Review: “Orbiting the Giant Hairball”

Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Viking Press, © 1996
Gordon MacKenzie

Here’s a little gem of a book that I missed and you probably did, too. It’s an unlikely book for me because it’s not a topic I go looking for and the somewhat cutesy format would probably have put me off. But it came highly recommended (by Mike Mears).

cover for the bookAnd I loved it.

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.

…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 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 every thinker.
Get it, read it and enjoy.

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About Dick Knisely

Science-guy, engineer, father, grandfather, husband -- yeah, I'm all of those things. I author this blog to share things I care about and you might care about, too. I hope you do and that you'll join in to share things you care about.
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One Response to Review: “Orbiting the Giant Hairball”

  1. Pingback: Creativity « Thinking about thinking

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