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

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  3,102 Ratings  ·  342 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 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
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
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 concep
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 temperamen
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
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.
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.
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.
Mar 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
quick read on maintaining creativity in a corporate culture
Earl Grey Tea
Aug 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: self-help
This book presently surprised me since I came into it with reserved expectations. I was able to appreciate the idea of a corporation being a hairball of static culture with truly creative people being in orbit around it. The benefit of this relationship is that the imaginative employees are able to contribute in new ways to the goals of the company while being able to use the organization's resources. Being too close to the firm leads to conformity overriding creativity; exiting the orbits resul ...more
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well, this was a pleasant surprise! I had NO CLUE what to expect when I picked up this book. My copy doesn't have the title on the front. It has a lovely clothboard cover stamped with a giant hairball imprint with a black leather spine and bright red ribbon page marker. Once it drew my eye in the library Book Sale, I picked it up. The front and back endpapers are pieces of burlap! There were doodles on every page! Entire sections were handwritten! One chapter, near the end, was even handwritten ...more
Erika Worley
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: career-reads
This is a really great book for people who have a hard time being employees and fitting into other people's boxes. It helps you step back and think about how you can fit in, how you can be different, and how you can separate yourself while still getting your work done. It is an important skill set, especially for creative people, and I really enjoyed the author's perspective on the workplace, his strengths and shortcomings, and the strengths of people who are better able to follow the strict pat ...more
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This should be required reading for all college students before they graduate. It's so helpful, especially for the students earning a BA or BFA or for students pushed into more standard degrees whose hearts pined for a BFA or BA, that those students should prove somehow that they've read and absorbed many of this book's pearls of wisdom before they're awarded their degree.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is a great resource for navigating the corporate world without sacrificing your creativity. This
Reza Lotun
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Takeaways from this book:
1. To be able to make a difference in a large organization requires balance between the process and norms of the organization and finding your own path leveraging your unique talents and perspective. The metaphor of the ‘orbit’ is apt. You can’t just ‘play the game’, you have to be able to add something new to the system, but not as a renegade.
2. Creativity in all its messy non-systematic forms can bear lots of fruit when applied to your orbit. Intentional shake up of a
Barbara M
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
A book about how to survive and thrive as a creative person in a corporate environment.

The author is a creative person working at Hallmark. He talks about the "giant hairball" that exists within Hallmark (and most large companies) that seeks conformity. The author talks about how he learned to orbit the hairball and continue being creative.

It's an entertaining book to read. Readers who have worked in a corporate environment will find it particularly amusing (I have worked in a corporate environ
Julian Walker
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended by a friend who has also has made his career out of being loyally subversive, this is a delight of a book on philosophy, awareness of life – and, of course, making sure that you do not become institutionalised at work.

Anecdotal observations and visual creativity blend with soul searching questions to create an outsider’s guide to being an insider to vivacity.

In much the same way that Jonathan Livingston Seagull provided a general guide to enhancing your life, this takes on the mant
Joel Gibbons
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-rlf-books, 2017
Very thought provoking. Gordon challenges the common thinking about organizational hierarchy, policies and habits. This book is not prescriptive. There are few "do this to succeed" type of admonitions, instead he shared anecdotes and thoughts to help individuals think outside the hairball. A new perspective can, if allowed to thrive, changes ones thinking permanently. Just the act of opening oneself to a new perspective makes it that much more likely that you will change your perspective in the ...more
Deon Robinson
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the best fucking books I've ever read in my entire fucking life. If you are interested in management read this book, building a business read this book, or just like really really really fucking weird writing in the most creative fashion you could ever see read this book just for fun.

Gordon has an art and writing style out right out of Salvador Dali painting and isn't afraid of showing you one bit how weird he is. He talks about every chapter in the most practical terms you can think of.
Jenny Forsberg
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Det här är en bok som man både blir glad och klok av. Jag fick den av min dåvarande chef någon gång runt millennieskiftet, och då hade jag lätt gett den en femma. Den hårboll som man ska cirkulera i omloppsbana på lagom avstånd från är företaget man är anställd på. När jag fick syn på boken i min bokhylla nyligen blev jag nyfiken på om jag skulle gilla den lika mycket nu, när jag inte har varit anställd på femton år. Och jo, boken är fortfarande både fin och lärorik, och jag kan fortfarande ploc ...more
Hadeel Ghazi
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved every aspect of this book.
It's like a big advise, for people who are trying to suppress their creativity just because someone (or many people) is telling them to.
Orbiting the giant hairball is fun, informative, it makes you think of better ways to express and overcome anxiety and start thinking positively while letting go of negativity and constraints set by a community and/or a corporation.
And I liked the drawings and sketches and handwritten notes and doodles in the book. They make
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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.

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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.”
“Teasing is a disguised form of shaming.” 1 likes
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