About spiders, starfish and sharks

Do you want to get rich? Well, this is the way to do it. Create a metaphor (it better be a good one of course). Apply it to businesses. Write a book about it. If you have a good metaphor, it will sell hundreds of thousands. Give workshops. You’re settled.

Rubbish? I’ll give you an example. Take a spider and a starfish. Spiders have a central nervous system. Starfish have a decentralized nervous system. Next thing you have to think up is the analogy with business organizations. The spider depicts the classic centralized organization. Chop off the head of a spider and it dies. The starfish is a metaphor for the popular decentralized organization. However, if you cut off a leg of a starfish it does not die. What is more, the starfish will grow a new one. Voilà, the perfect business organization metaphor.

The idea is simple and brilliant. The book is The Starfish and the spider. The writers Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

Does it work? At first glance, yes. Take a dictatorship. It is a highly centralized organization. Take out the dictator (let us say Gaddafi) and the system will collapse. Terrorist groups are often highly decentralized. The capture (and death) of Osama Bin Laden had seemingly no effect on Al Qaeda.

Is it really that simple? Unfortunately not. Just look what is happening in Libya. Or Iraq. Eliminating Hussein gave rise to ISIS. Libya is a mess. Al Qaeda has been weakened after the killing of Bin Laden.

When Steve Jobs died, did it have an effect on Apple, being a centralized organization? Of course, the brilliant Jobs is missed, but at the same time, Apple is making more money than ever.

In reality, things are always more complex than in a simple metaphor. Yes, decentralized -starfishlike- organizations are extremely beneficial for creativity. And they are very able to adapt to changing conditions. At the same time, costs are usually higher. They are less profitable. And yes, because we are humans, there’s always the threat of power struggles. Because of these factors, there are only a few examples given in the book of companies that have a starfish organization model.

Listen. I don’t want to spoil the fun of this book. As I said, the idea is brilliant. It is a good read. Reading such books makes you think about how to choose an effective business model. For example, how to get the best of both worlds (creativity and profitability). While thinking how to end this blog, I thought, do starfish have enemies? I had to look it up. You know what? Sharks. Starfish get eaten by sharks. And to finish and conclude: all companies have sharks.

About the author

Hans Buskes is a business consultant, marketing communications manager and mind mapper. He’s the author of several mind map books and mind map blogger on Mastermindmaps.