the starfish and the spider

is an excellent book by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom (isbn 1-59184-143-7). As usual I'm going to quote from a few pages:
This is a book about what happens when there is no one in charge. It's about what happens when there's no hierarchy.
Instead of a chief, the Apaches had a Nant'an - a spiritual and cultural leader. The Nant'an led by example and held no coercive power. Tribe members followed the Nant'an because they wanted to, not because they had to... The phrase "you should" doesn't even exist in the Apache language.
Instead of having a head, like a spider, the starfish functions as a decentralized network. Get this: for the starfish to move, one of the arms must convince the other arms that it's a good idea to do so. The arm starts moving, and then - in a process that no one fully understands - the other arms cooperate and move as well. The brain doesn't "yea" or "nay" the decision. In truth, there isn't even a brain to declare a "yea" or "nay". The starfish doesn't have a brain. There is no central command.
Open systems can't rely on a police force. On the one hand there's freedom to do what you want, but on the other hand, you have added responsibility: because there are no police walking around maintaining law and order, everyone becomes a guardian of sorts.
To collect money, you generally need to have an accountant somewhere, which leads to centralization.
When you give people freedom, you get chaos, but you also get incredible creativity.
It is the right as well as the duty of every managerial employee to criticize a central management decision which he considers mistaken or ill-advised... such criticism is not only not penalized; it is encouraged as a sign of initiative and of an active interest in the business. It is always taken seriously and given real consideration. [Peter Drucker]
I taught them that communication is to be upward if it is to work at all... I taught them that top management is a function and a responsibility rather than a rank and a privilege. [Peter Drucker]
A typical GM factory in the 1980s... if an employee make a mistake or detected a problem, he could stop the line, whereupon a loud alarm would sound... The Toyota assembly line... if an employee stopped the line a pleasant "ding-dong" would sound and teams would carefully study what was going on.
It's better, as the saying goes, to be vaguely right than precisely wrong.
When we are used to seeing something in a certain way, it's hard to imagine it being any other way. If we're used to seeing the world through a centralized lens, decentralized organizations don't make much sense.

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