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China and India – Spider and Starfish

Structured vs Unstructured - Order vs Chaos

Which is better? A structured, top-down approach to problem solving or an unstructured, collaborative one? The first approach is the traditional approach - but agile development methodology, the open source movement and Web 2.0 follow the second approach.

Last week I came across two seemingly unrelated essays (one blog post – Understanding the Nature of Self-Organizing Teams by Jim Highsmith and one article – Don’t Underestimate India’s Consumers by John Lee) - but both discuss Structured vs Unstructured - Order vs Chaos.

The blog post provides a snapshot of the book – The Starfish and Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. This is how the post starts:

“A spider is an eight-legged arachnid that has a head attached to a central body. Pull a leg off a spider and most can still walk, even if a little lopsided. Cut off the head and the spider dies. Not so the starfish. While many people know that if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it will grow back, most don’t know that a starfish’s major organs are replicated throughout its body. One species, Linckia, can regenerate an entire starfish from each of its severed parts. A starfish is a decentralized network.”

Here is a summary of the book – The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. It outlines 10 rules for the new world:

  1. Diseconomies of Scale
  2. The Network Effect
  3. The Power of Chaos
  4. Knowledge at the Edge
  5. Everyone wants to contribute
  6. Beware of the Hydra response
  7. Catalysts Rule
  8. The Values are the Organization
  9. Measure, Monitor, Manage
  10. Flatten or be Flattened

The article compares the centralized, state managed China with decentralized, chaotic India quoting the following interesting statistics:

  • Wage and income growth, even for China’s urban residents, hovers at about half the level of GDP growth over the past 15 years
  • India can now boast of an overwhelmingly independent middle class about 300 million strong, vs. China’s 100 million to 200 million, depending on the parameters
  • The rural half of China is falling behind. Back in the mid-1980s, the mainland’s urban-rural income ratio was 1.8. It now stands at about 3.5
  • In India, … urban-rural income gap has steadily declined since the early ’90s
  • Rural India now accounts for half the country’s GDP, up from 41% in 1982. World Bank studies show that rural China accounts for only a third of GDP
  • Rural China … generates just 15% of China’s growth. Meanwhile, rural India is chipping in about two-thirds of overall growth

Is there any doubt that India is more like a Starfish and China is more like a Spider? In terms of infrastructure and other related development India is about 15 years behind China – but in the new world will the Starfish upstage the Spider?

Here are some more links explaining the Starfish and the Spider (Eswaran: thanks for the references):

More Stories By Udayan Banerjee

Udayan Banerjee is CTO at NIIT Technologies Ltd, an IT industry veteran with more than 30 years' experience. He blogs at http://setandbma.wordpress.com.
The blog focuses on emerging technologies like cloud computing, mobile computing, social media aka web 2.0 etc. It also contains stuff about agile methodology and trends in architecture. It is a world view seen through the lens of a software service provider based out of Bangalore and serving clients across the world. The focus is mostly on...

  • Keep the hype out and project a realistic picture
  • Uncover trends not very apparent
  • Draw conclusion from real life experience
  • Point out fallacy & discrepancy when I see them
  • Talk about trends which I find interesting
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