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The Power Of Leaderless Organizations

Craigslist, Wikipedia And Al Qaeda All Demonstrate How Absence Of Structure Has Become An Asset

This book is about what happens when there's no one in charge. It's about what happens when there's no hierarchy. You'd think there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many arenas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.


In short, there's a revolution raging all around us.

No one suspected that Shawn Fanning, sitting in his dorm room at Northeastern University in 1999, was about to change the world. The eighteen-year-old freshman typed at his computer and wondered what would happen if people could share music files with one another. Fanning came up with Napster, an idea that would deliver a crushing blow to the recording industry. But he wasn't at the head of this attack -- the entire battle was waged by an army of music-sharing teens, college students, and, eventually, iPod-carrying businessmen.

Half a world away, when Osama bin Laden left Saudi Arabia and traveled to Afghanistan, hardly anyone realized that in just a few years he would become the most wanted man in the world. At the time, his power appeared limited. After all, what could a man operating out of a cave really do? But al Qaeda became powerful because bin Laden never took a traditional leadership role.


In 1995 a shy engineer posted online listings of upcoming events in the San Francisco Bay Area. Craig Newmark never dreamed that the site he launched would forever alter the newspaper industry. In 2001 a retired options trader set out to provide free reference materials to kids around the world. He never thought that his efforts would one day allow millions of strangers to use something called a "wiki" to create the biggest information depository of our time.

The blows to the recording industry, the attacks of 9/11, and the success of online classifieds and a collaborative encyclopedia were all driven by the same hidden force. The harder you fight this force, the stronger it gets. The more chaotic it seems, the more resilient it is. The more you try to control it, the more unpredictable it becomes.

Decentralization has been lying dormant for thousands of years. But the advent of the Internet has unleashed this force, knocking down traditional businesses, altering entire industries, affecting how we relate to each other, and influencing world politics. The absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization, once considered a weakness, has become a major asset. Seemingly chaotic groups have challenged and defeated established institutions. The rules of the game have changed.

Reprinted from The Starfish And The Spider: The Unstoppable Power Of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, with permission of Portfolio/Sentinel (Penguin Group USA).

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