A Dangerous Book
This week I read a book that should be on a banned book list. It is a book that is subversive and dangerous to our highly held beliefs about how organizations should work. If this book was required reading in college classrooms the legions eager to burn themselves out working 80+ hour work weeks might be replaced by those who decide to create and produce their own work.
Sorry. I should take a step back and tell you what book I’m talking about: Gordon MacKenzie’s “Orbiting the Giant Hairball.” Gordon MacKenzie worked for thirty years at Hallmark in various positions where he struggled to foster creativity outside of the giant Hallmark Hairball (his last job title at Hallmark was Creative Paradox).
What is the Hairball? How have you come to orbit or be part of the giant hairball? The hairball is every single policy, procedure or rule within your organization:
“Every new policy is another hair for the Hairball. Hairs are never taken away, only added. Even frequent reorganizations have failed to remove hairs (people, sometimes; hairs, never).”
What is so wrong about the hairball? After all we need policies and rules…
“There is no room in the Hairball of Corporate Normalcy for original thinking or primary creativity. Resynthesizing past successes is the habit of the Hairball.”
Each policy or process (strand of hair), on its own sounds like a good idea, the problem is these strands become tangled and we add to them constantly. Before you know it you need three copies of a Justification form signed by five different people just to buy your team a thank-you lunch.
With a clarity that makes you think “why didn’t I see it before?” Gordon MacKenzie illustrates all that is wrong with our current corporations. Why do they fail? Why do they innovate and then fail to innovate again? It is because the formula that initially made the organization successful becomes “the way.” Ideas or inventions that don’t follow the formula are written off.
In a world of rapid change, it is essential that organizations foster creativity and greatly reduce the size of the hairball.
But what does this have to do with HR? After all, we don’t “create” anything. Or maybe we do and just need to change our perspective?
What if we could be the department that says yes?
What if we are the team that actively promotes getting rid of bureaucratic rules and policies?
What if we required our high potentials to break the company formula before they can get a promotion?
What if we advocated for the creative crazies in our organizations? Instead of the people that suck up and do exactly what our un-written rules tell them to?
What if we took HR and burned it to the ground? Then started over again as the Genius Development Group?
Like I said earlier, this is a dangerous and subversive book.