Because they want to, not because they have to…

I’ve been reading the manifesto on the lessons to be learnt from starfish that I referred to in my last post. Here are a few cool insights…

The “primitive” Apache Indians fought the Spanish (and Mexicans and Americans) for two hundred years after the “advanced” Aztecs and Indians were defeated within a decade or so. It wasn’t that the invaders had got tired or worse at fighting, it was because Apache society had no political hierarchy, rigid structure or formal leadership, instead they had individuals (“Nant’ans”) who led by example, and who the people followed because they wanted to and not because they had to… the people were free to do as they wished: power lay with the people.

In a similar fashion, we have seen record labels trying to fight a series of file sharers. Starting with Napster, then Kazaa and eMule, the more they attack, the more decentralised and resilient the file sharing software has become. Not surprisingly, starfish organisations are very difficult to control (eg wikipedia and alcoholics anonymous).
Fighting a starfish is very difficult. But there are a few strategies that can have an impact:

  • Ideology shift
    Rather than fighting al Qaeda by blowing up mountains, what if we built schools and provided social services? For a success story, look at missionaries across the world.
  • Centralise
    The Apaches were ‘defeated’ by giving the Nant’ans cows that they had the responsibility to distribute amongst their people. Having control over a scarce resource gave them real power – not just symbolic – and became centralised and controllable. Look at how it’s worked in Ireland and even Palestine (bringing Sinn Fein and the PLO to parliament).
  • Decentralise ourselves
    Let’s get involved with what they are doing – infiltrate their ranks and understand their weaknesses.

Here are some ‘rules’ for the starfish game…

  • Small is powerful: Control the network that your users connect through, and you have power. You have power because you are lean enough not to pay large overheads.
  • Deal with chaos: Starfish are messy sources of creativity, innovation, destruction and crazy ideas. Good ideas will attract people, resources and support. Standardisation tends to follow – but it only should follow later. Israel was created because of a Starfish array of revolutionaries who were then folded into the Israeli army once their purpose had been fulfilled.
  • Beware of the hydra-effect: When you cut off the arm of a starfish, you can be left with two new starfish. Killing the ‘head’ of a starfish has no effect, other than to increase the danger and power that it possesses. There are ways to combat the starfish, but don’t try to just cut off its head.