I’ve recently finished reading ‘Orbiting the Giant Hairball‘, by Gordon MacKenzie. I was given the book to read by Che Mckay, the Head of Grayston Prep’s Pre-Prep. She also teaches Thinking Skills at the school.

I must be honest, I’ve had it for a while and based on the title and what the book looks like, I kept avoiding it. It just didn’t jump out at me and shout “Read Me”.

Last week I had to go to Swaziland for a presentation and took the book with me. Glad I did. I was hooked and finished it within days of starting it.

David Rouse (on Amazon’s site) describes it as follows:

There is no denying the creativity of someone who can persuade one of the 50 largest private companies in the U.S. to create a position for him called “creative paradox,” or someone who can convince the accounting department of that same company to write off to the company art collection the purchase of more than a dozen roll-top desks to be used in his “creative lab,” or someone who could come up with such a goofy title for a book. MacKenzie worked for the Hallmark greeting card company for 30 years, first as a sketch artist and eventually as an upper-level manager, until he escaped the “hairball” by creating his own niche. A corporate hairball is an entangled pattern of behavior or a mess of bureaucratic procedure that discourages originality and stifles imagination. A consultant for the last seven years, MacKenzie tells what he knows about creativity and what he learned about the creative process in a corporate setting.

It’s a bit of a messy book. That works for me. But over and over you’re left with some really simple yet profound thoughts and questions around how on earth we’ve allowed our businesses to carry on in the manner in which we do? MacKenzie’s main focus is on how to avoid killing the creativity within our people and our businesses, and just how well the way we think and arrange ourselves has done just this.

If you do end up reading it, good luck. I’m not sure there are many businesses, large and small, who have the courage to engage in this type of thinking, and then carrying out the necessary activity to begin to change paradigms, structures, and ultimately who we are, and how we engage with life.

I’ve ordered a few copies for TomorrowToday. I’ve been tasked with the responsibility of the business for the next 3 years. I’m now going to give it my best shot to use this book and these thoughts to influence who we are and how we go about arranging ourselves and engaging with the community around us. Check back in three years and let me know how successful I was : )

I’ve typed out the majority of the last chapter in the book. It’s a great conclusion to a great book, and a fantastic challenge for a full and exciting life….

“Before you were born, God came to you and said:

Hi there! I just dropped by to wish you luck, and to assure you that you and I will be meeting again soon. Before you know it.

You’re heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences. You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean. Quite saturated with nutrients. So you wont have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness. And grow incredibly. And change miraculously.

You’ll sprout arms and legs. And hands and feet. And fingers and toes.

As if from nothing your head will take form. You nose, your mouth, your ears will emerge.

As you continue to grow bigger and bigger, you will become aware that this dark, oceanic environment of yours – which when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now actually cramped and confining. That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.

After much groping about in the dark, you will find an exit. The mouth of a tunnel.

“Too small,” you’ll decide. “Couldn’t possibly squeeze through there.”

But there will be no other apparent way out. So with primal spunk, you will take on your first “impossible” challenge and enter the tunnel.

In doing so, you will be embarking on a brutal no-turning back, physically exhausting, claustrophobic passage that will introduce to pain and fear and hard physical labour. It will seem to take forever, but the mysterious undulations of the tunnel itself will help squirm you through and finally, after what will seem like interminable striving, you will break through to a blinding light.

Giant hands will pull you gently but firmly, into an enormous room. There will be several huge people, called adults, huddling around you, as if to greet you. If it is an old-fashioned place, one of these humungous people may hold you upside down by the legs and give you a swat on the backside to get you going.

All of this will be what the big people on the other side call being born. For you, it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.

God continues:

I was wondering, while you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a favour?

“Sure!” you chirp.

Would you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d really appreciate that.

Beaming, God hands you a pristine canvas. You roll it up, and tuck it under your arm and head off on your journey.

Your birth is just as God has predicted, and when you come out of the tunnel into the bright room, some doctor or nurse looks down at you in amazement and gasps:

“Look! The little kid’s carrying a rolled-up artist’s canvas!”

Knowing that you do no yet have the skills to do anything meaningful with your canvas, the big people take it away from you and give it to society for safekeeping until you have acquired the prescribed skills requisite to the canvas’s return. While society is holding this property of yours, it cannot resist the temptation to unroll the canvas and draw think blue pale lines and little blue numbers all over it’s virgin surface.

Eventually, the canvas is returned to you, it’s rightful owner. However, it now carries the implied message that if you will paint inside the blue lines and follow the instructions of the little blue numbers your life will be a masterpiece.

And that is a lie.

For more than 50 years I worked on my paint-by-numbers creation. With uneven but persistent diligence. I dipped an emaciated paint-by-numbers brush into colour No. 1and painstakingly painted inside each little blue-bordered area marked 1. The onto 2 and 3 and 4 and so on. Sometimes, during restive periods of my life, I would paint, say, the 12 spaces before the 10 spaces (a token rebellion against overdoses of linearity). More than once, I painted beyond a line and, feeling embarrassed, would either try to wipe off the errant colour or cover it over with another before anyone might notice my lack of perfection. From time to time, although not often, someone would compliment me, unconvincingly, on the progress of my “masterpiece.” I would gaze at the richness of others’ canvases. Doubt about my own talent for painting gnawed at me. Still, I continued to fill in the little numbered spaces, unaware of, or afraid to look at, any real alternative.

Then there came a time, after half a century of daubing more or less inside the lines, that my days were visited by traumatic events. The dividends of my noxious past came home to roost, and the myth of my life began horrifically to come unglued. I pulled back from my masterpiece-in-the-works and saw it with emerging clarity.

It looked awful.

The stifled strokes of paint had nothing to do with me. They did not illustrate who I am or speak of whom I could become. I felt duped, cheated, ashamed – anguished that I had wasted so much canvas, so much paint. I was angry that I had been conned into doing so.

But that is the past. Passed.

Today I wield a wider brush – pure ox-bristle. And I’m swooping it through the sensuous goo of Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson or Ultramarine Blue (not Nos. 8, 13 or 4) to create the biggest, brightest, funniest, fiercest dragon that I can. Because that has more to do with what’s inside of me than some prescribed plagiarism of somebody else’s tour de force.

You have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created or ever will be.

And remember:

If you go to your grave
without painting
your masterpiece,
it will not
get painted.
No one else
can paint it.

Only you.

TomorrowToday Global