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BOOK REVIEW: Orbiting the Giant Hairball

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Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

orbiting the giant hairball coverI read a lot of books that are meant to make me better at my work. You probably do too. Every fundraising book I can get my hands on. Lots of books about marketing and other forms of persuasion that can bring new ideas into fundraising. Books about strategy and thinking that just make me smarter and more effective. Books about dealing effectively with other people.

I devour them all. Hundreds of books. Many of them are simply amazing. Some of them not so much.

So when I tell you there’s one book of all those that I really, really hope you’ll read, please understand that I’m telling you something I think is a very big deal.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is the one book that has really transformed my professional life. It’s the “business” book I most often recommend to people.

It’s not about fundraising. It’s not about any particular business at all. It’s about being your best in a “corporate” environment. And for the purposes of this book, nonprofits can be among the most in-the-box, anti-creative types of corporate environment in existence.

You know that in order to succeed at this crazy, fuzzy profession of fundraising, you have to be creative, passionate, and amazing all the time. But you work in an organization that is ruled by procedures and bureaucracy — and it often feels like a strangling mass of hair.

That’s the hairball of the title.

When you read this book, you’ll see how to escape the hairball — and appreciate that it has a necessary function. You’ll discover the balance that will give you the freedom and confidence to be the creative problem-solver you want to be — and that your organization needs you to be.

Let me summarize that balance.

Most of us are able to make a positive impact because we are part of a community — an organization. Even those who are “self-employed” don’t work alone, really. Everyone works within organizations.

And that means hairball. Every organization has one — a mass of policies, procedures, rules, and bureaucracy. Those things, by their very nature, strangle creativity, innovation, exploration, and bold thinking.

Some hairballs are worse than others — bigger, messier, more strangling — but there’s no such thing as a hairball-free organization. The weird thing about the hairball is that it’s necessary. If there were no hairball, there would be no organization.

You need the hairball.

But you also need to be free from the hairball.

If you let yourself be trapped in the hairball, you will waste all your time and energy on trivial, bureaucratic BS. You won’t accomplish much that matters. On the other hand, if you completely escape the hairball, you are no longer part of a community that puts your greatness into action.

The solution is to “orbit” the hairball. Stay just within its gravitational force — close enough to share the corporate goals and direction, but just far enough out of it to avoid getting tangled up.

That’s what the book is about. It’s a practical, inspiring, cheerleading handbook on finding the balance where you aren’t tangled in hairball, but you aren’t floating by yourself in empty space.

The book is full of inspiring examples of orbiters and hints for how to orbit. It has helped me solve more conundrums and deal with more frustrations than anything else I’ve read. Through the years, it gave me and my orbiting colleagues a vocabulary for plotting our escape from the hairball — while appreciating what it offered us. Like, you know, salaries and benefits and shared purpose.

It also points out that each of us has a hairball inside our own heads. And talks about how we orbit even that hairball:

So many books and workshops that promise to increase our capacity for creativity fail to deliver because they prescribe removing the left twin’s censoring hand through rational means. That won’t work. To take a rational approach to halting the left twin’s silencing of the right twin is to play directly into his strength, which is rational thinking. And you cannot beat him at his own game. Ultimately, the only effective way to remove his inhibiting hand is through transrational thinking.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is not a “normal” book. It’s filled with sketchy drawings and weird design. Some of it is handwritten. It looks messy. (There’s one chapter, titled “Orville Wright” that is just one 8-word sentence long. But it’s a sentence that packs a wallop.)

You probably know people who will hate it at first sight, because it looks so strange. Maybe you will hate it. Until you read it.

This book just might change your professional life, the way it has mine. I highly recommend it.

One of the duties of a true Orbiter is to equip yourself with knowledge so your creativity can soar. The best way to do that is to pursue quality fundraising training and advice — and by belonging to a community of fundraisers who share knowledge and connection. That’s what you’ll get when you join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a true community, the thing we all need most right now — plus all kinds of courses, templates, checklists, and other resources that can help you go to new places as a fundraiser. More information here.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Oh, my….a book recommendation from you really means something! This is one I’ll have to read, thanks, Jeff! (She writes, from within the dim light of her hairball….)


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