In Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon MacKenzie the self titled “creative paradox” at Hallmark Cards (he was offered the title creative director, but preferred creative paradox), highlights the way organizations use metaphors to describe themselves.

Here is a paradox – If an organization uses language, like dynamic, fast moving, creative, and then shows you a static picture of pyramid, or a two by two matrix – is the organization dead or alive?

I’ve never seen a pyramid grow, have you? I’ve never seen a two by two matrix in the real world.  Yes it can be helpful to understand things, but these static metaphors don’t move, don’t grow.

MacKenzie calls the “way things are done around here”  – a giant hairball – a series of assumptions and expectations that people bring in, and become “normal” in the organization.

The implication is, to grow, you need to orbit the hairball – see it, but don’t get tangled up, or float away into outer space far from engaging with things.

There are some attempts to update the metaphors used to describe organizations.

You hear things like ‘building an aeroplane in flight’ or ‘looking for blue oceans’ and finding a good one with movement in it can really help characterize the organization…

Example – Steve Jobs and Apple:

Wouldn’t you rather be a pirate than join the navy…..???

If you have come across interesting metaphors or analogies that move you I’d be keen to learn.