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Chaords, Credit Cards, and Complexity


Framework Complexity - the Pater Noster LighthouseIn the I-don’t -know-how-I-missed-this department, I was quite surprised, but not-shocked , to hear that someone had coined a term to try to capture the world’s uncanny ability to present both chaos and order. Dee Hock, former CEO of VISA coined the term "chaordic" to describe conditions that are either present and/or needed in organizations and their leadership in order to maximize the potential for success. For more detail, check out a review of Hock’s book Birth of the Chaordic Age. Published in 1999, Hock defines both chaords and chaordic. I’ll just go with the noun here:

(kay'ord) 1: any autocatalytic, self-regulating, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously exhibits characteristics of both order and chaos. 2: an entity whose behavior exhibits patterns and probabilities not governed or explained by the behavior of its parts. 3: the fundamental organizing principle of nature and evolution.

Coming from the CEO of one of the most successful enterprises of all time, I guess he can call "it" - that special stuff that made VISA what it is - whatever he wants.

Note that definition (2) is more a hallmark of complexity, because it really is describing emergent structure. So it really goes beyond the chaos/order duality that is the mainstay of chaos theory.

My question now is whether the definition of chaord and chaordic adds anything to anything. Can it really help CEO’s shape their companies for success? Last year I took on those who usurp words and ideas from science and try to apply them to social situations in my post The Terrible Tao of Chaotic Career Moves. While seemingly harmless efforts to harness some of the great ideas of non-linear dynamical systems, I always cringe when I read this stuff because it makes chaos seem like new age hocus-pocus.

Now the chaords of the world actually have an organization called The Chaordic Commons, which "collaborates with groups committed to organizing themselves as chaords - systems functioning on the edge of chaos with enough order to give them pattern." In other words a chaord of chaords.

Note the "edge of chaos" reference. Credited to Chris Langton but more associated with Stuart Kauffman, both part of the world of complexity theory and associated with the Santa Fe Institute, the phrase is often used to describe the precariously poised conditions that often seem to characterize life. So why is chaordic any different from what the complexity folks have already done in much greater detail, and with actual real live mathematical detail and true predictive power?

Of course, I haven’t brought myself to join this group. Without joining I can’t see who the member chaords are, or the discussion threads that are listed under Chaordic Initiatives. So who am I to pass judgement? Creating an account is free, so why not at least see what is up behind the security wall? I should, I know, but I am fighting it because I know what will happen.

I’ll be struck again by how easy it is to get myself into a state of apoplexy, wanting to write posts like the one I am writing now, and simultaneously wanting to apply chaordic theory to my life.

In short, I will find myself on the edge of chaos, chaordically hoping for some hocus-pocus that will somehow grant me the time to come up with the werewithal to apply terms from chaos theory to my own ventures.

And if that helps me pay off my Visa bill, then all the better.