title; So-So Text

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Skip all the first part. Most of it anyways--the bits that talk about the Apache, PETA, Napster, etc. So much of the book is wasted on things only marginally applicable to the main theme, at least what seemed to be the main thing--applying the leaderless approach to business. Also, holding up marginally legal/moral examples up as some of the prime examples wasn't a great strategy.

What could Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Spend more time on the business aspects, less on the general.

What does Sean Pratt bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He was very understandable/clear voiced. Good balance of tone. Easy to listen to.

Who do you think would benefit most from listening to The Starfish and the Spider?

I would only recommend a cliff's notes for this one. Too much text, not enough substance.

Any additional comments?

Saying they are "unstoppable" in the title and then explaining how they can be stopped is kind of silly. Also, they seem to have very limited applicability in business--the promotion of the book makes it sound revolutionary, but it's just not that insightful, IMO.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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basically good

The book is basically good. The narration is excellent. My trouble with the book is that like many, it has certain amount of fluff to fill a page count. In this case it goes above my preference that stays within my tolerance. there are several very bad or dated examples to make the author's point oh, and those can be distracting. But again over all the book is good, and I learned enough so that I do not regret my purchase.

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Mind Blown

This book was amazing. Companies and all of its employees must read this book. The way the author went back to the examples of leaderless organizations was perfect. My favorite part was about how catalyst are the iron in chemical equations. Must read!!

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  • MLHanna
  • Laingsburg, MI United States
  • 02-14-19

Eye- opening for small nonprofits

Talk about a book filled with "food for thought"! This book reinforced many things we're doing, and encouraged us to push things even further. Really worth the read.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-13-19

Offers a different perspective

This book is quite fascinating, especially for those who are obsessed with leadership and culture in companies and organisations. The author offers a rather different perspective on how different organisations and teams function. He looks at organisations in the dimension of centralisation, and proposes that organisations lie somewhere on the centralised-decentralised spectrum. He uses the analogy of starfish for the de-centralised, and spider as the centralised ones. He talks about de-centralised organisations in depth, giving several examples and illustrating the attributes they have. He also discusses strategies in combatting de-centralised organisations. Finally, he talks about hybrid organisations which lie in the centre of the spectrum, and how each industry has a sweet spot on the spectrum at any time. Thus, the challenge for any organisation is to identify that sweet spot of how much to be centralised or de-centralised in order to prosper to the maximum potential.

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  • joonsang
  • 11-19-18

Cool but bias exploration of decentralisation

very prescient but a bit biased some interesting ideas about decentralised. worth listening to but not reading

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-08-18

Barely anything beyond review content

Simple principles easily found in reviews on Amazon or blog posts on the matter, rammed home repetitively across just 4 or 5 examples. If you have no idea of the meaning of decentralisation it might be interesting, if you have any basic background you won’t find anything new.

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  • Miles
  • 07-24-15

Open your mind to a new type of leadership

Would you listen to The Starfish and the Spider again? Why?

Yes, great stories and a wonderful metaphor of how a non-led organisation can change the world...

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Starfish and the Spider?

Cut of the spider's head it dies... cut the starfish in two... you get two starfishes

What does Sean Pratt bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Yes, very well read

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Francine
  • 03-28-10

A MUST read

An outstanding book that gives some great insight into decentralised organisations. The authors give you some great examples of how this works in some businesses today.