Who’s on your shelf?

I was introduced at the weekend to the idea of the human library. Basically, you think of people like knowledge to be accessed. Instead of borrowing a book you borrow a mind and, as long as you look after it and return it in the condition you found it, you can keep and use the knowledge you gained. The idea is to introduce us to people who might be a bit less like us and open us up to new ideas that we might not have thought of.

What a great idea. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could bring that thinking into our professional lives? That’s sure to be a winning idea. Sure enough the people at Human Library™ have already thought of it and they are way ahead of me. Go to humanlibrary.org to have a look.

My great idea might be an old one but that doesn’t stop me thinking about how you might design your own professional book shelf – a cabinet of colleagues who would volunteer (for the price of a coffee or a sandwich) to help you understand their world. In a world of home working and centralised functions it is so easy to become isolated and only meet people who think as we think and agree we are right. How many procurement or sales conversations (or any conversation for that matter) would go so much better if we could just see the world from someone else’s perspective or understand how they see us? Perhaps our perspective isn’t the only one. Maybe our problem isn’t the one we should be fixing.

Here, then, are my top tips for building your colleague bookshelf:

1. Think about who you need to influence on a day to day basis. Are there stakeholders or people who could help you develop insights into what makes the people you need to influence tick?

2. Who will speak truth to power? Where can I find a mind that will challenge my perceptions and make me think afresh about how I see the organisation and my role?

3. Can I stretch my horizons? Is there someone in a different industry/culture/location doing what I am doing or similar who could share what works for them and why they might do it differently?

4. What about a sounding board? Somebody who’s opinion I value and who I trust that could hear my recommendations before I present them or listen to my spiel before I utter it and give me the chance to rehearse and make it better?

5. Have a wild card. Just spend time with someone in the business who is willing to spend time with you because you can. Who knows? It might be the best conversation you have that week.

6. What can you bring to someone else’s bookshelf? Would you be willing to give 30 minutes of your time to lend your mind/opinions and perspectives to colleagues or peers for no gain other than to increase the general level of awareness and body of knowledge?

The idea of the library is great but it does raise some interesting questions about how you file the knowledge to be accessed?

  • Should academics be filed under “Research” or “Historical fiction”
  • Are management consultants “Non-fiction”, “Fiction” or “True Crime”?
  • Do you keep your shelf intact over time or send read minds to a charity shop?
  • Are you allowed to mark up interesting passages with a highlighter (tattoo)?
  • Are you fined by the librarian if you give them back late?
  • Would anyone want me on their bookshelf?

On that point, if anyone would like a coffee and a chat about procurement or sales, leadership or entrepreneurialism, let me know. Mine’s a macchiato.

First published on LinkedIn by Rob Maguire in March 2018.