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3.7.04 The Bomb, continued

Back when I had a job at a large not-for-profit corporation, part of my job was to think about organizational structures.

In the mid to late nineties, it was all the rage to flatten hierarchies and get rid of the command and control mentality. Teams of people with a common purpose could take the intentions of their wise leaders and interpret them to get the job done.

One of my heroes was Dee Hock, the founder of VISA. The organizational structure of VISA -- yes, the one that processes all your money -- had never been seen before. Just a few people managed a gigantic network of business with banks. It was unprecedented.

Dee has a philosophical streak and saw this kind of organization as the only way to manage an increasingly complex and global future. He called in a "chaord." From the Chaordic Commons website:

Many leading scientists believe that the principal science of the next century will be the study of complex, autocatalytic, self-organizing, non-linear, adaptive systems, usually referred to as "complexity" or "chaos theory." They believe that such systems, perhaps even life itself, arise and thrive on the edge of chaos with just enough order to give them pattern, but not so much to slow their adaptation and learning.

The word chaord was formed by borrowing the first syllable of the two words: cha- from chaos, -ord from order.

CHAORD (kay'ord) 1: any autocatalytic, self-regulating, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously exhibits characteristics of both order and chaos. 2: an entity whose behavior exhibits patterns and probabilities not governed or explained by the behavior of its parts. 3: the fundamental organizing principle of nature and evolution.

I loved the ideas but ultimately found the principles impractical. The human services business is entrenched in old-time bureaucracies. Change becomes like traveling cross-country on a see-saw: lots of action, but no forward movement. And frankly, the employees are not all that motivated by a common purpose. They like the idea of "doing good," but it's still just a job and having a supervisor tell you what to do is way easier than figuring it out on your own or, worse, in an endless team meeting.

Then 2001 rolls around and along comes al-Qaeda, everywhere and nowhere. And now the nuclear network, everywhere and nowhere. Although I suspect black markets have always been chaordic, the Age of the Dark Chaord has arrived. I've listed here the principles of a chaordic organization and will see how well the evil al-Qaeda fits.

Are based on clarity of shared purpose and principles. Definitely - bring America and the West to its knees

Are self-organizing and self-governing in whole and in part. I think what we have to learn about "self organizing" is that it is very disciplined. The team self-organizes, not the individuals. And "self- governing" does not mean you don't have to have very strong leadership - smart people with plans and the ability to execute them.

Exist primarily to enable their constituent parts. Yes. Osama is invisible but still powerful. His role is to inspire the terrorist cells to carry out the awful mission.

Are powered from the periphery, unified from the core. Yes. Osama and his brain trust at the core. Proliferating cells at the periphery - all over the place.

Are durable in purpose and principle, malleable in form and function. Yep.

Equitably distribute power, rights, responsibility and rewards. I don't know about this one.

Harmoniously combine cooperation and competition. Again, I don't know how "harmonious" al-Qaeda is. If they keep attracting members, there must be something of a brotherhood involved.

Learn, adapt and innovate in ever expanding cycles. Yep. It is worrisome to think of al-Qaeda like a flu virus - always changing, always outsmarting last year's vaccine.

Are compatible with the human spirit and the biosphere. Well... if you recognize that the "human spirit" is full of anger, greed, envy, and overall orneriness, then this fits. Unfortunately, we liberals often make the mistake of thinking that people are basically good. But individuals are both good and evil. Leadership, environment, and motivation can tip them one way or another.

Liberate and amplify ingenuity, initiative and judgment. Oh, yes.

Are compatible with and foster diversity, complexity and change. Yep.

Constructively utilize and harmonize conflict and paradox. Apparently.

Restrain and appropriately embed command and control methods. "Appropriately embedded command and control methods" give a group their discipline. When you are carrying out a dangerous mission, you need military structure and someone calling the shots. I think this has been another flaw in the attempts to implement chaordic principles in traditional organizations. They throw out the baby with the bathwater and make everything into a laborious consensus decision.

This piece wasn't supposed to be this long. Sorry for the academic lecture...


Chaordic Commons

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