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July 8, 2010

So I read Dee Hock’s Birth of the Chaordic Age today. I’m a little bit stunned; I’m not sure I could claim it’s required reading for all, but I have tremendous respect for the man, whose sincerity and intelligence bleeds through every sentence. It’s basically a somewhat unconventionally structured account of how Hock, who ran VISA for 15 years before abruptly retiring for ten years to nature (!!!) began to be interested in chaord (an organiation which is organized chaordically–at once chaotically but with order… but see wikipedia for a much better explanation)–or rather, began to formulate various ideas and theories he had had throughout his life under this word "chaord." It turns out VISA is basically a coop of banks, which doesn’t seem so crazy to me but apparently was 1/ revolutionary in the top-down business model of the day (1960s) and 2/ seems still quite revolutionary for the business world we are talking about. Hock argues for chaordic organizations, corporations and institutions as a way to salvage the disconnect we inevitably feel when part of any hierarchical organization. Which I have to say, I definitely feel.

Hock comes off a sort of nonconformist genius whose unswerving belief in his cause allowed him to organize the VISA corporation. It’s his one chaordic success, so it remains somewhat unclear if he’s visionary genius about chaords or kook whose sheer hard work and devotion brought him success in a specific context. And really, by the end of the book, it gets kind of cultish about chaords: he’s been referring to his rational brain as "Old Monkey Mind" throughout the whole book, his plow as "Thee Ancient One", repeating sentences quite liberally (on purpose, as befits his chosen structure, but, still, it’s irritating if you’re reading straight-through) and by the end his tone of realizing that Promoting Chaords is What He Was Meant For gets a little heavy.


I’m excited by this new idea of chaordic. This sort of chaos/order is what one observes in the internet and the city and ants and dare I say the United States (the order of the Union; the chaos of the individual State laws, etc.); formally, I am quite drawn to it, as Max articulated quite felicitously for me during the preliminary Thesis presentation. I hate top-down organizations, even for causes I believe in; they’ve alienated in me in the way Hock describes–he feels it too, and feels quite strongly it’s getting worse, and spreading for people in general. So I intrigued; and though he does come off as a bit cultish–well, I have immense respect for him and his sincerity.

So then. The million dollar question here, of course, is how to relate this to graphic design. And I’m not sure yet; I have a couple of ideas–and certainly, formally, I see a number of things that relate–design that tries to give you the feel of transparency of structure and a vague chaos but of course, order too, because if there were no order we’d get no information out of it. And the vernacular typography of a city, or any sort of discrete place that allows for different voices to be heard. And then of course, there’s the whole internet, and such sites as craigslist and Wikipedia which I think are good examples too, though see those as more information architecture, which I am somewhat less inteested in. And really, if I were interested in information architecture–well, that would be a jackpot I think; how to build websites that allow for the community to add and speak and be a fundamental part of the website and not look ugly or slapped on or at all secondary. A website that allows for contributions, where indeed, the contributions ARE the thing; a wiki site, I guess, but can it be done with a little more design than Wikipedia? Well I don’t know anything about that, but the point is, I have some ideas, many of which are still so raw it’s probably best not to share them as they don’t make much sense. But I do think there’s a lot of opportunity and right now, I’m cautiously optimistic tht if I keep on pursuing my previous strategy–reading and reading and then LOOKING–the right design question for my thesis will naturally come to mind.

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