Innovating with Social Media: Facebook, Flash, Blogs and Wikipedia

Starfish and the Spider

Hybrid Organizations from the Starfish and the Spider

Key Points

From Chapters 6-9 of The Starfish and the Spider

•    Strategies for centralized organizations “taking on” decentralized ones:

Changing ideology, centralizing (“cow” strategy), decentralization

•    Two forms of hybrid organizations (the “combo special”)

Centralized company with decentralized customer experience
Centralized company with parts of internal business decentralized

•    Major examples of hybrid organizations

The Sweet Spot (Chapter 8)

•    Rules of “The New World” (Chapter 9)

1.    Diseconomies of Scale (the small rule)
2.    Network Effects
3.    Power of Chaos (creativity)
4.    Knowledge at the Edge
5.    Everyone wants to contribute (self-expression)
6.    Beware of the Hydra response (starfish)
7.    Catalysts Rule (through inspiration)
8.    The Values are the Organization (ideology)
9.    Measure, Monitor, Manage
10.    Flatten or be Flattened

Additional Viewing

What is open source? (basic introduction)

Network effects as a competitive advantage (content starts at 0:24)

IBM Linux commercial (advertisement for open source)

Democratization of entertainment

Five Legs of Decentralized Organizations and The Catalyst

Chapter 4 of The Starfish and The Spider describes 5 legs of a successful decentralized organization:

  1. Circles
  2. The catalyst
  3. Ideology
  4. The preexisting network
  5. The champion

Chapter 5 talks in more detail about catalysts.


1. You can describe a person or thing that causes a change or event to happen as a catalyst.

2. In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that causes a chemical reaction to take place more quickly.

Do you agree that catalysts are important to decentralization initiatives? Why or why not?

President of the Internet, Principles and Examples of Decentralization

Today we will discuss Chapters 2 and 3 of The Starfish and the Spider.

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

In Chapter 2 we learn the origin of the books title and also meet the President of the Internet!

President of the Internet

We also learn more principles of decentralization:

  • it’s easy to mistake starfish for spiders.
  • an open system doesn’t have central intelligence;
  • the intelligence is spread throughout the system.
  • open systems can easily mutate.
  • the decentralized organization sneaks up on you.
  • as industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease.

How to recognize starfish…

  1. Is there a person 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 by the organization or are they self-funding?
  10. Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries?

Chapter Three:  A Sea of Starfish

Examples of decentralized organizations: AA, Skype, Craigslist, Apache (web development), Wikipedia, Burning Man

Seventh principle of decentralization:  put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute.

The Starfish and the Spider: Introduction, MGM and Apache

Today’s class meeting focuses on the discussion of the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom’s book, “The Starfish and the Spider” (TSATS).


Here are a few discussion questions from the Introduction:

  • What is the “grandmother” cell?
  • What do Shawn Fanning, Osama bin Laden, Craig Newmark and Jimmy Wales have in common?
  • “… the advent of the Internet has unleashed [decentralization] … The absence of structure, leadership, and formal organizastion, once considered a weakness, has become a major asset.” (TSATS, p. 7) Do you agree or disagree?

Next… on to Chapter 1.

Chapter 1: MGM’s Mistake and the Apache Mystery

In Chapter 1, the authors relate the legal fights between the music industry and P2P media-sharing services like Napster, Grokster, and eMule in the 2000’s to the battles between the Spanish (and Americans) with the Apache Indians.

Photo source:

Geronimo: A leader by example.

The stories in the chapter reminds me of the old saying: “You accomplish much more once you stop trying to take credit.”

What is P2P?

From a technical standpoint P2P refers to technology that uses a peer-to-peer architecture instead of a client-server architecture. Communication is made directly from one client to another client. The machines are “peer” of one another. The term can also refer to a more general attitude of organization:

Discussion Questions

Here are a few discussion questions for Chapter 1:

  • What are the common characteristics of a centralized organization?
  • What is different in a decentralized one?
  • How do you become a leader in each type of organization?
  • Think about organizations that you a member of? What are some examples of centralized and decentralized organizations?
  • Which one is better?
  • What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type?

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. Then we’ll learn why the book is called “The starfish and the spider” and see how all this relates to the Internet.