Friday, June 03, 2011


Obama's new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin E. Dempsey, has three books on his reading list. One of them is titled,
The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations,” by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom.
Some organizations are like spiders. A single mind is behind it all. Without its head, a spider type of organization is a goner. Police have for years attempted to break up demonstrations by arresting the lead organizers, 'decapitating' the leadership. Hierarchical organizations are vulnerable to decapitation.

Other organizations are like starfish. Cut off a leg and the leg itself generates a new starfish. Every part of the starfish contains the information needed to make a new starfish. Every part contains the whole. If a 'starfish' organization is doing something you don't like, it may be kind of difficult to stamp it out. Every fragment can become a new contender.

General Dempsey has worked with the book's authors to develop military strategies to overcome 'starfish' groups like al-Qaeda by creating starfish-type groups within the military's hierarchic 'spider' structure. A few years ago, the military advertised for recruits by inviting every soldier to be "An Army of One". Now it appears they are associating 'armies of one' into 'starfish' type organizations. They are experimenting with leaderless organization.

Where will it all lead?

A lot of existing organizations are 'starfish' waiting to happen. A PTA can turn activist at the drop of a hat. Even the AARP - American Association of Retired Persons - is evolving from working as a lobby into direct activism.

In a world where people now organize by using Facebook over cellphones, for one to start a new 'starfish' organization takes almost no work at all. Templates for organizations are all around. Want to propagate your own starfish? Just publish your template.

A leaderless organization named "Anonymous" just announced that it has hacked into Iranian government computer systems and copied 10,000 dispatches from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Will this material appear on WikiLeaks? On on one of the other half-dozen leak-release sites that have sprung up since WikiLeaks began grabbing the headlines? Almost certainly one or another.

The market for leaks is distributed. The supply sources for leaks are distributed. The routes from supply to market are more and more distributed.

The need to protest is also distributed ever more evenly. Every living thing is a starfish waiting to spawn. Unstoppable power.


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