Hive Review Series – Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A corporate fool’s guide…by Gordon Mackenzie
I came across this title back when I was poking stool samples in a Jo’burg path lab. I have just read it again for the miracle of remade memory. This is one of the offbeat, off-format, cut n’ paste, journal- style little hardbacks that went massive in the 90s, packed with illustrations, doodles, postits from God, concrete poetry and the like.
Gordon Mackenzie was an artist who found himself in middle management at Hallmark Cards Inc. While his role was in products and marketing, he transcended executive approval and production line stupefaction by becoming a self-appointed mentor, a champion of autonomy. He delivered workshops on “responsible creativity”, the space between suicide and total freedom:
“To find Orbit around a corporate Hairball is to find a place of balance where you benefit from the physicial, intellectual and philosophical resources of the organisation without becoming entombed in the bureaucracy of the institution”.
Our own hairballs are our memories, how we learn by rote to replicate a baseline standard of past successes. We learn it from each other too in our hunger for herd wisdom. His prescription is the courage to be genuine and to be led by intuition versus “pallid corporate appropriateness”. First you must find the goals of the organisation that touch your heart and release your passion to follow those goals. Inevitably you will fly off on a tangent, and passion will keep you in orbit, not subsumed by the corporate hole nor spinning away from it.
15 years later, some of the anti-establishment jive feels a little outdated – perhaps this is because I’ve never worked in a place which had 600 creatives on staff. Gordon’s workshops took place in Hallmark and other big companies, and his method was to shock corporates out of their masks with nonlinear tricks. I don’t feel it’s authenticity that strangles meaningful agency work, or even a lack of autonomy. If this century’s work culture is gradually unmasking, it’s perhaps becoming quite hard to focus without distraction.
It’s obvious that personal counterculture can make an employee potently valuable, and that creative energy is the stuff that makes the organisation greater than the sum of its parts. What Gordon teaches is that it doesn’t happen with the silencing of rationality. He tells us to transrationalise – to soar above the rational on the parachute of intuitive reason. It sounds a little lonely, and it is. Not even Gordon can hold our hand when we fly. But we’ll be OK if we remember that parachute.
Tom Kelley of IDEO talks about Gordon MacKenzie here.
Buy the book here.