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Painting your unique masterpiece

I have a love-hate relationship with one of my favourite books.

I love it because it is fabulous, makes me smile and inspires me to continue on my adventure.  I hate it because having read it I thought to myself “Damn!  This is the book that I wanted to write in 10 years time!”

But that’s just a little niggle – 99.9% of my feelings towards this book are love.  And the fact that it has already been written means that I can use it as a guidebook for my adventures over the next 10 years!

It was sometime during 2011 when a friend sent me my copy of “Orbiting the Giant Hairball – A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving With Grace” by Gordon MacKenzie.  I immediately fell in love with everything about it – the title, the way it was presented, the random, quirky artwork – even the feel of the pages and the binding seemed special.  I also feel in love with Gordon’s spirit and sense of adventure and, as I strive to do with all books that I enjoy, I decided to reach out to let Gordon know that he’d brought a smile to my face and put a spring in my step.  I searched the internet and the publishers website for contact details and was somewhat heartbroken to find out that Gordon had died in October 1999 just a year after publishing his book.

It was Gordon’s stories of creative (mis)adventure in a rather grey corporate world that inspired me to make some big choices about what I do with that time I call ‘work’.  Gordon had a lot of guts to do what he did and it was because he really believed in the value of finding different ways of doing things, providing a counterpoint to predominant ways and had quite obviously got over his own fear of being perceived as mad, bad or wrong (Keith Johnson).

I frequently re-read about the time Gordon was worried that nobody would take him seriously at a conference so he went on stage to introduce an imaginary expert guest speaker then ducked down behind the lecturn, shaved off his beard, put on a tie and jacket combed his hair and stood up and delivered the talk as the expert.

I cherish the part of his story where he gave himself the job title of “Creative Paradox” and turned his office into some sort of Aladdin’s cave where people would come in and sit before him cross legged and tell him of their ideas.  He had no idea what a “Creative Paradox” was or what the job description might entail but people started coming to him with their ideas. Gordon would tell every one of them that their ideas were brilliant but they didn’t know this and felt affirmed.  Each left energised, enthused and feeling like a creative genius!

I loved the stories of Gordon’s humility – how his misadventure and creative drive almost cost him his life as he tried scaling a cliff and how he himself once got distracted from what was important to him, got swayed by status and money and started to become part of his own little corporate hairball.

I recently gave my conference talk “Unplugging from the Corporate Matrix” at the RSA London and was wondering how to end it when the parting words of Gordon’s book came to mind.  These words are incredibly inspiring and important to me and I have them on the wall of my home office.   I share them with you here in case they make you laugh, make you stop and think or make you go and buy Gordon’s own masterpiece. I paraphrase for brevity but the sentiment remains.

We are all born with a blank canvas and unique masterpiece inside us.  From an early age society draws pale blue lines and numbers on our canvas and encourages us to paint by numbers.  We are told ‘stay in the lines and use the right colours and you will paint your masterpiece.’  And that is a lie.  You have a masterpiece inside you.  One unlike any that has ever been created or ever will be. 
And remember:If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted.No one else can paint it.Only you. 
(Gordon MacKenzie 1998)
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