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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Starfish and Spider: Introduction

This week: The Starfish and the Spider (Portfolio/Penguin Group, 2006).
Reviewed by Steve Gladis, Ph.D.


The authors offer an immensely useful and entertaining exploration about why and how so many institutions have undergone such change and why others risk becoming irrelevant almost overnight. A quick history lesson: Hernando Cortes conquered the Aztec empire by attacking a “spider” organization—a central head (Montezuma) controlling vast assets, now Mexico. Indeed, the Spanish conqueror dominated the young continent of North America until he met the Apaches. More like a “starfish” organization that regenerates itself, the Apaches had no head, per se. They were nomadic, decentralized (like trying to nail Jello to a tree) and fierce warriors led more by Nant’ans (spiritual leaders) than by a chief. Fast forward to the present. Spiders are like any large concrete and mortar company—just find a huge building with a name on it in any city and you’re likely looking at a spider with a head—a CEO. Now check out the Internet, Wikipedia, Skype, and craigslist—finding the CEO is more difficult. In fact, organizations that have become hybrids, like eBay and Amazon, seem to have figured out that decentralization—power to the people—is an incredibly unstoppable model. The message: recognize a starfish, embrace its value, and whatever you do, don’t try to chop off its head…or two more will appear. Just ask the music industry about that as they tried to stop music swapping.

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