Blackbirds and Hock

I am back with Dee Hock this month as I reread his book ‘Birth of the Chaordic Age‘. What a treat that is for me. Dee Hock has spent his life considering these important questions:

  1. Why are organisations, everywhere, whether political, commercial, or social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?
  2. Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the organisations of which they are part?
  3. Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

He contrasts the ways of nature with the ways of institutions. He describes his own childhood discovery of the lack of generosity and respect within institutions by telling the story of a disastrous event in church in which he was scapegoated for the spilling of the communion (and he was not guilty!) He writes:

What is this chasm between how institutions profess to function and how they actually do; between what they claim to do for people and what they actually do to them? What makes people behave in the name of institutions in ways they would never behave in their own name? Church, school, government, business – all the same…. Nothing in nature feels like church or school. There’s no ‘principal’ blackbird pecking away at the rest of the flock. There’s no Super frog telling the others how to croak. There’s no teacher tree lining up the saplings and telling them how to grow….

 Nothing in the early years prepared me for the shock of institutions. With school and church came crushing confinement and unrelenting boredom … It was as though everyone began to shed wholeness and humanity at the door, along with coats and overshoes, and, one by one, to cut the threads of connection to the inner spirit, the world of nature and the humanity of others.

Hock’s response was the creation of VISA for which he is renowned and from which he turned to work on land savaged by over-cropping from a culture of command and control. He translates his learning from nature into his thinking about organisation, and the “birth of the chaordic age”.

Tyranny is tyranny no matter how petty, how well rationalised, how unconscious, or how well intended. It is that to which we have persuaded ourselves for centuries, in thousands of subtle ways, day after day, month after month, year after year. It need not be so, ever. It need not be so now. It cannot be for ever. (p24)

Tyranny’s culture is reversed, nature is respected and chaordic organisation is celebrated as Hock reports that “soil is building as thousands of gophers, mice and moles work assiduously carrying grass underground and dirt to the surface. Beneath us, billions of worms, ants, beetles, and other creatures till the soil round the clock. Trillions of microscopic creatures live, eat, excrete and die beneath my feet, fulfilling their destiny and mine as well, just as surely I fulfil theirs.” (p21)

2 thoughts on “Blackbirds and Hock

  1. >Enjoy the book Simon. There are some amazing insights to help us cope with complex systems – aka people and parishes. I included some of them in some posts from an earlier reading of the book three years ago. Good luck with GAP.

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