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
The word chaord was formed by borrowing the first syllable of the two
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Are compatible with and foster diversity, complexity and change.
Constructively utilize and harmonize conflict and paradox.
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