Tag Archives: innovation

Book Review : One From Many, Dee Hock

Well, this is a book that many people recommended me over the last years. But the word “chaordic” – invented by Dee Hock to describe new kinds of organizations – seemed to me so much like a typical consultant buzzword that I never read it. I could never be grateful enough to my colleague Sanna for her suggestion to add it to our joint reading list for our team learning contract : this is a MUST-READ book for anyone interested in organizations in the 21st Century !

Dee Hock is the originator and served as the first President of VISA International, the global payment system and one of the most recognized brand in the world.

What is so interesting in this book ?

  1. It is first and foremost a fascinating story where a very exceptional context (the crisis of the first card payment system in the U.S.) is intertwined with the personal quest of a humble (but quite unconventional) Seattle bank executive. Having a glimpse into such an intimate view is remarkable. Dee Hock describes with a lot of enjoyable details the ups and downs of this amazing  adventure : creating a single entity with thousands of financial organizations around the world without any of them having more power than the other. The story itself is like a thriller with beautifully painted characters (like Hock’s boss – Mr Carlson – who closes every meeting with the attentive address : “Young man, did this meeting serve your purpose ?”).
  2. One from Many is also a book about wisdom. Dee Hock wrote it in 1999,  30 years after the beginning of the whole story. It is not a business case built and made up just a few years after the events it depicts. The book has this flavour of time, of long hours of reflections, without complacency but also without bitterness. Despite the seeming success of VISA, Dee Hock is not quite satisfied with the final result. So the book is not about declaring how beautiful VISA has become, it is about the difficulty to bring into life organizations as they ought to be, rather than just as they are or as they could be. This story is a story of life : how can your deepest personal quest resist adversity ? how can an idea(l) find its way through reality ? In a Fast Company interview in 1998, D. Hock says :“[The chaordic organization] idea is a baby, like a daughter or a son. We can have a vision of what it will eventually be. But we won’t see that in our lifetime.” 
  3. This book enlarges our vision of what organizations can possibly be.  Chaordic organizations is a concept that draws a lot on nature and the way it blends competition and cooperation at the same time. For D. Hock, “chaordic” means “the behavior of any self-organizing and self-governing organism, organization, or system that harmoniously blends characteristics of chaos and order” (p.13)  Creating chaordic organizations has a lot to do with design : clarifying and making purpose and principles explicit, as well as caring for processes. This is how, at VISA,  the power of one single stakeholder (Bank of America) who used to be licensing its own card and brands to other banks, would be turned into a system (with a constitution) where no one – even the VISA staff or board – had a view of the whole nor more power on other entities. It all resulted both from democratic processes (like regional elected boards) AND from freedom of action of each entity within the guiding principles and purpose of VISA. The efficiency of such a system is really fascinating, for example, when D. Hock recalls the speed of adoption of the VISA name and logo.
  4. Finally, I was really impressed by the view of leadership that emerges from this book. D. Hock is a really great leader, and despite his humility I very much doubt that VISA would exist as it is without his vision and persuasion skills. What is impressive in him is the alliance of a very (very, very) ambitious vision and down-to-earth pragmatism. Circumstances, obstacles or failures are seen as opportunities to grow and to learn. Confidence in the power of others is as huge as distrust in bureaucracy. Let me share with you one tasty quote :

In the beginning, there were no titles at NBI [first name of VISA]. When recruiting new people accustomed to the old ways, the question of titles would inevitably come up. In my desk was a long, typed list. With a serious expression, I would explain it was our custom to have each employee select their own title, which they could change from time to time if it failed to meet their needs. On the list was a rich selection : Grand Duke, Lord, Lady, Prince, Queen, Princess, King, Duchess, Ayatollah, Bishop, etc. If employees wished to add a descriptive addition, that would be all right. They could use Ayatollah of Advertising or the Grand Duke of Accounting. The only requirement was that the title must be used on all occasions. No one accepted.

