Saturday, May 30, 2009

Starfish and Spider 2: The President of the Internet

I really haven't planned to review The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, but now I've done two chapters. I honestly haven't forgotten the three other books I started reviewing, but I do have a day job and a thousand other projects I'll never finish.

Chapter 1: MGM and the Apaches

Chapter 2: The Spider, the Starfish, and the President of the Internet

The fun continues. The concept behind the title is that you can kill a spider--it has a head. A starfish will regenerate its arms. In fact one kind will regenerate from almost any part you cut off.

The "President of the Internet" has to do with a guy that was trying to get some French investors to help him start an internet company in the 90's. They were really stuck on the question of who the president of the internet was. They couldn't comprehend a leaderless system. So finally he gave up, "Yes, I'm the president of the internet."

They give 10 questions to figure out whether an organization is a spider or a starfish:

1. Is there someone in charge?
2. Are there headquarters?
3. If you thump it on the head, will it die?
4. Is there a clear division of roles?
5. If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed?
6. Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed?
7. Is the organization flexible or rigid?
8. Can you count the employees or participants?
9. Are working groups funded or self-funding?
10. Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries?

In addition, we're at six principles of decentralization:

1. From the last chapter: When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized.

2. Now this chapter: It's easy to mistake starfish for spiders.

His key examples in this chapter both come from 1935. In that year, Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous. No CEO, no leader, run by individuals with common problems.

Also in 1935, a mess of workers died in Key West because the FDR beaurocracy didn't run things up and down the chain of command fast enough. I might add that I keep thinking of the Bush administration and terrorism. I think it will come up later in the book. I swear they remind me of the French trying to figure out who the president of the internet was.

3. An open system doesn't have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system.

He makes an important point here. Open systems don't necessarily make better decisions. They just respond more quickly. Think of potential errors in Wikipedia or the potential for strange ideas in house churches.

4. Open systems can easily mutate.

5. Decentralized organization sneaks up on you.

6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease.

Of the big five music companies in 2001, one filed for bankruptcy, two merged. CD shops are history. In short, sales are down 25% in the last five years since Napster.


Keith Drury said...

I need to read this book... thanks!

Ken Schenck said...

You don't need to... you could have written this book in the 90s!