The Starfish and the Spider, The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. A slender volume of 230 pages published in 2006 and the bearer of glad tidings for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The final paragraph of the book is as follows:
“Yes, decentralized organizations appear at first glance to be messy and chaotic. But when we begin to appreciate their full potential, what initially looked like entropy turns out to be one of the most powerful forces the world has seen.”
The authors divide organizations into two types, those that are centralized with a head directing a body like a spider and those that are decentralized with no head directing a body like a starfish. Cut a starfish into pieces and each piece will grow into a new individual; cut a spider’s head off and the spider will die. Why is this so important?
It is important because those who oppose Occupy Wall Street will look for a leader or a central group to capture or discredit as they did in Wikileaks. When there is no center, there is no easy way to combat the idea(s) that OWS is advancing. In the decentralized model, each attack on the idea makes it stronger by attracting more supporters. Thus we use the strength of the opposition to OWS against them. By the time the opponents of OWS figure it out, it will likely be too late for their side, the 1% and their supporters.
There is a downside to the good news though. Al-Qaeda also uses the decentralized model. In the words of the authors, bin Laden was a catalyst who sparked the movement and stepped back to let others form cells and act on their own. That is in contrast to Saddam Hussein who was the head of a centralized organization, a spider, where capturing or killing the head could lead to victory. There are ways to defeat a starfish, and I will leave that for a future post. I am optimistic that we will defeat al-Qaeda and I am optimistic that we will defeat the 1% before they are able to effectively counterattack.