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5.0 out of 5 stars Being a Futuristic Organizational Leader
Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom are both authors, entrepreneurs, and MBA graduates from Stanford. Brafman is not only interested in thinking and writing about leadership and organizational dynamics, but he also is a practitioner who has put many of his principles into practice. For Beckstrom, his areas of specialty are cybersecurity, global issues, and organizational...
Published 18 months ago by Daniel Im

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I hate to say it - not worth buying
I was quite eager to read "The Starfish and the Spider" given some great recommendations from others. However, once i purchased it and dove into it I was unfortunately disappointed. Despite having a high readability and ease (a credit to the work) I found the actual content of this book simplistic and repetitive.

The authors make some interesting connections...
Published on Aug. 19 2008 by Jerrod Bitango


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I hate to say it - not worth buying, Aug. 19 2008
This review is from: The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (Hardcover)
I was quite eager to read "The Starfish and the Spider" given some great recommendations from others. However, once i purchased it and dove into it I was unfortunately disappointed. Despite having a high readability and ease (a credit to the work) I found the actual content of this book simplistic and repetitive.

The authors make some interesting connections between the nature of starfish, spiders, apache indians, some innovative dot.com companies but they generally dip into the same well's too often. Frequently citing the same handful of companies and metaphors, what begins as an insightful read becomes laborious.

In addition to the several references to Craigslist, Wikipedia and other companies, they invest a significant amount of writing about catalyst - a concept (though worded differently) is more aptly handled by Malcolm Gladwell in "The Tipping Point".

Ultimately, a 30 minute internet search regarding this book (and it's concepts) would provide an interested reader with exactly the same insights and material as they would purchasing the book. My advice: check it out from the library or google: starfish spider reviews.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Being a Futuristic Organizational Leader, Oct. 18 2012
Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom are both authors, entrepreneurs, and MBA graduates from Stanford. Brafman is not only interested in thinking and writing about leadership and organizational dynamics, but he also is a practitioner who has put many of his principles into practice. For Beckstrom, his areas of specialty are cybersecurity, global issues, and organizational strategy and leadership. Furthermore, he has diverse leadership experience that ranges from being a CEO to working for the US Homeland Security.

The Starfish and the Spider is a compelling book that uses the symbolism of a starfish and a spider to describe the importance of decentralization in life, culture, and economics.

The thesis is that every organization needs to move towards decentralization, in some manner or form, if they are to not only exist, but also thrive in the future – in other words, the rules have changed.

Spanning across the book, the authors outline eight principles of decentralization, which they use to explain their thesis:

1. “When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized” (Location 290)
2. “It’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders” (Location 415)
3. “The intelligence is spread throughout the system” (Location 467)
4. “Open systems can easily mutate” (Location 474)
5. “Because the decentralized organization mutates so quickly, it can also grow incredibly quickly” (Location 489)
6. “As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease” (Location 534)
7. “Put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute” (Location 825)
8. “When attacked, centralized organizations tend to become even more centralized” (Location 1524).

Upon explaining these principles, the authors end by addressing how an organization can embrace both decentralization and centralization along a continuum, along with ten projections for how organizations need to operate in order to thrive in the future.

The genius of this book is that the authors recognize who their primary audience is – spider organizations. Although they favor decentralization, they make sure not to alienate their primarily spider audience by proposing the concept of a decentralized sweet spot. So my primary question is, how do I help my centralized organization, Beulah, find its decentralized sweet spot? “The decentralized sweet spot is the point along the centralized-decentralized continuum that yields the best competitive position” (Location 2094).

This was an easy and engaging read, illustrating a very important concept to thrive as an organization into the future. Thus, I give this book a 5 out of 5.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, but some interesting points raised, Jan. 7 2012
By 
Slav Heller (Alberta, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (Hardcover)
The biggest problem I had with the book was inconsitency of thoughts. They tried to apply the concept of starfish or high decentralization to everything from eMule to GM, from Internet based networks to large business. There is also confusing and somehow upsetting mixing of social movement initiatives that defy some sort of authorities and organizations where everything is about money and profits. Overall, most confusing.

The fact that decentralization and delegation of power always induces creativity and commitment is well known to anybody interested in management or just represents a common sense. Yet, there is that new phenomenon of possibility of large networks not bound by space that errupted because of Internet. That creates all host of new opportunities and completely changes the game if Internet can be involved in any way. That is very interesting and thought provoking.

If it taken as some complementary reading for people interested in the topics of organizational effectiveness, it can be OK. Yet, I don't even understand how new these ideas are, probably not that new. But if you hope to discover some ultimate wisdom how to run organization - you will be wasting your time. It is way more complex than such superficial glance.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intreresting Book, Jan. 11 2010
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G. J. Moore - See all my reviews
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This is a very interesting explanation for those of us who where born yesterday of what is happening in today's world of business.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Welcome to the starfish revolution.", March 31 2009
By 
Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (Hardcover)
With regard to the title of Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom's book, it consists of two metaphors. The starfish represents the decentralized network, one that has no central command because it is a neural network, "basically a network of cells...get this: for the starfish to move, one of the arms must convince the other arms that it's a good idea to do so...Starfish have an incredible quality to them: If you cut an arm off, most of these animals grow a new arm. And with some varieties, ...the animal can replicate itself from a single piece of an arm." What about the spider? With its eight legs coming out of a centralized body, tiny head, and eight eyes, it represents a centralized network. "If you chop off the head, it dies. Maybe it could survive without a leg or two, and could possibly even stand to lose a couple of eyes, but it certainly could couldn't survive without its head."

