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

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  4,192 ratings  ·  419 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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Jul 21, 2013 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 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
Richard Newton
I mostly enjoyed this book, and wavered between 3 and 4 stars - perhaps on another day I would have given it 4. Today it got 3.

The book describes MacKenzie's advice on how to stay creative in a large corporation. It does from time to time descend to triteness - especially towards the end, but mostly is good advice wrapped up in a stylish and quirky looking book. The first two-thirds of the book is the best. But it is deceptively short and not much effort to read from end to end. MacKenzie provi
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: work, nonfiction
A colleague recommended this one as a business type book that isn't the type to make you want to stick a fork in your eye (that may not have been his precise wording). He reads lots of business books, and I had been bemoaning how much I dislike reading them in general, though had been wading through several at the time. I decided to give it a whirl.

It's mostly pretty annoying. The author styles himself sort of a guru, which is annoying out of the gate, but then he also just writes really inconsi
Jun 17, 2009 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
Oct 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: wheel2018
I think this is the kind of book that would be read best in small pieces and when you are in a corporate environment. I did neither of those things. I however still found valuable advice and enjoyed the format and illustrations. I liked especially the ideas on harmfulness of mandatory fun and the importance of compassionate listening without trying to fix things.
Emma Bostian
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is beautifully done both in prose and artistic style. Would highly recommend to anyone stifled in creativity by an archaic corporation.
May 19, 2010 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 conce
Sep 25, 2009 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
Tami Traylor
Nov 12, 2011 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
Martin Dunn
Nov 24, 2014 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.
Vicki Johnson
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gordon MacKenzie is so cleverly innovative. His descriptions of his actions at work were hilarious. It was easy to see why he drove management a little crazy. But I loved his approach to problems and his willingness to assume authority when there was a vaccum.
Soon Chuan
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Illustrated in exuberant colours, this book imparts more than lessons on awakening and fostering creative genius, but also how to fight conformity and to stand out in the face of bureaucratic and organisational mediocrity.

A delightful piece!
Samantha Nowatzke
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
I really appreciate the messaging of this book that creativity is stifled when we're young and it would be of great benefit for individuals and corporations to encourage and create environments where creativity is rewarded. It would make for more fulfilling careers, higher engagement and arguably the chance for more profitability as well. It would have been nice to hear more specific examples of how the author was able to take his career in the direction he did. It's easier to understand how som ...more
Feb 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book saved my life at the first massive corporation I worked for. It’s gorgeous, actionable and the kind of writing I aspire to.
John Majors
Oct 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Corporations prosper when creatives are able to transcend the dreary malaise of mind numbing beurachracy - i.e. orbit the hairball - and keep their creative energies fresh and relevant. Lots of interesting stories here to fuel creativity and permission to orbit.
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book—I think it's one of the best books on corporate life out there. It was recommended to me as a resource for how to manage "creative people," and certainly it's relevant for that. But it's relevant more generally to exactly what the subtitle says: "A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace."

In our culture, it often feels like there are two options in life: live the hated Office Space cubicle life, soul-suckingly miserable every day. Or "do what you love," meanin
Jeff Paciolla
Nov 06, 2015 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
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
I borrowed this book from the library, and when I cracked it open my first thought was that someone had vandalized it by scribbling all over it. After thumbing through multiple pages, it slowly dawned on me that this is not your typical business book - and the page layouts (complete with scribbles) reflected that. In a way, it felt like what the result would be if Dr. Seuss decided to write a book on working in a corporation. The content is insightful and thought provoking, but by far what makes ...more
Jim Dooley
May 19, 2013 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 temperame
Bryce Johnson
Apr 25, 2014 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
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, philosophy
Described as the "corporate fools guide to surviving with grace," Hairball is series of short stories about how Gordon MacKenzie survived as an eccentric creative within the bureaucracy of Hallmark company. MacKenzie uses each story as a parable to distill strategies that others can use to maintain their creative bent in a world of corporate "grey." Throughout he ghosts some of the absurdities of placing bureaucratic controls on the engine of innovation with quips like, "Orville Wright did not h ...more
Matt Soderstrum
May 29, 2014 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
Lisa Dowell
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book, not only is this a funny, engaging and creative book - it really does paint an accurate picture of the challenge many face in attempting to create and drive change in a giant organizational "hairball". It serves as a guide in finding ones niche within an organization -without sacrificing your soul- in a way that can lead to success and happiness at work (the "orbiting" part). ...more
Steven Burke
Apr 25, 2010 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 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.
Michael Mullady
Nov 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Different and fun, the drawings were good, but at times distracting. The total story was spot on and provided good examples.
Emily Duchon
if you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. no one else can paint it.

only you.

~gordon mackenzie

this one feeds the creative soul.
Mar 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
quick read on maintaining creativity in a corporate culture
Nathan Albright
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2019
Occasionally there is a humorous book like this one that reveals that one's general and normal pattern of behavior is actually an effective strategy that can be realized and consciously done.  That is not to say that I agree with everything in the book--the author's deliberately eccentric new age approach is not for everyone and certainly not something I approve of, but if you look at the author's hijinks as a sign of a deliberate strategy that he was using in order to preserve his own sanity an ...more
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Gordon MacKenzie is an artist and cartoonist. After working for Hallmark Cards, he started to give workshops and tutorials centered on maintaining creativity in the corporate world. His workshops were further developed into his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace. ...more

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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...
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Let go of our so-often-denied fear of being found unlovable.”
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Civilization also has a limited perception of Infinite Reality. And with a haughty self-assurance, it imposes that perception on us until we think it is our own.”
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