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Principled organizations

GandhiWhen we say that a person is “principled,” we generally mean that they live their life based on a strong underlying ethic — a set of beliefs about proper behavior toward other people, and a commitment to stick to those beliefs even when tempted to act otherwise.

But what does it mean to say that an organization is principled?

I’d like to suggest that four things probably need to be true:

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A Chaordic Walk in the Park

Published on July 27, 2012 by in Chaorder, Stories

The cyclist suddenly races up from behind me and goes hurtling past.

Surprised, I reflexively leap to one side, lose my balance, stumble over a curb, and abruptly sit down on a patch of grass. Muttering mild oaths under my breath, I watch as she gracefully dodges among the joggers, baby carriages and other bikers, and quickly disappears from sight. The juxtaposition of her balance, agility and speed and my awkwardness at first grates on me, but then I pause.

How did she learn to do that?

If I got on a bike and tried to follow her, I almost certainly would kill somebody.

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The Visa Story

Published on July 26, 2012 by in Chaorder, Stories

Visa is often cited as an early prototype of chaordic organization. Despite Dee Hock’s caution that the organizational design of Visa was “at best a third right”, the story is both inspiring and instructive. What follows is an abbreviated rendition. For complete history, please read Dee’s book, One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization.

A TROUBLED INDUSTRY

In 1958, Bank of America issued sixty thousand credit cards to the residents of Fresno, California. After years of losses, the program became profitable and the bank blanketed the state with cards. In 1966, several California banks countered by launching Mastercharge. In turn, Bank of America began franchising BankAmericard.

Other large banks launched proprietary cards and offered franchises. Action and reaction exploded. Banks dropped tens of millions of unsolicited cards on an unsuspecting public with little regard for qualifications. Within two years, the infant industry was in chaos. Issuing banks were thought to be losing hundreds of millions of dollars, politicians were alarmed, the public was exasperated and the media was criticizing everyone involved.

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A Difference that Makes a Difference

Published on July 24, 2012 by in Chaorder, Philanthropy

Summary: The rapidly changing technological landscape is just one element of a much deeper set of societal changes. The institutional roles and relationships that make up the nonprofit sector will need to change dramatically before it can thrive in the next century.

In the middle of the 20th century, scientists and economists seriously pondered the question of whether uranium metal could replace gold as the standard for international currency and exchange (Scientific American, 1947, 1997). They surmised that energy — the capacity to do work — was a much more solid foundation on which to build economic value than an arbitrary malleable metal.

Although there is a certain elegance to this argument, looking back from where we are today, it seems ludicrous. But what actually happened was even more outlandish.

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Evolutionary Learning at Revolutionary Speeds

Published on July 22, 2012 by in Chaorder, Stories

• • • • •

It happens a billion times every day.

(c) the yes man

(c) the yes man

A seed falls to the ground. It waits for conditions to be right, and once they are, it begins its magic. Protoroots probe their surroundings, selectively absorbing the molecules they need. The roots pass the nutrients to the shoots as they reach for the sun.

Leaves and branches form, and eventually a flower buds, then blossoms.

Bees, butterflies, or insects may complete the pollination process. Deep inside the plant, molecules reorganize themselves into a seed, so that the cycle can repeat itself the following year.

But not quite.

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Spotting Abalone

Published on July 17, 2012 by in Stories
(c) Mike Baird

(c) Mike Baird

A friend of mine* was at his favorite beach, enjoying the sun and the waves.

He had noticed for years that people dived for abalone just a little ways offshore, and seemed to have good luck on most days. Today was one of those days. A diver came out of the water and walked right by him, proudly carrying his day’s find.

“There’s nothing special about that guy,” my friend thought. “And it looks like fun.” He stood up right then and there, walked over to a nearby dive shop, bought the necessary gear, and headed back to the beach. Within a few minutes he was ready to go, and headed out into the water.

About an hour later, he came back to the beach a wet and discouraged man.

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What is distributed enterprise?

When most folks talk about “distributed” systems, they normally have computers or the Internet in mind.  Or maybe they have been exposed to “complex adaptive systems” theory or “chaos theory” and are thinking of natural ecosystems, quantum mechanics or some other arcane discipline.  There’s an enormous amount to learn from those kinds of systems, but…

I’m not talking about any of that.  Or, well, not entirely…

I’m talking about when people are trying to achieve an important goal together, and where each person and group of people insist on maintaining their own rights – and are willing to honor each other’s rights — to protect their autonomy, their liberty and anything else that is deeply important to them.  And even beyond that, they are willing to enter in concrete and binding agreements to work together in a way that meet these criteria.

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