Orbiting the Giant Hairball

by Luke Wroblewski May 19, 2006

Recent travels have taken me through Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball, a tale of retaining creativity within the confines of corporate bureaucracy.

MacKenzie charts his thirty years at Hallmark Cards with landmarks that helped him navigate a corporate structure ill suited for members of the creative class. His observations and anecdotes are great inspiration for designers (and other creative yolk) dealing with the hairball that is a large corporation.

  • From cradle to grave, the pressure is on to be normal.
  • Those who somehow side-step that pressure and let their genius show are customarily ridiculed, reviled or otherwise discountenanced.
  • When you were very young you had at least a fleeting notion of your own genius and were just waiting for some authority figure to come along and validate it for you.
  • It is not the business of authority figures to validate genius, because genius threatens authority.
  • As an adult, you can choose to become your own authority figure. As such, you will be in a position to redeem the creative genius in you that was put to sleep.
  • To tap the ability to create, you must soar into the thin air of the blue sky –where it is possible “to bring into existence” from nothing an original concept.
  • A concrete world where precedents take precedence is a reality more to a Hairball’s [corporation’s] liking. A world honey-combed with the established guidelines, techniques, methodologies, systems, and equations that are the heart of a Hairball’s gravity.
  • To find orbit around a corporate Hairball is to find a place of balance where you benefit from the physical, intellectual, and philosophical resources of the organization without becoming entombed in the bureaucracy of the institution.
  • Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mindset, beyond “accepted models, patterns, or standards” –all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate mission.
  • Sometimes when you see a colleague whose job seems easy, you may be witnessing a champion at play.
  • If an organization wishes to benefit from its own creative potential, it must be prepared to value the vagaries of the immeasurable as well as the certainties of the measurable.