One From Many: Visa and the Rise of Chaordic Organization by Dee Hock

Summary

  1. Why, he wondered, couldn’t a human organization work like a rain forest? Why couldn’t it be patterned on biological concepts and methods? What if we quit arguing about the structure of a new institution and tried to think of it as having some sort of genetic code? Visa’s genetic code eventually became its “purpose and principles” and its core governance processes, the details of which are spelled out in the following pages. But none of this would have come into being without the basic shift in thinking – to abandon the “old perspective and mechanistic model of reality” and embrace principles of living systems as a basis for organizing

Key Takeaways

  1. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson said, “The source of all our problems today comes from the gap between how we think and now nature works.”
  2. Educe – a marvelous word seldom used or practiced, meaning, “to bring or draw forth something already present in a latent, or undeveloped form.” It can be contrasted with induce, too often used and practiced, meaning, “to prevail upon; move by persuasion or influence – to impel, incite, or urge.”
  3. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, employ good people, and free them to do the same. All else is trivia
  4. Throughout the years, the Sheep continued to read avariciously, including much organizational theory, economics, science and philosophy. The preoccupation with organizations and the people who hold power within them became an obsession, which brings us to the heart of our subject this morning. Why, the Sheep asked time and time again, are organizations, whether governmental, commercial, educational or social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs? Why are individuals increasingly alienated from the organizations of which they are part? Why are commerce and society increasingly in disarray? Today, it doesn’t take much intelligence to realize we are in the midst of a global epidemic of institutional failure. Schools that can’t teach, welfare systems in which no one fares well, police that can’t enforce the law, judicial systems without justice, economies that can’t economize, corporations that can’t compete and governments that can’t govern. Even then, thirty years ago, the signs were everywhere if one cared to look. The answer to the Sheep’s questions has much to do with compression of time and events. Some of you may recall the days when a check took a couple of weeks to find its way through the banking system. It was called “float” and many used it to advantage. Today, we are all aware of the incredible speed and volatility with which money moves and the profound effect it has on commerce. However, we ignore vastly more important reductions of float, such as the disappearance of information float. As the futurist, James Burke, pointed out, it took centuries for information about the smelting of ore to cross a single continent and bring about the Iron Age. During the time of sailing ships, it took years for that which was known to become that which was shared. When man stepped onto the moon, it was known and seen in every corner of the globe 1.4 seconds later, and that is hopelessly slow by today’s standards. No less important is the disappearance of scientific float, the time between the invention of a new technology and its universal application. It took centuries for the wheel to gain universal acceptance–decades for the steam engine, electric light, and automobile–years for radio and television. Today, countless devices utilizing microchips sweep around the earth like the light of the sun into instant, universal use. This endless compression of float, whether of money, information, technology or anything else, can be combined and described as the disappearance of “change” float. The time between what was and what is to be; between past and future. Only a few generations ago, the present stretched unaltered, from a distant past into a dim future. Today, the past is ever less predictive, the future ever less predictable and the present scarcely exists at all. Everything is change, with one incredibly important exception. There has been no loss of institutional float. Although their size and power have vastly increased, there has been no new idea of organization since the concepts of corporation, nation-state and university emerged a few centuries ago.
  5. Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string! – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  6. Heaven is purpose, principle, and people. Purgatory is paper and procedure. Hell is rule and regulation
  7. No part knew the whole, the whole did not know all the parts, and none had any need to. The entirety, like millions of other chaordic organizations, including those we call body, brain, forest, ocean, and biosphere, was self-regulating
  8. If you have built castles in the air your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundation under them. – Henry David Thoreau
  9. When our internal model of reality is in conflict with rapidly changing external realities, there are three ways to respond: First, we can cling to our old internal model and attempt to impose it on external conditions in a futile attempt to make them conform to our expectations.  That is what our present mechanistic societal institutions compel us to attempt, and what we continually dissipate our ingenuity and ability trying to achieve.  Attempting to impose an archaic internal model on a changed external world is futile. Second, we can engage in denial.  We can refuse to accept the new external reality.  We can pretend that external changes are not as profound as they really are.  We can deny that we have an internal model, or that it bears examination.  When the world about us appears to be irrational, erratic and irresponsible, it is all too easy to blame others for the unpleasant, destructive things we experience.  It is equally easy to  abandon meaning, engage in fantasy, and engage in erratic behavior.  Such denial is also futile. Third, we can attempt to understand and change our internal model of reality.  That is the least common alternative, and for good reason.  Changing an internal model of reality is extremely difficult, terrifying, and complex.  It requires a meticulous, painful examination of beliefs.  It requires a fundamental understanding of consciousness and how it must change.  It destroys our sense of time and place.  It calls into question our very identity.  We can never be sure of our place, or our value, in a new order of things.  We may lose sight of who and what we are. Changing our internal model of reality requires an enormous act of faith, for it requires time to develop, and we require time to grow into it.  Yet it is the only workable answer.
  10. Members of the board brought to the table all the old assumptions about good management. The success of the organization created considerable tolerance of new and different management techniques.On the whole,however,each new approach was on sufferance. Each failure brought pressure to conform to the old ways. Since the board was deliberately structured so that management could not control its composition and to ensure 10 or 15 percent annual turnover, there were always new directors with a full load of old management baggage. They had little or no idea of the concepts that had led to the success the organization now enjoyed. No matter how much success we had, they were convinced it could be much greater if done in the manner to which they were accustomed. No matter what the failure,they were persuaded it could have been prevented, had it been handled in the traditional way. Occasionally, there was some truth in what they said. Always, there was no way to refute it. At the time, I did not understand the depth of the hold that mechanistic, dominator concepts had on the minds and hearts of people, including my own, nor how tenaciously and powerfully they would reassert themselves.It was not then apparent how difficult it was for people to understand and sustain the concepts; how long it would take for them to sink to the bone and become habitual conduct.The pressure to revert and conform, both from within and without the organization, was intense and unceasing. On the whole,we had poor methods and techniques and far too little of them to bring about the individual cultural change that a chaordic organization requires, nor did we have a leader who was fully alert to the need for it. Although Visa arose from thinking about organizations as living, biological systems, I missed completely the need for an institutional immune system to thwart the viruses of old ways.
  11. If something was trying to happen and wanted to use me, I could say yes or no.That’s what free will is all about. If “no,” life would be pleasant, comfortable, at times, idyllic. If “yes,” it would mean day and night labor filled with stress, criticism, disappointment,and virtually no chance of success.But,if I held back would I be in denial of my becoming? A life worth living can’t be made of denial. It must be made of affirmation. In time, the essential question emerged. Is this what my life is all about? There it was,as simple and plain as that.There was no conceivable answer to the question. But, there was insatiable desire to find out. It was time to move on, wherever it led, whoever my companions, whatever the results, for as long as I could endure.

What I got out of it

  1. Much overlap with Birth of the Chaordic Age as it is a new release, but some new gems. Both are worth reading and re-reading