Leaderless organisations can be unstoppable

balaji's picture

Wikileaks being Prosecuted and how naturally a stronger Whistle blower platform will emerge. All the force that the US government is using to shut down Wikileaks, possibly will only lead to the creation of even better platforms for whistle blowers. This is exactly what happened in the music industry, when the industry went after Napster, they did shut down Napster, but this lead to creation of even more decentralized peer to peer networks which are difficult to shut down. Ask teenagers, what percentage of them actually purchase music? Today there are opensource peer to peer file sharing systems like emule, with no centralised servers, any developer can pick up the code and maintain it, so whom will the music industry come after?


A similar path is emerging for the Whistle blowers, check openleaks.org , which now plans to create a way by which whistle blowers can safely provide documents to specific publishers that they wish to share information with.

Now what does this mean to business? Not the leaks but what is happening in this space. In the book “The Starfish and the Spider” Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom share how leaderless organisations can be unstoppable. They take us back to when the Spanish first came to South America. The small Spanish army was very quickly within 2 years able to destroy the Aztec civilisation, a prosperous civilisation which had existed for more that 1500 years. The reason they could do that so easily was that the Spanish army simply targeted the King and killed him. Without the head (leader) the whole civilisation collapsed.  The Spanish army repeated the same with the Incas, they then encountered the Apaches, who remained undefeated for more than 300 years.

The Spanish, as they had done before went after the leaders of the Apache clans and killed them, but every time they killed a Nant’an (Leader) another would emerge and take his place. And the more the Apaches were attacked the more they became decentralised. Nant’ans were spiritual and cultural leaders. This is what wikipedia says about these chiefs,
“The office was not hereditary and the position was often filled by members of different extended families. The chief's leadership was only as strong as he was evaluated to be—no group member was ever obliged to follow the chief. The Western Apache criteria for evaluating a good chief included: industriousness, generosity, impartiality, forbearance, conscientiousness, and eloquence in language.”  The traits of a decentralised society are flexibility, shared power, ambiguity, this made Apaches immune to attacks that would have destroyed a centralised society.

The Americans were finally able to overpower the Apaches by changing their social structure, by giving cattle to the Nant’an, once they had control over a scarce resource, their power shifted from symbolic to material, and they started fighting for the position, and started behaving more like chiefs of centralised organisations. The flat organisation structure became hierarchical and with power concentrated on the top and this broke down the Apache society.

Probably the best way to tame wikileaks would have been to provide official patronage to Julian Assange, commending him for building a platform that protects the identity of whistle blowers so well. Official patronage would have helped the US government have influence on them. Now that they are doing the opposite, look forward the the “whistle blower industry” get transformed like the music industry, very decentralised and difficult to prosecute.

Totally recommend that one reads “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, on understanding and creating organisations like, skype, ebay to just name a few, which tap into the power of a decentralised structure.