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Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,183 Ratings  ·  270 Reviews
Creativity is crucial to business success. But too often, even the most innovative organization quickly becomes a "giant hairball"--a tangled, impenetrable mass of rules, traditions, and systems, all based on what worked in the past--that exercises an inexorable pull into mediocrity. Gordon McKenzie worked at Hallmark Cards for thirty years, many of which he spent inspirin ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 1st 1998 by Viking (first published November 1st 1996)
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Community Reviews

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Jul 21, 2013 Julie rated it it was amazing
I was on a webinar for work a little over a week ago and Sally Jewell the Secretary of Interior recommended this book. More than a little curious as to why the Secretary of Interior was recommending a book with "hairball" in the title, I went straight to Amazon and bought a copy for myself. After reading this I hope with all sincerity that Jewell believes in the creativity that MacKenzie espouses in this book because the Federal Government is surely one of the biggest, knotted up "hairballs" of ...more
The School of Self
Feb 08, 2016 The School of Self rated it it was amazing
Orbiting the Giant Hairball is a life-changer for majority of its readers. That is why we made an animated review and summary of this great book. Check it out on YT below!
Here's the transcript:

1. Where did all the creative geniuses go?

When Gordon Mackenzie visited grade school students for a workshop on creativity, he asked "how many artists are there in the room? would you please raise your hands?"

The pattern of hand-raising never varied:

1st graders le
May 19, 2010 Amanda rated it it was amazing

Some gems: "Same thing happens in the world of people. Many of us choose security over freedom to such an extreme that we confine ourselves and profoundly limit our experience of life. ... Maximum safety, minimum existence."

"Desperate, I turned to fantasy and conjured a make-believe department that would be ideal to me: a creative-friendly oasis where it would be possible to thumb one's nose at empire building, ass covering, and all those other deterrents to fashioning vigorous concep
Tami Traylor
Nov 12, 2011 Tami Traylor rated it it was amazing
I read this back in my cubicle days, stuck in the middle of the "hairball", as McKenzie puts it, of a huge government organization that neither understood nor embraced the creative mind. I saw it as my survival guide, helping me, a lone right-brainer, in a kingdom of left-brained knowledge workers, to navigate my way out of the labyrinthine corporate structure and out onto the fringe of the organization where there was some room to breathe.
This book should be required reading for anyone in a ma
Jun 17, 2009 Howard rated it really liked it
I can't imagine that anything like corporations existed two hundred years ago. The human race would have died out because we wouldn't have gotten anything done. Now we have them and the processes and paperwork associated with every corporate action threaten to drag human evolution to a lurching stop. The saving grace for humanity are those clever individuals who manage to essentially follow the processes (though, with a little less paper work) yet get things done and have time to develop themsel ...more
Bryce Johnson
Apr 25, 2014 Bryce Johnson rated it it was ok
While some parts certainly resonated--corporate-mandated fun for example--it didn't work for me. In any think-outside-the-box kind of book like this, I always get the sense that the author thinks he knows what is best for everyone, and that everyone's motivation must be to succeed at the highest level. Everyone's ambitions aren't the same though, and everyone has different levels of risk tolerance.

The other issue is that the book makes it sound like most business problems can be solved with the
Sep 25, 2009 Jeremy rated it it was ok
Shelves: business
This book was entertaining but I didn't find it very practically useful. The very creative artist captivates the reader with colorful illustration, analogies, and anecdotes from his 30 years at Hallmark. Typically, the teaching moment comes with one or two sentences at the end of each mini-chapter. Most consist of basic principles that we all know, and absent of any practical suggestions of application beyond his own life stories, which are definitely unique enough to be unrepeatable.

One chapter
Jim Dooley
May 19, 2013 Jim Dooley rated it it was amazing
This is an essential book for the creative soul functioning in the corporate world. It is quite literally a survival guide consisting of the most gentle, humorous and down-to-earth stories (almost fables) that enhance understanding while they entertain. Even the layout of the book transcends the anticipated format of such a work. I laughed out loud many times, and I've kept it within easy reach to find meaning in business decisions that I don't always understand.

Those with an artistic temperamen
Aaron Maurer
Jul 13, 2015 Aaron Maurer rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
I picked up the book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie, for one reason only – the title! I love the title despite my huge hatred for hair and the grossness of the idea of hairballs. This is a hidden gem written back in 1998.