Using the same logic, we had no job descriptions. I was often asked : ‘How will people know what I do ?’ – “If what you do is not readily apparent to everyone, that becomes a very interesting question” I would reply. (p. 245)

One From Many has never been so relevant as today. Maybe because Dee Hock sowed the chaordic concept like he sowed hundreds of trees in his land after he retired from Visa, he sees its development and putting into practice as very slow. Will the current crises accelerate the emergence of the type of organizations that he described more than 10 years ago  ? Or will it take – as Thomas Kuhn teached us – a whole generation to really live the paradigm shift and experiment the Chaordic Age ? Whatever the answer may be to these questions, the legacy of Dee Hock for all of us who look for more human organizations is enormous. As Renaissance people used to say : we are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants”. Dee Hock is one of these giants.

More on Dee Hock and Visa story > Fast Company article, 1995

Top 10 Books of the Last Twelve Months


Summertime is great for reading. I’d like to share with you and recommend 10 books I have read over the past twelve months. I’d be glad to hear from you : what nuggets  have you discovered lately ?

This book is really cool. You travel from studio to studio of 20 contemporary painters and you discover how they work : daily routines, material they use, etc. This is like going in the kitchen of a great restaurant. Wizardry stands in the middle of apparently ordinary spaces and tools. But these have been crafted and customized to serve a unique purpose.

Edgar Schein’s last book is both simple and profound. If you are looking for fresh view on how to give and receive help, this is for you. Schein main point is that what makes whatever helping relationship so touchy is that it creates an imbalance between people. How can we deal with this imbalance subtly ? Find out more in this beautiful book of a wise old man.

Wow !!! I just loved this book. You may have seen Sir Ken Robinson in one of his TED talks, but The Element is different. It shows you through examples of real people how important it is for you to play “in the zone” – i.e. to find your Element.  This goes beyond what you’ve learned about emotional intelligence or creativity, it is about a lifelong quest to find where you will give the very best of who you are. And Robinson’s good news is that there is no age limit for this quest !!!

If you’ve never read a book from Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Stress might be a good way to start. You will find many of Gallwey’s main themes and concepts, but framed to help you deal with stress. This legendary coach fights against many managerial myths. For instance, he tells us that stress is NOT good  and that stability is essential for performance. Now, you have to find your inner stability. And that’s where practical tools like drawing your “Tree of Resources” is so valuable. This book helped me a lot in a recent stressfull time, so I highly recommend it.

Is it necessary to present Nancy Duarte ? Probably not. Her last book his a jewel. Not only because it is so beautifully designed and illustrated, but also because it contains the results of years of research and experience. This really personal view of how to tell stories that resonate with your audience has wide implications for anybody who has a message to deliver – be it a simple presentation to your team or a public speech with a large audience. Nancy’s core message is simple : speak from your heart so that you can touch people’s hearts. But this means for you to be very clear about the future that you want to create. A special mention for the deep analysis of Steve Jobs’ and Martin Luther King’s well known speeches.

I read this book last summer and I can say that it truly changed many views I had about business in general and marketing in particular. The ambition and reach of The Power of Pull are wider, though. Seely Brown, Hagel and Davison embark us on a journey towards our present and future society. What they say is that new technologies – social media particularly – have changed the rules of the game : we leave the world of “Push” logic and behaviours for a world of “Pull”. Implications are enormous in many fields (business, education, science,…) but they require very different skills and attitudes from us. The authors invite us to take part in this flow of discovering where our passion is, sharing our knowledge, connecting with the tribes that are relevant to us – both locally and globally.

OK, Guy Kawasaki is not only an expert in the art of Enchantment but also in the art of Recycling (former books, articles or posts…) BUT his talent lies in his ability to deliver very practical wisdom… to live your life fully. His point is that whatever client or boss (or reader or family or …) you have, you can enchant their lives. And this is a GREAT purpose. Guy believes in it. Guy genuinely inspires us. Guy gives down-to-earth advice. I loved this book because it is actually a book on leadership in the age of disenchantment (a wink to Max Weber) and I think that our times desperately need such leaders.

