You Can Make Ads In Your Sleep – Radical Rebuilding of Our Organizations Is The Work That Needs Doing

Far better than a precise plan is a clear sense of direction and compelling beliefs.” – Dee Hock
Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of Visa International, has some interesting ideas about chaos theory and organizational democracy.
Here’s a passage from an old Fast Company article on Hock:

Command-and-control organizations, Hock says, “were not only archaic and increasingly irrelevant. They were becoming a public menace, antithetical to the human spirit and destructive of the biosphere. I was convinced we were on the brink of an epidemic of institutional failure.”
He also had a deep conviction that if he ever got to create an organization, things would be different. He would try to conceive it based on biological concepts and metaphors.

Conceive it he did. After a year spent developing a purpose and principles statement, and another year hammering out a decentralized structure for the organization which he would go on to lead, Visa was born and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hock retired from Visa in May 1984, at 55, and spent the next 10 years on his farm west of Silicon Valley.

“Through the years, I have greatly feared and sought to keep at bay the four beasts that inevitably devour their keeper — Ego, Envy, Avarice, and Ambition. In 1984, I severed all connections with business for a life of isolation and anonymity, convinced I was making a great bargain by trading money for time, position for liberty, and ego for contentment — that the beasts were securely caged.”

But the ideas in Hock’s mind refused to be contained. After having his fire re-stoked by Mitch Waldrop’s Complexity, Hock went on to write his own book, Birth of the Chaordic Age and he founded the Chaordic Alliance, now known as Chaordic Commons, in order to help other organizations learn, and benefit from, his ideas on chaos and order — two seemingly opposed forces.
So what can advertising and media businesses learn from Hock’s ideas on radical self-organizing? Might there be another way to make ads or media than the one we’ve known and grown comfortable with? There has to be! New shops like Victor & Spoils, which relies on “the crowd” for ideas, is pursuing a new path. So are all the decentralized networks of ad people that come together on a project, then disband, then rejoin. A few years ago we called them “virtual agencies” but they’re hyper-real. There are also firms that’ve done away with the hierarchy of titles and corner offices. But an editor is still an editor and a creative director is still a creative director, right? And bosses still make 10 to 20 times what people on the line make, right? Sure, in old-world organizations that are struggling mightily to keep their heads above water, that’s how it works.
I’m up for something different. How about you?



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.