In Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, author Gordon MacKenzie writes that a hairball is “policy, procedure, conformity, compliance, rigidity, and submission to the status quo, while orbiting is originality, rules-breaking, non-conformity, experimentation, and innovation.” His book focuses on how people in a corporate culture can maintain creativity and originality, but I could not help but think about how his ideas apply to those of us who seek out these same “orbiting” traits in schools and other learning organizations.

Some honor their creativity and originality by branching out on their own. They abandon the organization and venture into the world of consulting, freelancing, or startups. That is an admirable option, and I’m grateful for the amazing work that comes from people who choose this option. However, what intrigues me about MacKenzie’s book is that he offers another option as well, an option he calls “orbit- ing the giant hairball.” Here is how he explains it:

Orbiting is responsible creativity, vigorously exploring and operating beyond the hairball of the corporate mindset, beyond “accepted models, patterns, or stand- ards,” all while respecting the spirit of the corporate mission.

When I first read that definition of orbiting, I wanted to make a poster of it, turn it into a t-shirt, memorize it, and post it on my office wall. It is the essence of so much of what I’ve devoted myself to over the last two decades as I have tried to stretch myself and others to explore the promise and possibility beyond “accepted models, patterns, and standards” in education. My passion is to look to what is possible, not just to cling to past successes or ingrained educational practices.


When we look to what is possible, we discover new educational vistas, and we infuse our communities and our own minds with passion and creative energy, but we can choose to do so without abandoning the educational establishment. We find ways to breathe creativity into these institutions, maintaining a deep love and re- spect for the important missions that drive many of our schools and learning organizations. We commit ourselves to helping reveal how that shared and valued mission can be expanded and enhanced through creative and innovative endeavors.