by, L. Michael Hall Ph. D.
“The lifelong dream of pioneering a new concept of organization had been realized. There was pride and gratification in knowing what it had been, what it now was, and what it might become, but there was a deep sene of failure about what it ought to be.” (Birth of the Chaordic Age, p. 285)
Last week I began the story of Dee Hock, founder of VISA International and CEO Emeritus and his incredible journey to envisioning and then creating a whole new kind of organization. So go back … way back to the 1960s when he was doing this, when businesses were just beginning to wake up to the typhoon of change that was just then beginning to blow over this planet. Douglas McGregor had just translated Maslow’s Self-Actualization Psychology into workplace language. He did that by inventing the language of Theory X and Theory Y to explain the old mindset of command-and-control leadership and bureaucracy and the new mindset of tapping into and release human intelligence and creativity. He did that in the book, The Human Enterprise (1960).
As far as I can tell Dee Hock was not aware of Maslow or McGregor and yet he was on the same track. He described the problem with business, with leadership, and with organizations as one created by the “machine” metaphor that began “the age of managers” and “the Industrial Age.” The 400 year old Industrial Age and its paradigm of predictability and control was the problem. And people were begin “victimized by a false metaphor” (p. 171). That’s because a new age of information had arise and was upon business and Dee Hock argued that business needed a more natural metaphor- an organic one, a systemic one, and one human one. So he wrote about self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive complex organisms and used that as a more natural metaphor for an organization or community.
I mentioned last week that I had read his book many years ago and didn’t realize that he was actually writing about Self-Actualizing Companies and Organizations. How could I have missed it? In part, because he never used that language. He had another name. He called the new kind of organization that he envisioned chaordic. This was his invented word, created by combining chaos and order. He defined a chaordic organization in this way: “The behavior of any self-governing organism, organization or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos; patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos or order.”
Dreaming the Radically New “If anything imaginable was possible, if there were no constraints whatever, what would be the nature of an ideal organization to create the world’s premier system for the exchange of value?” (132)
In this way he stumbled upon the qualities of a whole new kind of organization- one that would be friendly to the human spirit, that would accord with human beings and the biosphere. As I re-read the book, The Birth of the Chaordic Organization, I took notes. The following notes are those that describe a Self-Actualizing Company. It this sounds very similar to the descriptions which I put in the book, Unleashing Leadership- Self-Actualizing Leaders and Companies, they are. What did CEO Dee Hock conceptualize the new chaordic organization to be like? Here are a few hints:
A becoming organization. “Life is not about getting, having, controlling, it’s not even about being. Life is eternal, perpetual becoming. Becoming is not a thing to be known or controlled. It is a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced.” (24).
Systemic. We are irrevocably interconnected, defining one another. (22).
A Principled Community. “People everywhere are growing desperate for renewed sense of community.” (91). “Healthy organizations are a mental concept of relationships to which people are drawn by hope, vision, values, and meaning, and liberty to cooperatively pursue them.” (120)
Leaders who induce rather than impose. “There is no way to give people purpose and principles, nor can there be self-governance without them. The only possibility is to evoke the gift of self-governance from the people themselves.” (90).
A place of ingenuity and creativity. “Without question, the most abundant, least expensive, most under-utilized, and constantly abused resource in the world is human ingenuity.” (72).
Empowerment. “If you’re going to form a committee to do anything, give it responsibility for creating some way to examine all problems in a systematic, continuous way.” (108).
Self-Organizing cohesive group. “We know that ‘together’ [we] must transcend all present boundaries and allow self-organization at every scale…” “Chaordic organizations self-organize and evolve, creating and governing diversity and complexity beyond any possibility of central design, engineering, or control.” (296).
Ecological. “If the purpose of each corporation is not primarily the health of the earth and well-being of all life thereon, if its principles are not based on equitable distribution of power and wealth, if it avoids responsibility for the sustenance of family, community, and place, if it has no belief system, or one devoid of ethical and moral content, it is difficult to see why it should have the sanction and protection of society through government.” (171).
Open discussion and debate. “Deliberation and debate will be open to all and controlled by none, particularly management.” (185). “[VISA] was chaordic and open to surprise.” (269). “The promise of open meetings and candor was often put to the test by skeptical employees.” (283).
Mature responsible people. “In chaordic organizations of the future, it will be necessary at every level to have people capable of discernment, of making fine judgments, and acting sensibly upon them.” (264)
Vigilant least the old mindset re turns. “On t he whole, we had poor methods and techniques and far too little of them to bring about the cultural change that a chaordic organization requires.” (277). “Bit by bit, the old patterns reasserted themselves…” (278). “I missed completely the need for an institutional immune system to thwart the viruses of old ways.” (281).
Now in the process of creating a new kind of organization Dee Hock ran into numerous problems, problems which are relevant to what we are doing today. More about that next week.