Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Affinity programs: Breaking out of the hairball

It’s easy to get caught up in formulaic activities of what those in our professions refer to as tried-and-true affinity programs. Some of us even have bosses who are keen on tossing into our inboxes that latest print piece or link or email message of a major competitor's making with the attitude of 'we need to emulate them.' There can always be a place for monitoring what our industries or fields see as best practices; however, we can't have blinders to new ideas that come with risk.

Pitching a new concept for your affinity program is hard enough; however, one must first have a boundary-poking idea to pitch and an environment in which one can do so. At a recent gathering of artists and their supporters, a community in which cutting-edge views and unique perspectives are their mainstays, I spoke about a book that addresses this issue.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie provides concepts that can be applied to any profession. A highly entertaining and quick read, the book is filled with hand drawings on nearly every page and real-life jaw-dropping stories about how the author single-handedly changed his company by coloring outside the lines.

MacKenzie stayed 30 years at the company (aka “the hairball”) and did almost everything he wanted to do (aka “orbiting around the hairball”) for the benefit of himself and the business. The key, as revealed in the book, is to know how far outside the lines one can go and in what circumstances before you've crossed over too far to recover (aka “lost in space”).

Some of us embrace the maverick role; however, we also know we need a place where we can hold such a position. Orbiting the Giant Hairball demonstrates the perfect balance for those in that category, while serving as an inspiration to those of us who want to experiment with ideas that require new ways of working and thinking.
Brenda Dow is a specialist in Marketing, Advancement, and Business Development. She holds degrees in communications and human resources management, and blogs about affinity relations and affinity programs at


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