Mar 03 2004
I visited the Chaordic Commons yesterday in San Raphael. It was interesting to see the evolution of Dee Hock’s ideas from when I met him in 1998 to now. I spent a fair amount with him personally, as well as working with him on the Valeo Initiative for health care reform.
I think Dee had a lot of really good ideas, and presented them with a great deal of personal charisma and conviction. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they had much lasting effect in their current form. Here are some lessons I derive from watching his work:
1. The word “Chaord” may have been too catchy. Everyone resonated with it immediately with a glow of understanding which precluded their deeper understanding of what was behind it (particularly the self-organizing part.) The word just seemed to catch fire as a soundbite and then drift away. As Frederick Turner says in his essay, The Unbearable Lightness of Cyberspace, maybe we need a little more “opacity.” Perhaps a word that required a little more reflection and digging before replicating would have been more sustainable.
2. A key issue to be addressed is the notion of perverse incentives. I think that making organizations more efficient in responding to perverse incentives is likely to result in making the system get worse faster. Talking about improved governance in government agencies, for example, is asking bureaucrats to take action which would likely result in their own decreased salaries or job security. His original example of organization – credit card processing – had very simple and identifiable goals which were self-evident. I think he under estimated the complexity of the health care system.
3. I don’t think that collecting all the stakeholders and asking themselves to figure out who should disintermediate themselves is a viable model for systemic change. Those who are benefiting the most from the perversity of the current system are those who will most powerfully resist any changes. This is what happened with the Valeo Initiative, after which the organization just petered out.
4. I think that there could be a lot of mileage to be derived by rethinking Dee’s ideas in light of our emerging understanding of networks, social networks, the emergence of the web, scale-free networks, self-organizing criticality, and percolation networks.
5. As a student of visionaries, I am interested in how far-sighted individuals succeed or fail in getting their ideas across. One of the patterns I see is the degree to which the visionariers are able to dissociate their own identity from the ideas they are promoting. Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not name it “Tim’s Web” – but rather gave it away to be “the World Wide Web.” However, “Ted Nelson’s Xandu” and “Doug Engelbart’s Augment” and “Dee Hock’s Chaordic thinking” got tangled up in the charisma of the visionary. The really successful visions, I think, embed the charisma in the vision, not the visionary. “Success has many parents, but failures are an orphan.”
I admire Dee Hock’s creativity, determination and vision, and I hope to see his ideas fuel a new generation of thinking…