Orbiting the Giant Hairball
Entropy, noun. The degradation of matter and energy to an ultimate state of inert uniformity. 


In his exuberant Orbiting the Giant Hairball, author and corporate guru Gordon MacKenzie brilliantly re-imagines the traditional pyramid-shaped organizational model and clears a path for those creative few who want to dream, dare, and do to escape the tangled, impenetrable mass of rules and systems based on what worked in the past and leads to mediocrity in the present.[1]

MacKenzie defines the “Hairball” as the collection of policies and procedures that have built up over time based on the lessons of past successes and failures, which form a “Gordian knot of Corporate Normalcy (i.e., conformity with the “accepted model, pattern or standard” of the corporate mind set).[2] “Every new policy is another hair for the Hairball. Hairs are never taken away, only added.”[3] The fundamental weakness with the Hairball of Corporate Normalcy is that it “derives from and is dedicated to past realities and past successes. 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.”[4]

Chapter 18 of Gordon MacKenzie’s book, entitled The Pyramid & The Plum Tree (pages 161 to 188), is a remarkable fable on the struggle of the novel against the entrenched at Hallmark. I have reproduced this extraordinary chapter in the appendix to this paper, with slight changes to adjust it to the context of Freemasonry and grand lodges. Except for the opening paragraphs on the background of Freemasonry, the words are almost exclusively those of MacKenzie, modified only by the substitution of “Freemasonry” for “Hallmark” and with the Pyramid representing grand lodges.

Imagine, for a moment, a Grand Master armed with both the vision to dream an unbounded future for Freemasonry and the courage to pursue the dream. Looking around, he sees the glaring disconnect between the mindless repetition of today’s rote “tradition” and the core purpose and core values that Freemasonry used to represent. Seeking to recapture that which was lost, he creates a new haven for experimentation—an at-large Grand Master’s district. The purpose for this special district is to create a home for new lodges to creatively explore new and innovative ways to practice the timeless core of Freemasonry in a manner relevant to today. Freed (by special dispensation) from the weight of rules, regulations, and district deputy grand masters, these lodges answer only to the Grand Master himself, who in turn, wisely, benevolently, gives them the freedom to create, be fruitful, bountiful, and multiply!

Alas, we all know that the above scenario is all but impossible in the oppressive climate that governs grand lodges. Sadly, because some grand lodges would not embrace creativity and empower young masons to try new practices, they lost the very constituency of young men that they are so desperately trying to attract with impotent one-day classes.[5] The challenge, according to MacKenzie, is to orbit the Giant Hairball, which means to actively engage in the opportunities that an organization presents without being sucked into the Hairball of the organization.[6]

Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mind set, beyond “accepted models, patterns, or standards”—all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate mission.

To find Orbit around a corporate Hairball is to find a place of balance where you benefit from the physical, intellectual and philosophical resources of the organization without becoming entombed in the bureaucracy of the institution.

The challenge to the Hairball is to allow people to achieve orbit. But the more massive the Hairball grows, the greater gravitational pull it exerts, sucking everything into the “nothingness of corporate normalcy made stagnant by a compulsion to cling to past successes.”[8] In such cases, orbiting may not be possible (nor tolerated by the Hairball), leaving one with the stark choice of remaining to be suffocated by rule of what worked in the past or flying out into deep space, liberated, but alone.


  1. MacKenzie, Gordon. Orbiting the Giant Hairball. New York: Viking Penguin, 1996.  ↩
  2. MacKenzie, 30.  ↩
  3. Mackenzie, 31.  ↩
  4. Mackenzie, 31.  ↩
  5. e.g. Halcyon Lodge #498  ↩
  6. Mackenzie, 32.  ↩
  7. Mackenzie, 33.  ↩
  8. Mackenzie, 33.  ↩

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