Book review: Orbiting the Giant Hairball

SHARE THIS POST :
I am becoming increasingly interested in company structures that are trying to use quantum mechanics (as opposed to Newtonian science) as the basis of their design. The simplest versions of these are linked to the concepts of cloud computing and virtual organisations.

Probably the most insightful book I have read on this to date is Malone’s “The Future Arrived Yesterday” (buy from Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net). This book has been reviewed by one of my business associates, Pete Laburn – read his excellent synopsis here.

But then, on Saturday, I was meeting with John Reynolds, the Executive Vice President of Azusa Pacific University, and he recommended a book that is written by a “been there, done that” CEO. Gordon MacKenzie ran Hallmark for many years, and implemented many of the concepts of a “Protean organisation” while he was there. The quirky book title refers to concept of a central idea/hub/node, with lots of orbiting people/business units/functional areas.

I haven’t read the book yet, but it appears to have a growing cult status. You can buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net, and I have copied a detailed review from Amazon’s site below. Looks interesting, and is on my “to read” list.


Amazon review: 5 out of 5 stars An inspiring book about staying sane in the corporate world, 28 Jan 1999

“You are an artist, you can paint your masterpiece,” is the premise of this book, which is fast attaining cult status in the United States. Gordon Mackenzie spent 30 years at Hallmark Cards, finally rejoicing in the job title of Creative Paradox. Packed with cartoons and drawings, this is a book you will either love or hate. It focuses on how to retain your creativity in the corporate world. But what about the title?

* The Giant Hairball

This is the corporation. Policies and practices are laid down by generation after generation. Far from making things simpler, this creates a Giant Hairball. Creative people find themselves stuck in this web, where ‘command and control’ managers try to discover new ways to get the best from their people. Hairballs are a fact of life, however, so you can choose to join one or, taking your life in your hands, you can go freelance.

* The Need For ‘Orbiting’.

This is your creative contribution. Joining a company, you have three choices:

a) You can do your own thing and rocket off into outer space.

b) You can wait and expect managers to manage your contribution. (Forget it. Even the best managers find it hard to manage creative people who, by their very nature, yearn to find new ways around the system.)

c) You can choose to ‘Orbit’ around the hairball. How? You can keep making clear contracts with your key sponsors about how you want to make your best contribution to the company.

Life is a Peach, believes Gordon MacKenzie. Nostalgically looking back over the years, he remembers the taste of fluffy peaches. Biting into their juiciness brought an almost orgasmic feeling. Today’s peaches look the same, if not better. Biting into them brings disappointment, however, and the sterile taste of plasticine.

We have done the same to corporate life, argues Gordon. The joy of juiciness has disappeared from our labour of love. No point in apportioning blame. Get on with orbiting around the hairball. People must take responsibility for making their own creative contribution if they are to find fulfillment.

Finishing the book in a poetic way, Gordon writes:

“You have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be. And remember: If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.”

SHARE THIS POST :

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *