Multiplication Center

How leaderless organizations are taking over…

March 11, 2008

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstopabble Power of Leaderless Organizations by Brofman and Beckstrom

Amazing, amazing book.  This is one of those books that once you read it the ideas and concepts can’t escape your mind.  You will be continuously asking yourself from what perspective your job, organization, church, etc. operates?  Is it a centralized organization?  It is a decentralized network?  Or is a hybrid? 

Why is this question important?  Because according to the authors innovative technology has shifted the way that organizations and companies do business and operate in the world.  The authors lay out a pretty good case study for the power of a decentralized network, and lean upon examples such as Wikipedia, eBay, Skype, Amazon, craigslist, etc.  According to the authors more and more organizations are being driven by the users, and user content and participation is crucial.  Without this participation from people, a network does not usually thrive, and centralized organizations on the other hand have little room for user control and participation.  The key words in this new movement are collaboration, and it’s not so new as you will read about important examples of these decentralized networks in groups such as the Apache Indians.

One of the more interesting charts in the books is the difference between a centralized organization that usually functions as a top-down hierarchy, and a decentralized network that functions with a flattened hierarchy.


  • The Boss                                                   
  • Command-and-Control                              
  • Rational                                                                                          
  • Powerful                                                                                        
  • Directive                                                                                        
  • In the Spotlight                                                                           
  • Order                                                                                              
  • Organizing   


  • A Peer
  • Trust
  • Emotionally Intelligent
  • Inspirational
  • Collaborative
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Ambiguity
  • Connecting


Many may read this chart, or read this book and not quite grasp what is going on.  But if you have any experience in social network sites (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, etc) then you know the importance of user participation, and just how decentralized these networks are.  I think this book is a must read for anyone in ministry, and it’s obvious after reading it why so many church planters and those involved in the missional church movement are turning to this book.

In the digital world, decentralization will continue to change the face of industry and society.  Fighting these forces of change is at best futile and at worst counterproductive.  But these same forces can be harnessed for immense power: just ask the music-swappers, the Skype callers, the eBay merchants, the Wikipedia contributors, the craiglist community members, the recovering addicts, or anyone who’s ever used the Internet.

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 poweful forces the world has seen.

Rhett Smith

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