Orbiting the Giant Hairball
The subtitle of this book, A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, brings this memoir into the realm of organizations. I am, by far, not the first person to discover this book. Originally self-published in 1997, it is now in its 19th printing. Bob Sutton’s frequent mention in speeches, articles, and his blog provided the impetus for me to get a copy.
I was pulled right into MacKenzie’s orbit and read the book in two sittings. The hairball is “that tangled, impenetrable mass of rules, and systems, based on what worked in the past and which can lead to mediocrity in the present.” While not suggesting that any organization can rid itself of that hairball – afterall, we all have boundaries including cash flow and government regulation – he recommends that from time-to-time we extract ourselves from the hairball and tap into our imagination and creativity.
The memoir asks both sides of your brain to engage. His stories are mingled with drawings and diagrams, which inspired my imagination. From an organization development point of view, there are stories about facilitation methods, perspectives on organizational paradox from the viewpoint of the orbit and hairball, and opinions on leadership. He certainly is not boring! And he will challenge your thinking and imagination.
I’ll conclude with a quote from a 1997 interview with MacKenzie in Fast Company about the obstacles to escaping the hairball and getting to orbit:
Attachment to outcome. As soon as you become attached to a specific outcome, you feel compelled to control and manipulate what you’re doing. And in the process you shut yourself off to other possibilities.
I got a call from someone who wanted me to lead a workshop on creativity. He needed to tell his management exactly what tools people would come away with. I told him I didn’t know. I couldn’t give him a promise, because then I’d become attached to an outcome — which would defeat the purpose of any creative workshop.