Twenty years ago, in my book, Birth of The Chaordic Age, I wrote of three questions that emerged in my mind a half century ago.  They had everything to do with the creation of the organizations, systems, products, and services now known as VISA Inc. They also gave rise to a life-long search for answers reflected in numerous speeches, three books, and thousands of pages of writing.   

The questions, listed in the preface, were fascinating when they emerged.  They were compelling as the century ended and the new millennium began.  They are critical today.

Today, it should be apparent to everyone that we are in the midst of a global epidemic of institutional failure.  Not just failure in the sense of collapse, but the more common and pernicious form--organizations unable to achieve the purpose for which they were created, yet continuing to exist as they devour resources, demean the human spirit, and destroy the environment. 

 

Unhealthy health care systems,

Welfare systems in which no one fares well,

 Schools that cannot educate,

Corporations that cannot cooperate or compete,

Universities that are far from universal,

Agriculture that destroys soil, poisons water, and degrades food,

Police that cannot enforce the laws,

Unjust judicial systems, 

Governments that cannot govern, and

Economies that cannot economize.

 

Such universal, ever-accelerating, institutional failure suggests that there are deep pervasive questions we have not asked, and some fundamental flaw in the ordering of societal relationships of which we are unaware.  No matter how much we shuffle control and responsibility back and forth from one industrial-age organization to another-- government to private enterprise, democracy to socialism, monarchy to republic, national to municipal government, planned economy to free market, non-profit to for-profit-- social and environmental problems continue to accelerate.  No matter how we try to solve them with industrial-age, mechanistic management techniques, the problems re-emerge in different form and dress more virulent than ever.

Something is deeply, fundamentally wrong.  No matter how many technological miracles we perform. No matter how sophisticated the virtual worlds we create.  No matter how many atoms we crack, how much genetic code we alter, how many space probes we launch, how much new science we discover, how many new drugs we produce, problems grow progressively worse.  

In truth, there are no problems "out there."  And there are no experts "out there" that could solve them if there were.  The problem is "in here";  in the consciousness of you and me.  In the depths of the collective consciousness of our species.  

At bottom, it is a wrong concept of organization and leadership based upon a false metaphor with which we must deal.  When our consciousness begins to understand and grapple with the destructive, industrial-age, concepts of organization and management to which it clings; when we are willing to risk loosening the hold of those concepts and the lust for control they inevitably bring;  when we are willing to embrace new, chaordic concepts more in harmony with the human spirit and biosphere, then, and only then, will the complex societal and environmental problems yield.

In truth, we already know how to solve these intractable problems. What we do not know is how to implement the solutions within our archaic, cumbersome, mechanistic concept of organization and leadership.  We are, in a profound sense, victims of our own success.

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More, much more, in subsequent essays..