Saturday, January 9, 2016

Off the Shelf:
Orbiting the Giant Hairball

So, I cheated. I already peeked ahead for this next in my selection of books to read each month. But I think it was fair game; before giving it as a Christmas present to my husband and daughter, I decided it would be worth it to crack the cover open and take a look for myself. (Actually, I didn't even have to open that cover; I did it virtually through Amazon's "Look Inside" feature.)

Perhaps it's that thin creative streak still resident deep within that beckoned me to glom onto that title. Yes, it was recommended to me before I ever thought of recommending it to you—and something told me I just had to read that book. I excused the purchase for my husband (the perpetual student of the leadership game) and for my daughter (about to launch into the serious side of the work world), but my real fascination with the book was with the author's oxymoronic proposal of juxtaposing the nurturing of creative genius and the rigidity of corporate administration.

Precisely what the author, Gordon MacKenzie, did for thirty years of servitude at Hallmark Cards—and lived to tell of it.

Since I thrive on the ability to derive meaning from one cubicle of life and translate it into an analogy fit for another realm, I thought MacKenzie's slim 1998 volume might still speak to people like me, today. Hence, my ulterior motive gift-giving rational in selecting this book. Besides, who are we kidding here? The thing just sports an incredibly fun title. And great doodles to accompany it. We are talking Hallmark creative, here.

Whether you or I work at Hallmark, though, we can all benefit from learning how to balance the dichotomy between the "gotta do" and "wanna do" aspects of life. To do and to dream are not always co-existent on the same plane. Neither, most of the time, are creating one's Life Masterpiece and Paying the Bills.

In case you haven't intuited it yet, the hairball is MacKenzie's symbol of corporate bureaucracy. Your task—if you so choose to avoid being sucked into the black hole of officialdom's entanglement—is to orbit it. To benefit from its up side, while resisting the pull of its dark side. And MacKenzie saw as his task to
inspire 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.

There is a second plane to MacKenzie's book. Not only does it hold out a salvific promise for creatives trapped in a corporate work world, but it becomes a case study in creative leadership for change agents—and inspires us by example to go and do likewise. All in those same 224 pages. It reminds us that what worked in the past may not be our wisest course of action for future challenges. It helps us survive the mediocrity of status quo long enough to spawn the possibility of innovation. And yet, bank on that status quo when outer-space nothingness lends no gravitational support.

Though you may not work for a large bureaucracy, if you have any hope of trying something new in the face of "we've never done it that way," this may be just the quick read to get you thinking. Face it: family trees may have looked the same for eons, but we still could do with some new inspiration to think our way around brick walls. Striking a healthy balance between the tried-and-true standards of research and the innovative ferreting out of inferences from previously undervalued resources is necessary. Like the symbiosis between the dismaying structure of the corporate hairball and the creative genius of inventions, we all have life situations which need to recognize—and appreciate—the the potential glue inherent in the struggle between the staid and the shimmering. And how the answer, rather than "either or," might just be "both and."



  1. Imagine working at Hallmark.
    Imagine working there for 30 years.
    Do you suppose he got a card made by Hallmark...
    ...when he retired?

    1. Just the "thirty years" blows my mind...


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