Book review: Birth of the Chaordic Age

This is one of Dee Hock’s favourite tricks to play on an audience. “How many of you recognize this?” he asks, holding out his own Visa card. Every hand in the room goes up. “Now,” Hock says, “how many of you can tell me who owns it, where it’s headquartered, how it’s governed, or where to buy shares?” Confused silence. No one has the slightest idea, because no one has ever thought about it.

Dee Hock is the mastermind behind Visa and this book is part autobiography, part introduction to Dee’s thoughts on complexity theory and part social manifesto.

His own personal story is interesting in itself. He worked his way up from a very poor background. His different jobs, his family life, his triumphs and failures make exciting stories, and the book shows how all this shaped his views on organizational theory. Views which are interesting today and were downright radical when he came up with them years ago.

Dee had noticed, that the bureaucracy and tight control in many organizations did not produce good results. It certainly didn’t produce a good working environment for the people in the organization. He tried time and again to improve the way things were done, succeeded every time, and was routinely slapped down for it. “Yes, what you’re doing has worked, results are good, people are happy. But you’re not following The Rules.”

The ultimate vindication of his ideas came with the creation and enormous succes of VISA. The internal structure of VISA is based on Dee’s ideas on chaordic organizations and now links more than 20,000 financial institutions, 14 million merchants and 600 million consumers in 220 countries. Dee came up with the term chaordic after he was introduced to complexity theory. Chaordic systems live on the border of chaos and order, drawing on the best properties of both.

Finally this book is a manifesto of a new way of organizing human endeavours. Dee writes in the book that:
“We are at that very point in time when a 400-year-old age is dying and another is struggling to be born — a shifting of culture, science, society, and institutions enormously greater than the world has ever experienced. Ahead, the possibility of the regeneration of individuality, liberty, community, and ethics such as the world has never known, and a harmony with nature, with one another, and with the divine intelligence such as the world has never dreamed.”

When I read the book, I was inspired by both the man and the ideas. Dee Hock has held on to a desire to be true to his beliefs, and to do good. He has created tremendous results. And his ideas on chaordic organizations are extremely interesting.

This is a great book from a great man. Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it! Read it!

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