When I started reading the book I really liked the artwork mixed in with the writing. I really had no idea that the author was a Hallmark Card creator. Perhaps I should start reading the backs of books before I read, but then I would not have delightful surpris
Mar 30, 2015 Daniel rated it really liked it
quick read on maintaining creativity in a corporate culture
Pat Cummings
Mar 11, 2015 Pat Cummings rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Some people have all the luck. Imagine working for a giant corporation, complete with daily meetings, cubicals, marketing geeks (Dilbert, anyone?)—and having carte blanche to do whatever trips your trigger. Gordon MacKenzie has detailed his experience as "Creative Paradox" at Hallmark in Orbiting the Giant Hairball , a book that defies description.

It is pseudo-biographical: In addition to MacKenzie's own personal hegira, it covers the growth of the greeting card industry and the founding of Ha
Jeff Paciolla
Nov 06, 2015 Jeff Paciolla rated it it was amazing
I read this book as an unintentional recommendation by a hiring manager I interviewed with. Being at a crossroads myself professionally this was the perfect timing for a book of this nature to come into my life. I recommend to everyone to read this and take its message completely to heart. While I get that many people may think the ideas in this book are way too far fetched to actually be possible; it should not stop you from believing in the message and working on yourself to try and figure out ...more
Martin Dunn
Nov 24, 2014 Martin Dunn rated it it was amazing
One of the bet books ever written on creativity and enlightenment. Inspiring and funny! Really all managers should read this and all employees too!
I will read this again and again.
Matt Soderstrum
May 29, 2014 Matt Soderstrum rated it it was amazing
I found this book very entertaining and incredibly thought provoking. Mackenzie writes about creativity - specifically creativity within the confines of the corporate world. Truly, the format of this book is one of the most creative expressions I have ever read. This book really causes one to question the rules and systems we have in place in our world. These rules and systems stifle creativity - or at least make it difficult.

Mackenzie closes his book with the following: "You have a masterpiece
Jan 23, 2014 Melinda rated it really liked it
Orbiting the Giant Hairball is an insightful and entertaining book about avoiding the loss of one's creativity and vision by getting sucked into the "Giant Hairball" of corporate life. Although the book is primarily intended for business people, it begins in an elementary school where the author is shocked by how students lose their creativity and even their willingness to admit to creativity as they get older. As an educator and instructional coach, I viewed the book as an endorsement of the "G ...more
Steven Burke
Apr 28, 2010 Steven Burke rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic read for anyone who leads or manages. I would also recommend this for anyone who is trapped in the perverbial corporate hairball.
May 15, 2014 Kellie rated it really liked it
Shelves: work
Some of it was just meh, but some of it was really good. A quick, easy read that can provide some good insight.
Allison Arthur
May 20, 2015 Allison Arthur rated it really liked it
Shelves: self-improvement
This isn't your typical how-to-be-creative self-help book. I read it in one sitting and couldn't help but be drawn to the author's off-the-wall ideas. He more than normalizes the crazy side of creative; he makes you WANT to be the weird one in the room. And he proves that being outrageous in the way of being truly yourself can translate into a successful career and a fulfilling life. All packed into 200ish pages with "hairball" in the title.

Warning: The doodles and drawings around the pages cau
Amanda Mitchell
Mar 18, 2015 Amanda Mitchell rated it really liked it
This is a quick, fun read that illustrates the difficulties inherent in working within a corporate structure. While it focuses specifically on the challenges faced by those working in a creative capacity (the author worked in that role at Hallmark for 30 years) the frustrations described will be familiar to anyone who has worked in a corporate environment.

The author gives good examples illustrating how he was able to thrive within a corporation without sacrificing his creativity. Naturally his s
Mar 08, 2011 MisterFweem rated it it was amazing
I’d never heard of Gordon MacKenzie before I read “Orbiting the Giant Hairball,” his compact little book on business philosophy, and I’ll be darned if I can find out much about him on the Internet now, but I’d like to meet the guy.

He thinks it’s fine, for example, to say at work that sometimes the job is easy. That doesn’t mean it’s a simple job, or that it’s a job not worth doing, but that the person doing it has the facility – the genius – to do it and to do it well in a way that to them seeme
Oct 25, 2012 Todd rated it liked it
This book is one guy's take on creativity in corporate America. It's an often interesting and fun take. His basic advice is to always keep yourself separate from the bureaucracy (the hairball), but not so far away that you are severed from it (orbiting).