This could have been an Appendix or a special Bonus of  The Power of Pull (see above). But I think it is much more than that. John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas decifer the new way of learning in our world of social media. Playing (like in World of Warcraft), writing a blog, following experts on Twitter,… All these activities show us new ways of learning that are essentially social (within a community), linked with passion and building on our ability for imagination and play. Learning becomes a truly lifelong activity and Seely Brown and Thomas provide usefull keys to understand how this shift changes our current mindsets and practices. A must read.

Fish ! is a simple little book that opens your mind on the potential that is already present within your current workplace. It is not because the work of your team is ordinary that you cannot transform your days through joy, fun and meaning. Fish ! describes the change of a boring and execrable workplace to a sensible and joyful one. Why not giving it a try ?

In the spirit of changing the workplace for happiness, Henry Steward – happy CEO of Happy People (Great place to Work 2010 in the UK) – proposes us a tale about the transformation of a manager. It all starts on the beach, where this poor guy is not able to enjoy any minute of his holiday… Step by step, he learns how to let his team do the work (without him having to command and control). This book is full of practical insights and you can tell that they come from Henry‘s experience – not from a consultant’s utopia. As Isaac Getz puts it : Freedom works !

Lessons From California

I just come back from a trip made with a team of 15 persons from a large French retail company. We went there from May, 23 to May, 29 2011 and visited companies like Whole Foods Markets, Lowe’s, Ideo, Cisco, Google, Crushpadwine, but also places like the Delancey Street Foundation, the Brower Center or the Stanford Design School. We also met some experts like D. Piotet from Rebellion Lab and young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (classroom.tv). In this post I’d like to share a first set of thoughts about this journey, mainly business insights.

Believe in your concept

Maybe one of the first impression in this journey has been to discover the power of a business concept. This was particularly clear in three restaurants we were in : one  copied the atmosphere of the 50’s,  another one was entirely dedicated to Forrest Gump and the third one presented a whole experience of a Japanese food made by a chef under your eyes. Whatever the main theme, all the settings, dressings, decorations, menus,… converged towards a specific customer experience. This focus allowed a very unique atmosphere. In our businesses, do we really believe in the power of our value proposition ? Aren’t we always tempted to compromise and to mix our business stand with many other unnecessary features ? Customers want clarity. A specific concept fully developed in each and every detail is what will give them enchantment.

Make your processes explicit

On day 1, just after jumping from the plane, we biked the Golden Gate Bridge. I was struck by the little bike renting company. In an apparently simple business, these people managed to build a very coherent experience through their process. Key moments were very well defined (departure, difficult orientation choices, return of bicycles). For example, before leaving, a crew member would give us the bike, adjust the saddle in front of us and explain the use of the padlock. Another one would give us a bottle of water and encourage us before leaving. All this process would be done one by one, as if every person was absolutely unique. Again, how often do we assume that our customer understands all our procedures or rules just because they are so obvious… to us ? How often is a customer experience limited because we just did not care to detail our processes till the end ? This attention to details is of course very linked to the clarity and coherence of a concept. One could easily say that if your concept is vague, so will your processes and vice versa.

Dramatize the customer experience

I just mentioned the power of your business concept and the necessity to make your processes explicit. These two elements are very linked to a third one : life is theater and theater is life. In two occasions, we have been introduced to our visit in theater rooms (Delancey Street Foundation and Brower Center). This was no accident : in both cases, this was a way to set the scene and have us understand that 1) we were treated like V.I.P. and 2) the people we were to meet were like important actors. At Lowe’s (DIY leader), we have been welcomed in the store also like in Cannes festival, with no less than eight persons in line, in their uniform, greeting us individually. Setting the scene is a key activity any leader (or marketing person) has to do again and again. This is the way our daily operations or conversations don’t fail into triviality or automatic behaviours. Muhammad Yunus used to say to his bankworkers at Grameen Bank : “You’re an artist, not a machine !”.

