The Starfish and the Spider: A Sea of Starfish

[Editor’s Note: If you’re just joining us, we are in the middle of reading through “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. Each Monday and Thursday I’ll summarize a few important principles from a chapter in the book. Each Tuesday and Friday, I’ll apply those principles to the starfish-shaped church I believe the Lord is building in the Earth.]

Today’s chapter focuses on five very different types of organizations that operate as decentralized entities. These organizations thrive by “checking” the decentralized side of the questionnaire we looked at yesterday, even though they are all very different.

Brafman and Beckstrom looked at Skype, Craigslist, Apache, Wikipedia, and the Burning Man festival. Each of these has a little different story: Skype started as the brainchild of one of the peer to peer file sharing site creators. He decentralized calling long distance. Craigslist started as a community of people looking to help, trade, and sell to one another that ended up shaking the newspaper industry. Apache began as a group of like-minded computer engineers who began to build patches for the Internet. As they began to take themselves more seriously, everyone else did as well and they began to create open-source technology that challenges the spider-like tech companies of the world.  Wikipedia began as a failed online encyclopedia that turned the role of content creation over to its users. Lastly, the Burning Man festival is the example of a real world (albeit temporary) community with no rules and no exchange of money that somehow maintains some sense of cohesion.

Each of these organizations have an interesting story of how they arrived at being starfish-like organizations, but they all have one trait in common–they put people in an open system.  Open systems are systems where each member of the community can interact and contribute others in the community.  No intermediary or expert is needed, simply a willingness to contribute and a trust in others within the system to similarly contribute.  Craigslist, Wikipedia, Apache, and even those at the Burning Man festival all trust that others around them will help fill in the gaps that others missed. It’s what makes something that should be chaotic somehow work.

There are tremendous implications in this for the church. We’ll look at those tomorrow…

Other Entries in this Series Include:

The Starfish and the Spider: Introduction

The Starfish and the Spider: Introduction II

The Starfish and the Spider: On Napster and Apache Leadership

The Starfish and the Spider: P2P Networks and Spiritual Nant’ans

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

The Starfish and the Spider: Centralized or Decentralized


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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

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