21 Chapters
Medium 9781576753323

5. The Zoo

Hock, Dee Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I experienced under the sun that
The race is not to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong;
Wise men lack an income,
Prophets do not have riches,
The learned lack wealth,
And time and chance overtake them all.

—Koheleth

Over a lunch of smoked oysters, Bob Cummings and I verbally circled and sniffed one another like two strange dogs deciding whether to fight or form a pack. We soon discovered four things in common. We didn’t like one another. We didn’t want the jobs we had been offered. We didn’t know why we had been selected. We had high regard for Maxwell Carlson.

Bob had come up through the ranks of commercial lending at the National Bank of Commerce. He seemed a traditional, conservative branch manager. He believed that credit cards were nothing but another form of banking. The thought of being burdened with an assistant who was an unorthodox, consumer-credit outsider was appalling. I believed that credit cards were nothing but high-volume, unsecured, consumer lending. The thought of being burdened with a conservative banker boss was appalling. I knew it wouldn’t work. Bob knew it wouldn’t work.

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6. The House of Cards

Hock, Dee Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Taking a new step; uttering a new word is what people fear most.

—Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky

Early in 1966, within months after Bank of America let it be known that it would license its BankAmericard program and five California banks announced a joint MasterCharge program, the banking industry was seething with speculation and rampant with rumors: “Citicorp has committed millions to develop proprietary card technology to force an industry standard controlled by them” — “American Express is buying a bank and will blanket the country with American Express bank cards” — “Bank of America’s licensing program is a cover-up they will use to promote deposit accounts nationwide” — “Citicorp and Chase Manhattan are going to license proprietary cards” — “Banks in a dozen different regions are forming groups modeled after the California MasterCharge association” — “Independent bank cards are forming a network using a common interbank logo” — “Legislation is being introduced to give the Federal Reserve System a monopoly for the clearing of sales drafts between banks” — “The federal government is going to pass a usury law to preempt all state laws governing credit card rates” — “The federal government is going to forbid mass mailing of unsolicited cards.”

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20. The Emergent Phenomenon

Hock, Dee Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The ideas of the past, although half destroyed, being still powerful, and
the ideas which are to replace them being still in process of formation,
the modern age represents a period of transition and anarchy.

—Gustave Le Bon

As Old Monkey and I traveled further down “the road less traveled by,” we began to understand how little we really knew about what was happening. The concepts and ideas were not ours. They were emerging everywhere, in a variety of forms, described in countless ways. They had a life of their own. They belonged to evolution. The “I” that is not “me” was inexorably revealing its eternal nature; a “we” of such diversity and complexity that it is beyond knowing or even imagining, let alone controlling. But not beyond understanding. A phenomenon was emerging in which my life and Visa were but tiny fragments.

Visa is far from alone as a distributive, enabling organization. Many others are operating on every scale. Many are global. The Internet is a magnificent example of self-organization within which competition and cooperation are blended. It also epitomizes both intended and unintended consequences. Once the child of government intended for a limited purpose, it quickly escaped its boundaries and became something wholly unintended. Not unlike Visa, it has become a transcendent global enterprise in which no part knows the whole, the whole does not know all the parts, and none has any need to. Like Visa, it is not a model to be emulated, but one to be studied and improved upon, for it too has flaws.

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Contents

Hock, Dee Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781576753323

8. The Impossible Imagined

Hock, Dee Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this you will get lost,
However intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

—Lao-Tzu

“Mr. Carlson, I’m in trouble. When I spoke up at the meeting in Columbus I had no intention of getting so involved. I agreed to serve on the committee with the thought of setting things in motion and stepping aside. Problems are much worse than we imagined. People across the country have become deeply concerned and are looking to the committees as a possible solution. There is growing expectation I’ll continue as chairman. I have a few ideas about how to proceed, but no way of knowing what might result. I’m continually being drawn deeper into the situation and should either make a serious commitment or step aside. I’m torn between the two.”

Conversations with Mr. Carlson are never long. The most patient, intense listener I have ever known, his questions are inevitably short, penetrating, and singularly to the point, although often softened by looking down or away. His manner induces others to listen intently and give short, clear answers. In the habit of referring to me as “young man,” that is how he began.

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