Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie

One aspect of developing an Agile mindset is fostering creativity -- not always an easy practice when we're surrounded by rules and regulations and our days are chopped into almost unusable blocks of time separated by meetings over which we have little or no control. Feeling creative can be a struggle.

What is this all about?
Orbiting the Giant Hairball is a delightful approach to the sticky problem of cultivating creativity while dealing with bureaucracy.

David Rouse, Booklist, says, "A corporate hairball is an entangled pattern of behavior or a mess of bureaucratic procedure that discourages originality and stifles imagination." Fortunately, MacKenzie says that, although we can do little to reduce the hairball, we can use it to keep our creativity flowing while staying out of the hairball’s pull.

MacKenzie tells us about the generation of his idea for orbiting the giant hairball, rather than getting entangled in it:

"Desperate, I turned to fantasy and conjured a make-believe department that would be ideal to me: a creative-friendly oasis where it would be possible to thumb one's nose at empire building, ass covering, and all those other deterrents to fashioning vigorous concepts and fresh products."

Letting go
MacKenzie isn't afraid to get up close and personal when he tells us how to foster our own creativity. He says:

"To be fully free to create, we must first find the courage and willingness to let go: Let go of the strategies that have worked for us in the past... Let go of our biases, the foundation of our illusions... Let go of our grievances, the root source of our victimhood... Let go of our so-often-denied fear of being found unlovable."

What the hell? My victimhood? My fear of being unlovable? How dare you, Mr. MacKenzie! My confidence overrides your victimhood card! My… uh… well, okay. We all have inner demons of various kinds that can impact our ability to create. Recognizing them and letting them go, transcending the parts of ourselves that hold us back is a lesson that can be learned and relearned throughout our lives.

Creativity is Agile
MacKenzie also grasps a very basic tenet of Agile, "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” This becomes clear when he states:

"Holistic organization: form follows function (i.e. organization follows function) eg: Editorial and design are recognized as two elements of the same continuum and so remain integrated in a single ecology rather than hunkering down in separate departments. This results in an organic dynamism and the enhancement of collaboration."

Collaboration and integration are key elements of Agile and, simultaneously, key elements of fostering creativity. In many ways, Agile is a creativity methodology.

I recommend Orbiting the Giant Hairball to anyone who wants to increase creativity at work.

Jen Stone Browne

For more on creativity at work, Linda Naiman produces a great website full of immediately applicable ideas. You can see it at http://www.creativityatwork.com/.

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