Monday, January 08, 2007

"The Starfish and the Spider"

As we move from Association 1.0 to Association 2.0 in this sea of Web 2.0 change, disruption rules…or does it?

Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, start-up veterans and co-founders of the Global Peace Networks have written a book titled, “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.” In this book, Brafman and Beckstrom talk about the age-old topic of decentralized management, but with a biological twist.

If you cut off the leg of a spider, you get a seven-legged, crippled creature. Cut off the leg of a starfish, and it grows a new leg. Not only that, but because a starfish’s major organs are replicated across each of its body parts, a severed leg can grow into an entirely new starfish.

Spiders are like the command-and-control models of industrial organizations—much like many associations today: If you take away a key component, the entire system is crippled. Starfish organizations, however, are organized not around a hierarchy of authority, but around a shared ideology.

So what does this have to do with DigitalNow? As the authors go on to explain the differences and characteristics of each type of organization, the example of the wisdom of the crowds and the work of Jimmy Wales are brought to light.

Back in 2000, Jimmy Wales originally launched Nupedia, a free online encyclopedia that could be used by children whose parents couldn't afford their own set. Publishing was a major task. In looking at how to publish more effectively and efficiently, wikis were discovered. Wiki is a technology that allows web users to easily edit the contents of a web site, facilitating collaborative authoring of articles around a topic. Embracing the technology, Nupedia became Wikipedia – which has grown into a starfish organization that overpowers its spider organization counterparts. Jimmy Wales will be telling the Wikipedia story at DigitalNow 2007; we'll hear more about what went on between the lines.

Regardless of how you characterize your association and its stage of development, the environment in which the world is operating requires thoughtful questions dealing with how your industry or profession and your membership will operate in a new world of decentralization. What will be the new rules and strategies to thrive? How can your association harness the power of the starfish?

Big questions require thoughtful approaches to understanding the implications to your association in 2007 and beyond!

DigitalNow is the proven leadership conference for associations. To learn more about DigitalNow 2007, please visit


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