The book won't teach you to be creative. In fact, part of his thesis is there is not a methodology with discrete steps that will get you there. A lot of his thoughts on creativity are spot on -- you can't expect results on a timeline, sometimes i
Mar 28, 2008 Janet rated it it was amazing
Shelves: leadership
Two profound insights, insights every teacher and CEO should be required to repeat every day, are that our schools can lead to dissolving the creativity from children by stressing conformity , and that likewise, our corporations can suppress individual ideas and any attempts at diversity by institutionalizing practices that lead to distrust.

The funny and serious stories, along with the author's serious attempt to do a presentation to senior Hallmark leaders on how organizations are really pear t
Mar 29, 2010 Jenni rated it liked it
Orbiting the Giant Hairball is a book designed to promote the creative mind. Written by Gordon MacKenzie, a self-proclaimed “Creative Paradox”, it is a richly illustrated personal account of the struggle against corporate shackles and maintaining identity. Relevant to anyone pursuing creativie thought, or those wishing to nurture creativity in others, MacKenzie paints a brilliant guide to help release one’s own creative genius. In saturated detail he outlines finding inner courage, believing in ...more
Mar 06, 2012 Katie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
One of the best business books - Ever. Ranked right next to "Who Moved My Cheese." I believe this is a must read for anyone who aspires to be a manager - who is a manager - or even wants to understand the business world better.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is about how messy and politic"y" jobs can be. Especially when it is a huge corporation. This author introduces new ideas for helping corporations succeed, and helping average workers enjoy their jobs so much better. It is well written, with a l
Jan 27, 2015 Greg rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, business

A management text with a title like this simply demands to be read. Even more so when it is described by Stanford University professors as the best book on corporate creativity ever.

Gordon Mackenzie was a long-term employee at Hallmark, serving in a variety of functions in the creative arms of that company. in Mackenzie's world, the Giant Hairball is the agglomeration of rules, policies and procedures that even the most creative organisations devolve into, stifling the creative potential of thei
Ryan Louis
Sep 22, 2013 Ryan Louis rated it it was amazing
The tension in my shoulders is more self inflicted than an assault from others. The occasional (i.e., rare) running or yoga I do, I suppose, is intended to mitigate these tensions. And, yet, they remain.

Self help books are written to appease those tensions.

They don't really work, though. Right? Because when was a policy of appeasement ever the long run?

What if all my tension could be boiled down into an elaborately silly metaphor? The Hairball?

And what if that elaborate and silly me
Mar 16, 2010 Tricia rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone who needs inspired
Recommended to Tricia by: Wendy
"Orbiting the Giant Hairball" is a quick and satisfying read for anyone feeling stuck in a bureaucratic institution or organization. Although Gordon MacKenzie's advice might seem more easily attempted in a lenient environment with creative underpinnings, his lessons are just as applicable for someone in a stodgy accounting firm.

The Giant Hairball is an organization mired in processes and procedures, shoulds and have-tos. And you want to Orbit this Hairball, which means "to find a place of balanc
Monami Bagchi
Sep 29, 2015 Monami Bagchi rated it it was amazing
I might review other business books as insightful, inspiring, or intelligent. This book is just...relatable! Finally a book that calls out the uncomfortable realities of the workplace...and in the true style of a corporate goofball (non-superhero genius in disguise) finds a way around them.
Read this book if sketches excite you, the unconventional intrigues you, and the rational, rehearsed voice annoys you.
This is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable books I have read in recent times.
Leah Wescott
Oh how I love a metaphor. This is 217 pages of literary, visual and spiritual analogies of whimsy and genius. I look forward to putting a few more dollars in Mr. MacKenzie's pocket by gifting this book to friends and colleagues who feel deflated by corporate zombiehood.

I like an advice giver who generously shares stories of his own mistakes. For me, those are the most powerful parts of this book. If Gordon MacKenzie can be lured into rote, we must all be hyper-vigilant about our own searches for
Sarah Groh correa
Jan 13, 2015 Sarah Groh correa rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended by a forward thinking, buck the system young pastor. I loved the less than organized way it is laid out. If you are a creative looking to stay out of the way of office crap - this is a good book for you. Or if you are looking to get your own biz going while feeling out you current job - also the book for you. I liked the connection to a hometown company, Hallmark.
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“To be fully free to create, we must first find the courage and willingness to let go:
Let go of the strategies that have worked for us in the past...
Let go of our biases, the foundation of our illusions...
Let go of our grievances, the root source of our victimhood...
Let go of our so-often-denied fear of being found unlovable.”
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