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Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace Hardcover – April 1, 1998
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There is no denying the creativity of someone who can persuade one of the 50 largest private companies in the U.S. to create a position for him called "creative paradox," or someone who can convince the accounting department of that same company to write off to the company art collection the purchase of more than a dozen roll-top desks to be used in his "creative lab," or someone who could come up with such a goofy title for a book. MacKenzie worked for the Hallmark greeting card company for 30 years, first as a sketch artist and eventually as an upper-level manager, until he escaped the "hairball" by creating his own niche. A corporate hairball is an entangled pattern of behavior or a mess of bureaucratic procedure that discourages originality and stifles imagination. A consultant for the last seven years, MacKenzie tells what he knows about creativity and what he learned about the creative process in a corporate setting. David Rouse
From the Back Cover
Gordon MacKenzie worked at Hallmark Cards for thirty years, where he inspired his colleagues to slip the bonds of Corporate Normalcy and rise to orbit - to a mode of dreaming, daring, and doing above and beyond the rubber-stamp confines of the administrative mind-set. In his deeply funny book, exuberantly illustrated in full color, he shares lessons on awakening and fostering creative genius. He teaches how to emerge from the "giant hairball" - that tangled, impenetrable mass of rules, and systems, based on what worked in the past and which can lead to mediocrity in the present.
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The Hairball is "policy, procedure, conformity, compliance, rigidity, and submission to the status quo, while Orbiting is originality, rule-breaking, non-conformity, experimentation, and innovation" (p. 39).
It is difficult to write much about this book without spoiling the fun and discovery of reading it. Therefore, this review will be purposely brief and simply hint at some of the reasons I highly recommend this book:
Favorite quote 1: "Companies we work for... have their perceptions of reality and they impose them on us. As a result, we are wrapped in a cocoon of realities perceived by others who came before us. It is a cocoon that gives us a sense of emotional security through connection to a shared belief. But it is also a shroud that binds and cripples us..." (p. 45).
Many will recognize the forced team-building exercises that MacKenzie describes in this next quote.
Favorite quote 2: "Mandatory fun is the force-feeding of some cockeyed activity to a captive audience with intent to generate joviality. Almost without exception, these ill-advised intrusions fail to create the mirth they are intended to. The result is a discomfort that everyone feels, but no one acknowledges (p. 118).
Clearly the best part of the book are the stories that mark the author's journey through the company and speak clearly about how the exercise of power impacts the lives of individuals and the success of organizations. I especially enjoyed the power struggles over insignificant policies such as office trash bins.
Overall, I can't really say what this book is about. Some will see it as a book on innovation, some will see it as surviving as an individual deep inside a corporate bureaucracy, and some will see it as a triumph of the creativity of the human spirit. For me, it's a wonderful example of the complexity of organizational life and evidence that emergent outcomes are more than "the sum of the parts". From a complexity management perspective, these narratives bring richness and reality to how real organizations actually function and evolve (or stagnate).
I appreciated that this one got to the message quickly in each chapter and didn't drone on or repeat itself just to fill up pages, like so many business books.
Michael Moonbird - Bad Dog Arts
To understand the book you have to know that the author worked for the Hallmark greeting card company for over 30 years, first as a sketch artist and eventually as an upper-level manager. Then, as he puts it, he escaped the "hairball" by creating his own job with the title, Creative Paradox. Here's a quote from the book that in really summarizes the whole thing:
"...I contrived a private agenda to subvert the stupefying power of the corporate culture and provoke the emancipation of creative genius... in myself and others..."
Now the corporate hairball he speaks of is the tangled mess of bureaucratic procedure and thinking that kills originality, stifles imagination and becomes so massive as to suck everyone into itself via it's gravity. Escape is futile if you work there--but, MacKenzie writes, it is just possible to launch yourself away from it, keep a bit of distance and keep the creativity. In other words to be in orbit!
The book is full of `creative' typography, odd bits of art, and doodles. That's why I probably would have passed it by--too weird. But do NOT let that put you off. This is a wonderful book with powerful ideas that will stimulate your creativity and get you to thinking about things in whole new ways.
The first story he tells is poignant and strongly echoes Sir Ken Robinson's [...] talk. Gordon writes how he was invited to visit grade school classes to show the kids his welded-steel art of fanciful animals and such (a hobby). The kids loved it and he got to be a popular guest. He opened each visit by praising the kids' artwork in the classroom and halls and asking them who among them liked being an artist. Universally, the K-1st grade groups would jump up and talk excitedly. They all loved doing the artwork and claimed the title of artist with enthusiasm. By 6th grade none of the kids reacted that way--they no longer thought of themselves as creative or artists. The question of why and how we do that to our kids echoes Robinson and is a theme that traces it's way through the book: what it means to be creative and how that energy can be recaptured and put to work in a corporate environment. He writes about it's importance and its rarity--even at Hallmark.
This is a book that should be on the shelf of everyone. Get it, read it and enjoy.