Thursday, July 23, 2009

Orbiting the Giant Hairball - Thumbs Up!

I've just finished with "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by Gordon MacKenzie. It's great. It is written with respect to the business world but is very illuminating for any organization, including school or church.

The hairball is the organization, which may have started out as a dynamic movement but has inevitably become an entagled mess of policies and procedures and rules and committees and ... basically a giant hairball. The book is NOT about how to unravel the hairball, an improbable if not impossible task.

The book is about how to use the graviational energy of the hairball to propel yourself into a creative orbit around it, neither being sucked in to its tangly fibers nor launching off into the vacuum of space beyond it. It is about valuing creativity and genius and spontaneity in and of itself, without demanding an accounting in the "proper" channels of the hairball. Consider this snip:

...in the eyes of any Anal Retentive worth his salt, anything that cannot be measured is of doubtful value - and even of doubtful existence.

...the Anal Retentives...lust for the fruits of creativity ... but mistrust the act of creativity, which remains invisible and elusive.

Only the Renegades in Orbit, removed from the Hairball's obsession with quantifying everything, are free to ream the unpredictable bounty of the inscrutable creative process.
MacKenzie worked for Hallmark, a corporate giant that started out as a creative impluse. It is a great case study, actually, because Hallmark is a giant hairball of a company that still tries to specialize in creativity, and the juxtaposition of organizational grey and the creative spectrum is very apparent.

Seems to me there's a lot the church can learn from this approach. The church has become in many ways a giant hairball of organization, bureaucracy, and self-sustaining archaism. But I do not want to dismantle it - not in the least. The key then, is how to use the hairball's gravity to attain orbit.

To me, becoming upset by the existence of the hairball is what gets me sucked in to the hairball itself. So the key is to just let the hairball be what it is without getting upset about it, and at the same time fly around in a creative orbit around it. To me the hairball is attendance figures, membership lists, budgets, insurance issues, pointless committees, overly numerous committees, overly numerous pointless comittees, and that kind of stuff. It is a part of the hairball if it exists solely for the perpetuation of the hairball itself, with no other purpose.

For me, this book is a refreshing counterpoint to the "Bull's Eye" books, which articulate hairball thinking quite eloquently. It takes a really gifted person to so succinctly describe the hairball while all the time professing to be anti-hairball through and through. And even more, to decry the current state of the hairball and offer up a replacement hairball as if it will somehow make everything okay takes (ironically) a healthy dose of creative genius itself.

But I just don't see it that way. The hairball is the hairball, and we're not going to get rid of it. Removal of even one strand is a major undertaking, because of the entaglement and mess it's in down below. Rather, let the hairball be! Dance around the edges of it. Flirt with it. Maybe even skip off of its surface. Just don't get sucked in. And don't leave it's gravitational pull either, finding yourself in a place where you have to generate all of the energy yourself. That's just crazy.

MacKenzie uses the metaphor of water skiing. The leader is driving the boat and the follower is holding on to the rope. If the leader will keep the boat steady and straight, the follower can pull and lean, jumping far outside of the wake, then zoom back in by pulling and leaning the other way, jumping high over the wake in the process. If they get going just right, the follower can actually pull even with the leader, and perhaps get ahead for a moment or two.

A good leader keeps the boat going at an even speed and basically in one direction, always letting the follower know if a turn is coming up. A good follower uses that energy to do amazing tricks on her water skis, often far outside of the wake. The one thing the follower does NOT want the leader to do is stop the boat.

It's a great metaphor, isn't it? That leader keeps things going to allow the follower to do those great tricks, and that follower trusts the leader to provide the momentum to do them. That sounds like a pretty cool church!

I am grateful to Bishop Schnase for introducing me to the Giant Hairball book, and I give it a high recommendation.

1 comment:

Stresspenguin said...

Thanks for the review. Sounds like something the leaders of my congregation and I need to read.

For me, I especially needed to hear the part about not trying to dismantle the hairball. It's such a temptation, and a spiritually (and vocationally?) lethal one at that.