Though he has put much distance between himself and the Visa association, which he created and from which he retired 15 years ago, Dee Hock still bristles about one aspect of his departure.
"I left to open my life to new possibilities," he said in a recent interview. He still sounds incredulous that "not too many people believed it" at the time.
In "Birth of the Chaordic Age," a mix of memoir, business text, political theory, and philosophy that he spent several of his post-Visa years compiling and polishing, Mr. Hock may prove once and for all that he really did view the card organization as "an archetype," a prelude to more and bigger things.
If associates or outsiders preferred to see Mr. Hock as the victim of some sort of coup or political upheaval, then they were probably just captive to the old way of thinking that the book from Berrett-Koehler Publishers of San Francisco is meant to discredit and fix.
Mr. Hock, 71, has been talking up the idea of chaords (KAY-ords), a word he coined by combining chaos and order, for years. He uses it to explain where and how he wanted Visa to go, and what he has been doing since in trying to replicate and expand on this concept in communities and organizational entities of various kinds.
"Birth of the Chaordic Age" is a manifesto laying out his belief that mechanistic, industrial-age institutions and mind-sets will not stand up to 21st-century pressures and realities. They must be transformed according to self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive, nonlinear, organic principles -- those of the chaord.
Mr. Hock tried to build a chaordic Visa International, decentralized and democratic to a fault, with power and ideas bubbling up from the grass roots, not trickling down a bureaucratic pyramid.
By orthodox measures of size, growth, and profitability, the San Francisco-based company that began as National BankAmericard Inc. in 1970 is a "phenomenal success," Mr. Hock wrote. But "by the standards of what Visa might have become and what it ought to be, it would be a lie to deny a strong sense of failure." It never got chaordic enough in his 14 years at the helm, he contended, and if anything it has backslid since.
If one of the great private-sector enterprises in the world gets that sort of evaluation from the visionary who put it together, then one can only imagine what his true feelings must be about traditional banks and their industry. (Mr. Hock will no doubt provide some pieces of his mind Dec. 7 in Miami on the eve of the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery '99 conference. He is to join in a panel discussion with other industry "legends," including former NCNB Corp. -- later NationsBank and Bank of America -- chairman Thomas Storrs and long-time consultant and Washington hand Carter Golembe.)
"I have the very deep conviction that the institutions of our society are fundamentally flawed," Mr. Hock said in the interview from the base of his foundation, the Chaordic Alliance (www.chaordic.org), in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Global patterns of "maldistribution of wealth and power, crumbling societies, (and) a sickening biosphere suggest a deep, pervasive, underlying problem.
"We radically have to change our institutions ... . Top-down, hierarchical methods of organization don't work any more. The world doesn't work that way any more."
Mr. Hock lamented the rise of financial engineering, which he called "gaming the system," that has resulted in the establishment of a "casino society. The few owners of the casinos and a few gamblers win, and the rest lose -- 85% of the people live on 15% of the resources."
As evidence that "the old model hasn't given out," he pointed to "endless mergers in the corporate world" that have the effect of "driving out competition."
Just as he sought to underscore that it was a personal and public-service quest that motivated him to retire from Visa, he expounds in his pages on the wrongs of duality -- not the elemental concepts of mind and matter but rather the sequence of legal events in the 1970s that enabled banks to issue both MasterCard and Visa cards.
Unintended consequences followed, and the card industry still suffers with pricing structures that, Mr. Hock said, are "flawed" and "catastrophic." His "I told you so" message about duality: "The world doesn't march to anyone's tune."
Yet he retains great faith in both existing and emerging institutions to turn things around.
"Ten to 15 years ago I would have been very pessimistic," he said. But he is buoyed by the work of leaders such as Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic and the Dalai Lama, by the growing awareness of how self-organizing principles operate on the Internet and in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and by the transformation and awakening of South Africa's repressed society.
"There is no question that corporations can adapt," Mr. Hock said. "They have the intelligence, and the ability is there. They just need an understanding and willingness to evolve. I am running into thousands of people everywhere, some at the top, who are moving their organizations in this direction. I am greatly encouraged."
These ideals intersect with Mr. Hock's views of money and value exchange in what he termed "the essential notion of community." The "monetization of value," which is rampant in mechanized and industrialized society, goes against the grain of community.
Nonmonetary exchanges of value, motivated by what individuals care about and which they do not quantify, are "most effective, efficient, and biologically sound," he said. "It is the way the biosphere operates."
His visions for Visa had something to do with "creating the first global currency," but Mr. Hock conceded that he would have been "ridiculed" if he uttered such a radical thought in the 1970s. It takes a 345-page book published in 1999 to begin to explain how and why this might be something other than pure idealism.
"Visa was a tremendous experience, and it made me very proud in many ways," Mr. Hock said. "But we have to be realistic about its failures, which were many."