Pay attention to the place (Bâ)

If life is a stage, then you have to take care of the place where you play. This is like your home. During this week in California, I have been very impressed by several places that really expressed without words the intention of its creators. One is particularly obvious : the Hasso Plattner Design School of Stanford, where innovation is stimulated by open spaces, flexible offices, creative materials at hand, trendy  furniture, big white boards, etc. But this consistency of a building and its purpose was also very visible at the Brower Center. All the design and decoration of this building expose the latest technologies in green construction, but also a new way of living a healthy worklife. At a certain point, Google premises where we had the chance to spend a couple of hours also demonstrate some of the company deepest beliefs (like the necessity to take care of employees).

The question that these places raise is very simple : do our building or our offices truly reflect our vision of work ? our vision of the world that our products or services tend to create ? The concept of Bâ proposed by Japanese philosopher Nishida has been described by knowledge-creation specialist Nonaka like this : “Bâ can be thought of as a shared space for emerging relationships.” Isn’t it what our workplaces are (or should become) ?

California is inspiring. Now, let’s apply these insights !!!

IDEA : Can France be part of the Design Thinking Community ?

A few weeks ago, EM Lyon and Centrale Lyon communicated about the launch of a common venture : IDEA, inspired by Stanford D-School or Aalto University Design Factory in Helsinki. This is great news, since Design Thinking has not been very much mainstream in France so far. We have world-class designers of course, but some key elements of Design Thinking are not precisely part of our national habits or beliefs. Let’s see what are the main challenges that IDEA will face in realizing the beautiful dream that lies behind its creation – particularly in the French culture.

How to create and nurture a Culture of Optimism ?

Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, says in his book “Change by Design” (p. 76) : “To harvest the power of design thinking, individuals, teams, and whole organizations have to cultivate optimism. People have to believe that it is within their power (or at least the power of their team) to create new ideas, that will serve unmet needs, and that will have a positive impact“. This is not precisely the description of typical French business culture. Critical thinking is deeply ingrained in our educational system. In many realms of life, this is definitely a strenght, of course, but when it comes to creating new products or new ideas critical thinking can only come in a second phase, after exploration and ideation. Not before.

It’s OK to fail – only if it’s early

In France, we love perfection. How many time at school have we been reminded that this is the goal : a perfect dissertation or maths exercise ? Recently, a Canadian working in France told me how surprised he was by his son’s teachers. When he would have reached a 17/20 mark, the teacher would focus his comments on what was missing to reach a better one. In Canada, he told me : “my son would receive encouragement several times a day”. This is something that get people very often paralyzed when it comes to taking action (for myself, this is obvious in my blogging rythm… maybe I would blog a lot more often if I was not trying to post only “interesting” things, when intellectually I know (?) that the interest of a blog is when it is an ongoing conversation, not a post every two months…:-)

Last week, I was with Jean-François Zobrist, from FAVI and one of the leaders featured in “Freedom, Inc” by I. Getz, and he impressed me with this single phrase : ” The secret is to go directly from intuition to action, without passing through reflection”. This is difficult. But this is how kids are our masters. I cannot imagine a Design Thinking school without a kid-spirit, where fun and laughter are as frequent as deep and serious conversations. Building such a climate in Descartes’ country is a pretty joyful challenge !

Harnessing diversity

The third challenge I see in French culture is the creation of a cross-cultural context. IDEA is a project led by two leading institutions (EM Lyon and Centrale Lyon). Despite their different academic background (Management & Engineering), these two schools belong to what we call “Grandes Ecoles” in our educational system. This means that they have a lot in common particularly an elitist recruitement based on rather similar criteria. Openness to diversity – be it diversity of intelligences or diversity of social origins – has not really been a tradition for French Grandes Ecoles. Introduction of a variety of point of views has only come in the last 15 years through the opening to international faculty and students. How will IDEA take this need into account ? As far as I understand, there will be classes in other academic institutions (social sciences or design, in particular). Will this be enough ?

I don’t want to be pessimistic or looking for perfection in this post…This IDEA project is beautiful !!!  I truly hope that the challenges I mention are adressed by its creators. Our country needs such spaces for breakthrough innovation – product innovation, business model innovation,  but more than anything management innovation. Long life to IDEA !