Brafman and Beckstrom rigorously examine primarily centralized organizations (e.g. Aztecs and the Spanish army) and primarily decentralized organizations (e.g. the Spanish conquistadores and Apaches) noting the most significant differences that help to explain why - when in conflict -- the former are vulnerable to the latter. In fact, when attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized, can easily be mistaken for a centralized organization, has intelligence distributed throughout the entire system, its open systems can easily mutate, it can "easily sneak up on you [while] growing incredibly quickly."

Readers will welcome the research-driven approach that Brafman and Beckstrom in this volume, especially the fact that after identifying the "what" (i.e. the central issues to be addressed), they focus almost all of their attention on "why" and "how" leaderless organizations are unstoppable. They offer dozens of real-world examples of organizations that have - or compete with those that have - "a hidden force" and "the harder you fight this force, the stronger it gets. The more chaotic it seems, the more resilient it is. The more you [or anyone else] tries to control it, the more unpredictable it becomes." How can this be true? How can the absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization, once considered a weakness, become a major asset? It is for starfish organizations; however, for spider organizations, as already indicated, it is a liability. They die.

Others have their reasons for holding this book in such high regard. I have already indicated a few of my own and now briefly discuss two others. First, Brafman and Beckstrom make brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices that consolidate key points. For example, in Chapter 2, they highlight some with italics such as the six principles of decentralization. Others are listed and numbered in sequence such as the right questions to ask so as to avoid "the French investor pitfall" (i.e. becoming mired in a discussion of "who's in charge?"). Later, in Chapter 4, Brafman and Beckstrom explain that a decentralized organization "stands on five legs" and "when you have all the legs working together, ...you can really take off." Each of them is then discussed in detail, with an exemplar associated with each. For example, "The Champion" is Leg 5. An Englishman, Thomas Clarkson, was relentless in promoting the abolition of slavery. He was inherently hyperactive and operated well in nonhierarchical environments. He formed a circle and was the only member who worked on the issue full-time. "For the next sixty years, Clarkson dedicated his life to the movement." Nonetheless, he was soon forgotten. "Credit for the abolition of slavery [in 1833, years before its abolition in America] was attributed to William Wilberforce, a politician who was the movement's ally and spokesman in Parliament." As the example of Clarkson clearly demonstrates, the various leaders of a decentralized movement never bother to secure recognition for themselves. Most people credit the success of a movement to the wrong person, in this instance a politician rather than an evangelist, because they do not understand the power of a starfish organization.

My second reason has to do with what Brafman and Beckstrom have to say about what they call "catalysts" Perhaps to a greater extent than do "champions," they have a much greater importance to decentralized organizations. Why? Because, after initiating a circle and then fading away into the background, moving on, the catalyst transfers ownership and responsibility to each circle's members. Think of catalysts as being those who concentrate on establishing an organizational infrastructure (especially in terms of its ideology) and do so inconspicuously. Their satisfaction has nothing to do with attracting attention and gaining power or praise; rather, with helping strengthen and advance a cause in which they passionately believe. In this context, I am reminded of the insights that Jeanne Liedtka, Robert Rosen, and Robert Wiltbank share in The Catalyst. In Chapter 6, they explain how to lead pragmatically and idealistically at the same time when leading a growth initiative: First, identify the starting point and destination, then recruit an A team because it takes the best people who "are fully committed to a shared vision [and who will] consistently perform at the top of their game."

Moreover, as Brafman and Beckstrom correctly emphasize in the final chapter, it is critically important for everyone involved to be at the top of their game when an decentralized organization's organization's "sweet spot" has been identified. That is, "the point along the centralized-decentralized continuum that yields the best competitive advantage. In a way, finding the sweet spot is like Goldilocks eating the various bowls of porridge: this one is too hot, this one is too cold, but this one is just right." Brafman and Beckstrom also remind their reader that there are new rules to the game. For example, "diseconomies" suggest that it is sometimes better to be small when speed and flexibility are required. Also, starfish systems "are wonderful incubators for creative, destructive, innovative, or crazy ideas. Anything goes...where creativity is valuable [and highly valued], learning to accept chaos is a must." Some people are uncomfortable with ambiguity. For whatever reasons, they need (or at least are convinced they must have) sharply defined organizational order and "command and control" supervisors.

There are others, however, who ask Brafman and Beckstrom how they can be a better starfish in what seems to be a spiderlike organization. That is an excellent question. "We pointed them to the model of Mother Teresa, who created the Missionaries of Charity, a starfishlike organization that has spread out to 133 countries, while still working within the confines of an ancient, hierarchical organization." My guess is that, during the decades to come, the number of organizations that are primarily starfishlike will increase and the number of organizations that are primarily spiderlike will decrease. But none will be either a starfish or spider because there will always be a need for both order/structure and "chaos"/freedom.

Congratulations to Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. Well-done!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Starfish and the Spider, Feb. 5 2007
This review is from: The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (Hardcover)
Challenging Thoughts for leaders, February 4, 2007

The thesis of the book is that organizations that are organized in autonomous cells are unstoppable and require different competitive techniques than those that are centralized with a leader. The analogy he uses is the starfish. If you cut a starfish in half, you get 2 starfish. If you cut it into 5 parts, you get 5 starfish. Unlike a traditional organization (the spider) where you cut off the head and you kill the organization.

Starfish - decentralized, get stronger if broken up, decentralize more when attacked, smaller win (diseconomy of scale), flat is better than heirarchy.

Spiders - centralized, die if the head is cut off, centralize more when attacked.

The books cites many examples of leaderless organizations (or ones that have some characterisitcs of one) including Al Qaida, Napster, Kazaa etc, the Apaches during Spanish times, Craiglist etc.

Good book, interesting read. Challenging thoughts.
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