People at the Joyce Foundation shared many of my lifelong concerns about the nature of contemporary institutions and the imminent risk of their collapse. They thought the principles that gave rise to the VISA community might have wide applicability to social and political, as well as commercial, organizations, intruding into my idyllic pasture to engage in a dialogue about the future.
They refused to accept my conviction that the current epidemic of institutional failure would become catastrophic, arguing that if such radically different organizations as VISA and Internet could emerge, equally radical change must be possible elsewhere. They posed an irresistible question: What would it take to greatly accelerate chaordic institutional change throughout all aspects of society?
After considerable research and thought, I suggested three things.
First: At least five or six large, extremely successful examples of chaordic organization, similar to VISA and Internet, would have to evolve. Ideally, they would span such diverse areas as education, government, social services, and commerce. Organizations ready and willing for such change must be sought out and resources provided to help them through the process.
Second: Sophisticated, three-dimensional, physical models of such structures would have to be created, so that people would have something tactile to examine and relate to existing organizations. Computer models would have to be created, graphically demonstrating how such institutions could self-organize, evolve, and link in new patterns of 21st-century society. The models would have to be supported with an impeccable, intellectual foundation. The economic, scientific, political, historical, technical, and philosophical rationale for such organizations would have to be documented. A considerable amount of such work has already been done; however, it is far from complete and lacks coherence and clarity, nor have the language and metaphors necessary for massive dissemination and understanding yet evolved.
Third: A global organization would have to emerge, whose sole purpose would be the development, dissemination, and implementation of new, chaordic concepts of organization, linking people and institutions committed to institutional reconception in a vast web of shared learning, information, and ownership. It must be organized on the chaordic principles it espouses.
I insisted that the odds of the three happening were too small to calculate, that massive institutional collapse was inevitable. The Foundation argued that people had lost confidence in existing institutions and were eager for new concepts; that there was growing desperation about seemingly intractable problems which, in the absence of constructive models for change, was turning to destructive behavior. In their view, society was preparing itself for radically different ideas of community and organization.
They posed another provocative question: If the Joyce Foundation was willing to break with tradition and make their first grant to an individual for expenses, would I contribute a year of my time to investigate, as freely and broadly as I liked, whether the three objectives were indeed impossible, and if not, what would be required to set them in motion? I argued that it was a waste of time and money. They insisted they were willing to accept the risk.
Thus, it happens that for the better part of a year I have been on an odyssey more improbable than VISA and incomparably more important and interesting, traveling extensively to search out people concerned about such problems and committed to doing something about them. It has led me to hundreds of brilliant, deeply concerned people in such diverse places as the U.S. Army, the Gulf States business community, ghetto self-help organizations, the cutting edge of science and technology, institutes of many persuasions, Japanese industrialists, Native Americans, authors, entrepreneurs, and corporate leaders. Although the way is far from clear, there are enough dedicated people who share many of the same convictions that it is impossible to be discouraged. The seeds of chaordic thinking are sprouting everywhere.
Although the odds remain formidable, I no longer believe the three objectives are impossible. With an intensive, part-time effort by a few dozen, deeply committed people and two million dollars for research, travel, and professional support, I now believe a Global Chaordic Federation might come into being within a year. There is a strong possibility it would then swiftly attract enough global support to become the instrument through which substantive examples of chaordic institutional success could materialize, models of such organizations come into being, and a coherent, intellectual foundation of such a society emerge. If that were to happen, it could catalyze within the decade the massive cultural, spiritual, and institutional change that a livable, sustainable future demands. Whether to undertake the effort in the months ahead will depend on response from those who could become the instruments of its emergence. I would, of course, be pleased to hear from anyone interested in the effort.
It is my personal belief, although I would be hard-pressed to prove it, that we are at that very point in time when a four-hundred-year-old age is dying and another struggling to be born; a shifting of culture, science, society, and institutions enormously greater than the world has ever experienced. Ahead, the possibility of regeneration of individuality, liberty, community, and ethics such as the world has never known and a harmony with nature, with one another, and with the divine intelligence such as the world has never dreamed.
There isn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that chaordic we are, chaordic we will remain, chaordic the world is, and chaordic our institutions must become. It is the way of life since the beginning of time and the only path to a sustainable world in the centuries ahead, as life continues to evolve into ever-increasing complexity. The only question is whether we will get there through massive institutional collapse, enormous social carnage, and painful reconstruction, with the distinct possibility of yet, another regression to that ultimate manifestation of Newtonian concepts of control-dictatorship.
Or have we, at long, long last, evolved to the point of sufficient humility, intelligence, and will to discover the concepts and conditions by which chaordic institutions can find their way into being? Institutions, which have inherent in them the mechanisms for their own continual learning, adaptation, order, and evolution and the capacity to co-evolve harmoniously with all other living things to the highest potential of each and all?
I simply do not know, but this I do know. At such times, it is no failure to fall short of realizing all that we might dream. The failure is to fall short of dreaming all that we might realize.