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Birth of the Chaordic Age

by Dee Hock


Berrett-Koehler Publishers

“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 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 always dreamed.”

- Dee Hock

Birth of the Chaordic Age,

by corporate statesman Dee Hock, is the fascinating, never-before told inside story of VISA’s creation—how people and institutions of every conceivable language, culture, currency, race, economic and political persuasion, were linked together in a commonly owned, $1.25 trillion non stock, for- profit organization, in which owner/members simultaneously engage in the most intense cooperation and fierce competition. It is also the story of Hock’s life-long quest, from humble beginnings, to an iconoclast who challenged the nature of traditional organizations, and is now engaged in an extraordinary odyssey to take these ideas around the world, via the nonprofit Chaordic Alliance.

Birth of the Chaordic Age is filled with concepts that challenge our fundamental beliefs about money, organizations, leadership, management, the human spirit and our relationship to the natural world. It is about three compelling questions that arose from the author’s awareness and experience; questions that came to dominate his life:

  1. Why are institutions, everywhere, whether political, social, or commercial, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?
  2. Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the institutions of which they are a part?
  3. Why are commerce, society, and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

The central idea of Birth of the Chaordic Age is that our economic, social, governmental, and other systems on earth are becoming too complex to be effectively served by traditional organizational forms. We’re in the midst of a growing epidemic of institutions that are unable to achieve their purpose, yet live on and expand, devouring resources, demeaning people and destroying the environment.

Schools that can’t teach. Unhealthy healthcare systems. Welfare systems in which few fare well. Police that can’t enforce the law. Judicial systems without justice. Families far from familial. Communities that can’t communicate. Corporations that can’t cooperate or compete. Governments that can’t govern. Economies that can’t economize.

Hock shows that there is a clear need to reconceive long-held notions of institutional organization—under his tutelage, a new organizational form is coming into being that meets the needs of the next century. Dee Hock calls this new organizational form “chaordic,” which he defines as:

    Chaordic [kay’ordic] from chaos and order.
    1. The behavior of any self governing organism, organization or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos.
    2. Patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos nor order.
    3. Characteristic of the fundamental organizational principles of evolution and nature.

The worldwide success of VISA, Hock asserts, is due to its chaordic structure: it is owned by 22,000 member banks, which compete with each other for 750 million customers AND cooperate by honoring one another’s $1.25 trillion in annual transactions across borders and currencies.

The Chaordic Alliance grew out Hock’s experiences founding and leading VISA and exploring the possibility of catalyzing massive institutional change on a global scale. Hock became convinced that it may be possible to realize these objectives, decided they would become his life’s work, and formed the Alliance as a not-for-profit organization for that purpose. Chaordic Alliance projects to date have included The United Religions Initiative, a global initiative that aims to enable enduring daily cooperation among the people of the world’s religious, spiritual and ethical communities; The Appleseed Foundation, founded by Ralph Nader and the Harvard Law School Class of 1958 to reclaim the law as a vehicle for achieving justice for all of this country’s citizens; The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a group of fishermen, community organizers, scientists, conservationists, educators and others knowledgeable about fisheries management who want to change its fundamental approach in the Northwest Atlantic region; and the Society for Organizational Learning, an outgrowth of the work begun at the MIT Center for Organizational Learning led by Peter Senge.

Birth of the Chaordic Age is at times lyrical, at times humorous, at times powerfully thoughtful, at times playful. Throughout, it is lucid and straight from the heart, shattering the boundaries of business books. As gripping as a novel, it is written by an extremely concerned man who has gone beyond theory to put his ideas into practice in the real world and is convinced that we can and must create the kind of organizations that a livable future demands.

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