Saturday, August 19, 2006

Orbits and Hairballs

I just finished Gordon MacKenzie's jewel, "Orbiting the Giant Hairball." Gordon worked for 30 years at Hallmark Cards, retiring with the title "Creative Paradox". As a writer and illustrator, he leaned toward the creative side of life, and struggled with all things corporate and bureaucratic, i.e. the hairball. The hairball represents all the stuff of an organization--policies, processes, rules, etc.

As the hairball grows, it creates mass. That mass has gravitational pull. People in the organization--especially creative people--have two options that they should avoid. First, they can give in and collapse into the hairball. I know I've seen (and been) the creative person who suddenly gets a whiff of corporate power then becomes a hair in the hairball. Before I know it, I'm the bureaucrat that I hated! It is so easy to do this. We see it in not just in organizations, but in churches, parachurch organizations, and denominational groups. Someone moves into a position where creativity is downplayed, where following the rules and making others follow them becomes your job, and it's so easy to play it safe.

But the second option is not any better. Many creative people so resist the gravitiational pull of the hairball that they float off into space, totally free to be their creative self, but totally irrelevant and ineffective in changing the world at any significant level. If I can't do it my own way, I'm going to take my creative ball and go home.

The third option is the best: allow just enough of the hairball's influence on you to balance your own trajectory and enter into orbit around the hairball. Maintain a loyalty to the organization, utilizing the resources there to at once harness, channel and then unleash your creativity with the power of the organization behind it. What a balance, but when it is achieved, it makes success so much easier.

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