Orbiting the Giant Hairball

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Book Overview
The book Orbiting the Giant Hairball was written by Gordon MacKenzie in 1996. Originally self-published the book became a business "cult classic". Gordon was an employee of Hallmark Cards for 30 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. As a testament to his career and the level of creativity he maintained while at Hallmark, his final position title was “Creative Paradox” for Hallmark Cards. Through short stories and personal observations and experiences, MacKenzie provides insight into maintaining a creative, entrepreneurial culture within the structured and potentially constricting environment of an organization, and society as a whole. He defines “the giant hairball” as a tangled, impenetrable mass of rules and systems that are based on what worked in the past and which can lead to mediocrity in the present. He points out that this “hairball” is built over time without members of the firm understanding that it is even there or its potential to negatively effecting the firm’s ability to remain flexible and creative. While the author devoted most of the work discussing how to get out of the hairball and how to orbit it correctly, he also addressed the functionality and necessity of the hairball. MacKenzie acknowledged that depending on the person and the stage of life they are in and their zest for freedom versus security and structure, the hairball may be the right place for individuals at different points in time. In fact, the author recommends that every person start at the safe end of the security/freedom continuum and move mindfully, ever so mindfully, toward the free end. MacKenzie warns the reader about getting hypnotized into status quo type of thinking that is a large part of corporate culture. In one situation, MacKenzie himself became entangled in the hairball by getting caught up in the corporate culture of position and power. He goes on to describe how he managed to get back out of the hairball and stay in “orbit”, primarily by reconnecting with who he was internally. Several observations and stories touch on how to use the large corporate environment and its resources to maintain a satisfying, successful career. In chapter 15, MacKenzie talks about how to address those who make their living within the hairball. He reminds us that we should not view those within the hairball as our enemies. He suggests that any time a bureaucrat stands between you and something you need or want, your challenge is to help that bureaucrat discover a means, harmonious with the system, to meet your need. He also points out the importance of having a supervisor who is supportive. Working for a person that allows their people to lead when necessary, as well as being able to shield them from the unproductive aspects of the firm and its culture is particularly valuable. It is also important to be in an environment that recognizes that the creative process takes time, and that the process is most successful in unstructured environments. Several other areas of the book touch on our culture and society, and its effects on creativity and productivity. MacKenzie believes that people are conditioned to conform at an early age, and that by the time people graduate from colleges and business schools, we are very much alike in our thoughts, values, and beliefs. The corporate world then becomes a reflection of a cold, competitive, correctness where most people have lost their individual characteristics. This creates a significant loss of energy and passion within an organization. The author discusses organizational structure and its effects of firm growth and profitability. He believes a fully functional organization is structured like a tree with the product innovators on the top of the tree, with managers...
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