A NEW KIND OF ORGANIZATION BASED ON PURPOSE AND PRINCIPLE
> What do the Internet, Alcoholics Anonymous, and VISA International, the
> organization that brings us the VISA card, all have in common?
> You can find them just about anywhere on earth, that's one common thing. The
> have not spread through unrelenting market push, like Coca Cola. Rather they
> are pulled by demand, because they meet real needs very effectively. They
> serve their purposes successfully year after year without any obvious
> headquarters, no glittering center of power, no centralized command. No one
> owns any of them. VISA does $1.25 trillion worth of business a year, but you
> can't buy a share of it.
> Dee Hock, who founded VISA, would say these are all chaordic organizations.
> made up that word by combining "chaos" and "order." Chaordic organizations a
> self-organizing and self-governing. They operate not through hierarchies of
> authority, but through networks of equals. It isn't power or coercion that
> makes them effective, rather it's clear shared purpose, ethical operating
> principles, and responsibility distributed through every node.
> It's in the interest of every computer owner hooking onto the Internet to be
> sure that no one messes up the functioning of the Internet. It's in the
> interest of every alcoholic to know there will always be a place to turn for
> help. It's in the interest of every card-issuing bank, card-accepting
> merchant, and card-using customer to know that payments will go through,
> accounts will be kept accurately, bills will be paid. Chaordic organizations
> like any organization, may be abused by the incompetent or the criminal, but
> they have astounding powers of self-policing and self-repair.
> In his new book Birth of the Chaordic Age Dee Hock tells three stories at thr
> levels: his own life story, the story of VISA, and a profound story about hum
> Raised in a Mormon family in Utah, Hock developed a strong aversion to centra
> control. Brought in to save the failing Bank Americard system, he envisioned
> years before electronic funds transfers, an organization that "could guarante
> transport, and settle transactions twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week
> around the globe." That was the function of a bank, but far beyond the power
> of any single bank. "It would require a transcendental organization linking
> together in wholly new ways an unimaginable complex of institutions and
> "At the time did I think it could be done? No! Did I think the Bank of
> America would give up ownership? No! Did I think banks worldwide could be
> brought together in such an effort? No! Did I think laws would allow it? No
> But did I believe it was what ought to be? Ah, that was another question
> By now we take credit cards for granted. It's worth imagining for a moment t
> network of organizations and the flow of information that allows all those
> purchases to be billed correctly to all those customers with all those banks
> guaranteeing that all those merchants will be paid, in any currency, anywhere
> in the world. What holds it together is a set of principles (merchants don't
> pad the bill, banks don't withhold payments, customers pay up) and above all
> The purpose is "what ought to be." Hock says it's the hard part of any
> chaordic alliance, getting the purpose right, making it consistent with real
> need, with the laws of the planet, with the mysteries of life. Purpose is
> derived from morality, from vision, from collective wisdom, not from individu
> ambition or greed. That, says Hock, is where the whole industrial system,
> including both corporations and governments, has gotten so far off track.
> "Life is not about controlling. It's not about getting. It's not about
> having. It's not about knowing. It's not even about being. Life is eternal
> perpetual becoming, or it is nothing. Becoming is not a thing to be known or
> controlled. It is a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced."
> "At bottom, desire to command and control is a deadly compulsion to rob self
> and others of the joys of living. ... Is it any wonder that a society that
> worships the primacy of measurement, prediction, and control should result in
> destruction of the environment, maldistribution of wealth and power, mass
> destruction of species, the Holocaust, the hydrogen bomb and countless other
> horrors? How could it be otherwise, when for centuries we have conditioned
> ourselves with ever more powerful notions of engineered solutions, domination
> compelled behavior, and separable self-interest?"
> "Money, markets, and measurement have their place. They are important tools
> indeed. We should honor them and use them. but they are far short of the
> deification their apostles demand of us, and before which we too readily sink
> to our knees. Only fools worship their tools."
> Strange talk for a banker.
> Hock retired from VISA, with no stock options, no fortune, intending just to
> enjoy nature and his grandchildren. But the depredations of the non-chaordic
> institutions of the world pulled him back into helping other groups envision
> transcendent purposes and put together non-hierarchical organizational
> He is working with east coast fishermen who have managed to collapse their ow
> resource, to form the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. After a year of
> discussion, it has defined its purpose: "to restore and enhance an enduring
> Northwest Atlantic marine system that supports a healthy and diverse abundanc
> of marine life and commercial, recreational, aesthetic and other uses."
> Strange talk for a bunch of fishermen,
> He is trying, with representatives of the increasingly dysfunctional U.S.
> health care system "to create a new concept of organization that will enable
> all individuals to have access to the information, assistance and resources
> necessary for them to achieve their optimum health."
> Wow! Isn't it great to hear someone articulating and taking seriously the
> challenge of creating what ought to be?
> Donella Meadows is an adjunct professor at Dartmouth College and director of
> the Sustainability Institute in Hartland, Vermont.)