Self-Organization Man

2014-01-28

Here's a brief summary of one of my favorite books: One From Many by Dee Hock, the founder of VISA and an incredibly fruitful thinker on the philosophy of organizations.

Mr. Hock coined the word "chaord" - a mixture of chaos and order. VISA itself has a chaordic structure at the macro level, since it is not one organization but a loose network of banks, merchants, cardholders, and other entities that freely interact in well-defined ways (not dissimilar from the Internet). Even more interesting to me is chaordic structure at the micro level, within the firm. Here, I think, is the true key to Mr. Hock's deep insights into human interaction.

The work of an enterprise consists of many projects that can be broken down into multiple tasks. The question is: who will complete those tasks, and how? According to Mr. Hock, if everyone in the enterprise (or, keeping Dunbar numbers in mind, a smaller group within the enterprise) has a clear view of the tasks to be completed, various individuals can join together in ad-hoc ways to complete those tasks. Thus work becomes the spontaneous order of relatively equal, independent individuals who have shared purposes and principles, not the planned march of subordinates by a hierarchy of superiors according to rigid rules and regulations. In contrast to the "organization man" of the 1950s, Mr. Hock sees the emergence of the "self-organization man" (and woman, of course!).

Within a healthy, non-hierarchical enterprise, management comes to mean something utterly different from supervising subordinates. For Mr. Hock, the priorities of management are best listed in the following order:

  1. Manage yourself: your behavior, character, ethics, integrity, knowledge, skills, abilities, attitude, energy, time, etc. This deserves 50% of your effort.
  2. Manage those with greater authority: the founders or officers or partners of your enterprise, team leaders, investors, outside parties such as regulators, etc. This deserves 25% of your effort.
  3. Manage your peers: co-workers within your enterprise, colleagues in your industry or profession, suppliers, customers, etc. This deserves 20% of your effort.
  4. Manage those over whom you have some form of authority. This deserves only 5% of your effort.

(The standard objection is that this leaves very little time for supervising subordinates. That's a feature, not a bug!)

What's missing in these relationships is control, oversight, steering, handling, manipulation, and other forms of moving people around by force of hand. When we remove those things, what seeps back in are communication, coordination, creativity, ingenuity, shared problem solving, common sense, mutual benefit, spontaneity, responsibility, trust, and respect.

In other words, humanity.

And that's what we desperately need more of in our working lives, wouldn't you say?


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