Back to Nature - BOOK EXCERPT: BIRTH OF THE CHAORDIC AGE

By Dee Hock, CIO |  Software

chaord (ka' ord)
1 The behavior of any self-governing organism, organization or system that harmoniously blends characteristics of chaos and order.

2 Patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos nor order.
3 Characteristic of the fundamental organizational principles of evolution and nature.

In Birth of the Chaordic Age, Hock illustrates this type of organization, one that blends chaos and order. This excerpt from Chapter 12 begins with the earliest incarnation of Visa International announcing its intent to build a proprietary, competitive system for the electronic authorization of sales and the clearance of transactions and payments. Hock takes us through its bumpy ride, where chaos seems omnipresent yet order and sense emerge from it all -- naturally.

THE FOLLOWING MONTHS WERE AMONG the most exciting in the history of the company. We
were determined the needs of our members and cardholders would be served, not the needs
of technology or vendors. That required internal responsibility. We decided to become
our own prime contractor, farming out selected tasks to a variety of software
developers, then coordinating and implementing results. Conventional wisdom held it to
be one of the worst possible ways to build computerized communications systems.

We rented cheap space in a suburban building and dispensed with leasehold
improvements in favor of medical curtains on rolling frames for the limited spatial
separation required. IBM, then the infallible behemoth of the computer industry, was
the supplier of computers to 80 percent of our members. Early in the process, as we had
prepared the proposal to the board, IBM had promised a quarter-million dollars of
support in connecting members to the system. Now they waffled, saying only that they
would see what they could do when the time arrived. We threw them out, telling them not
a single piece of IBM equipment would come through our doors in the future, not even a
typewriter. We selected a relatively new, then innovative company, Digital Equipment
Corp., which we believed would be more responsive to the spirit of our people, to
provide our computers.

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