Within six months, a complex of regional and national committees had been formed, which had but one redeeming quality — it allowed organized information about problems to emerge. These problems were much worse than anyone had imagined, far beyond possibility of correction by the existing organization. Losses were not in the tens of millions, but in the hundreds of millions and accelerating.

And suddenly, like a diamond in the dirt, there it lay. The need to create a new organization and a precarious toehold from which to make the attempt.

All the “re’s” now so popular — reorganizing, re-engineering, reinventing — were the wrong “re’s,” for they imply yet another version of that which is. It was necessary to reconceive in the most fundamental sense, the concept of bank, money, and credit card — even beyond that to the essential elements of each and how they might change in a microelectronic environment. Several conclusions slowly emerged:

First: Money had become nothing more than guaranteed, alphanumeric data recorded on valueless paper and metal. It would become data in the form of organized electrons and photons moving around the world at the speed of light, at minuscule cost, by infinitely diverse paths throughout the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

Second: “Credit card” was a misnomer, a false concept. It must be reconceived as a device for exchange of value in the form of arranged electronic signals. The demand for that exchange would be huge and global.

Third: Whatever organization could best globally guarantee and exchange data in the form of arranged, electronic signals would have a potential market — very exchange of value in the world — whose size beggared the imagination.

It became clear that no hierarchical corporation could do it, no nation-state could do it. In fact, no existing form of organization could do it. The resources of banks worldwide were calculated. The total dwarfed the resources of most nations. Jointly they could do it, but how?

It was beyond the power of reason to design an organization to deal with such complexity and beyond the reach of imagination to perceive all the conditions it would encounter. Yet, evolution routinely tossed off much more complex chaords with seeming ease. It gradually became apparent that such an organization would have to be based on biological concepts and methods. It would have to evolve — in effect to invent and organize itself.

I asked three others to join me to address a single question based upon a single assumption. If there were no constraints whatever, if anything imaginable was possible, what would be the nature (not the structure) of an ideal organization to create the world’s Premier device for the exchange of value?

We isolated ourselves in a small, remote hotel. There followed a week of intense, night-and-day discussion. Slowly, a dozen or so simple principles emerged. Let me give you some examples:

  1. It must be equitably owned by all participants. No member should have intrinsic preferential position. All advantage must result from individual ability and initiative.
  2. Power and function must be distributive to the maximum degree. No function should be performed by any part of the whole that could reasonably be done by any more peripheral part, and no power vested in any part that might reasonably be exercised by any lesser part.
  3. Governance must be distributive. No individual, institution, and no combination of either or both should be able to dominate deliberations or control decisions.
  4. It must be infinitely malleable yet extremely durable. It should be capable of constant, self-generated, modification of form or function without sacrificing its essential nature or embodied principle.
  5. It must embrace diversity and change. It must attract people and institutions comfortable with such conditions and provide an environment in which they could flourish.
  6. It took six months to perfect and gain acceptance of the principles. There followed an intense, year-long effort involving a great many people and disciplines. The principles were gradually enlarged into a concept, the concept into a theoretical structure, and the structure fitted into the interstices of law, custom, and culture. In June 1970 the VISA chaord came into being.

It remains difficult to describe that community, but the record is impressive with regard to what happened when chaordic principles were applied, power distributed, and human ingenuity released. Twenty-four years ago VISA was no more than a vague concept. Today, its products are created by 23,000 financial institutions and accepted in more than 200 countries and territories; 355 million people use those products to make 7.2 billion transactions exceeding $650 billion annually — the largest single block of consumer purchasing power in the world economy.