21 Slices
Medium 9781576753323

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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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.


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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18. The Jeweled Bearing

Hock, Dee Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

God will not ask me why I was not Moses.
He will ask me why I was not Susya.

—Rabbi Susya

The moving finger writes; and having writ
Moves on; nor all your piety and wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

—Omar Khayyám

Early in 1984, the curtain came down on my performance as CEO of Visa. The business costume went into the closet and I went directly from the commercial theater to life on 200 acres of remote, ravaged land. It was shockingly difficult, an aching void emptied of things once craved—money, power, prestige, position—all achieved and now abandoned. The lifelong dream of pioneering a new concept of organization had been realized. There was pride and gratification in knowing what it had been, what it now was, and what it might become. There was also a sense of failure about what it ought to be. The world was marveling at Visa’s success. To me, its flaws were all too apparent. Well, so be it.

Life flows on. Bishop Butler had the right idea:“Things are as they are and will be as they will be, why then should we desire to be deceived?”

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13. The Victims of Success

Hock, Dee Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

—Niccolò Di Bernardo Machiavelli

Hand in hand with NBI’s early success went equal failure. The issue of duality was the greatest example. On no issue were we more right. On none did we fail more ignominiously. On none did our failure have a greater effect on the future of payment systems, or a greater outward appearance of success.

At its inception, NBI inherited a two-tiered system created by the Bank of America licensing program. Banks were divided into two classes, A and B. The A class was composed of two hundred card-issuing, merchant-servicing banks that became full owner/members of NBI.The remainder were class B members— participants sponsored by A members. They enrolled merchants, bought merchant transactions, entered them into the system, and assisted A members in developing cardholders. Naturally, the class B members wanted to be members of both Visa and its principal competitor, MasterCharge (now MasterCard), in order to offer merchants a single point of deposit for all card transactions.This, in turn, placed pressure on A members to also become owner/members of both systems in order to offer merchants the same services.A few had already done so before NBI was formed. NBI placed a moratorium on such duality until the board could thoroughly look into the matter and try to determine what was most likely to produce maximum competition.

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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.


“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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