June 29, 2005

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects--Orbiting the Giant Hairball

By: Jack @ 3:45 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fools Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie, Viking, 223 Pages, $22.00 Hardcover, April 1998, ISBN 0670879835
A couple of months ago, I reviewed a book published in 2004 called The Radical Leap by Steve Farber. I now venture back even further to 1998 to highlight a book the previous century. It was almost ten years ago that I saw the original version of Orbiting the Giant Hairball. It was self published in a time when self-published books carried an odor not unlike two-day old fish. The book was about as creatively designed as could be imagined fold out pages, different paper stocks, multiple colors. It was stunning, but I really didnt give it much credence. Penguin subsequently bought the rights and published it in 1998. As you might expect, they toned back some of the really outlandish design elements, but luckily, the content of the book remained intact.
The following year, a colleague told me the book was a must read, so I finally took the time to give it a good look. I couldnt put it down! In the world of storytelling, nobody is better than Gordon MacKenzie, who worked at Hallmark for thirty years. The book tells the story of his career. Saying that, however, is like saying that Bob Dylan is a folksinger. This book is so much more than just "my days at Hallmark."
For example, the title comes from the fact that, and I'm paraphrasing the author here, a hairball is the strands that make up an organization--procedures, policies, politics, profits and creativity, all based on what worked in the past but now manages to mire an organization in mediocrity.
Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mindset, beyond accepted models, patterns or standardsall the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate mission. To merge Orbiting and corporate Hairballs is to "find a place of balance where you benefit from the physical, intellectual and philosophical resources of the organization without becoming entombed in the bureaucracy of the institution.Orbiting is following your bliss."
This is a book with parables and anecdotes about achieving balance between bureaucracy and creativity, normalcy and originality, formula and invention, selfless loyalty and cooperative individuality within an organizational environment. On a personal note, there are people that no longer walk this earth that I am sad I will never meet: W. Edwards Deming was one that I missed and I now add Gordon MacKenzie to that list; he died in October, 1999. I can just imagine how extraordinary it must have been to listen to this guy, but at least, he left us an amazing book.