The Executive Bookshelf: An Unspoken Culture Builder


There are two book collections that have stuck with me in my lifetime, that have shaped my own reading direction.  This in turn has helped to shape me. The first came in 1996, in the form of liner notes of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Evil Empire’ CD. I was in my second year of college, and fascinated with a book list that included ‘The Lorax’ (my favorite of all time) and ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’. I remember thinking that my cruddy apartment could do with some decorating in the form of Zach, Tom, Brad and Tim’s’ recommendations. I remember thinking… that I wanted to be like those guys.

Two years later, at my first ‘real’ job while providing desktop support at a technical consulting firm, I noticed the bookshelves in the executives’ offices. They were small libraries of business focused material. It was a ‘how to’ of works that could tell someone how to identify the 7 tips to find their parachute color or move someone’s cheese. All great titles mind you, but I noticed there were no techie books, and zero non-fiction. I remember wondering if I could talk to these guys about ‘Fahrenheit 451’. I also thought that I may not want to be like these guys when I grow up.

Now, fast forward a few years and I am fortunate enough to have moved out of a cube and into an office. And with this personal room, there comes a bookshelf to hold the works that most influence my current role. And the responsibilities of this role are not only the building of security processes and deploying security technologies….. but the building of an information security culture. And to me, cultures are not built by robots, instead by relatable people. The start of relationship building can be easily done in a conversation about a person’s compact disc stack, or bookshelf. Now, I have given way to digital music and effectively eliminated the former from my life, in that example. I will however, hold onto the latter.

As I look over at my bookshelf right now, I know will it always be dominated by technical books. So if ‘junior’ technician ever comes my way to ask how to understand security, he or she will have access to ‘Unix in a Nutshell’ and ‘Hacking Exposed’, the two titles that got me started on this security focused path.   They’ll have to arm wrestle me to get ‘The Practice of Network Security Monitoring’ out the door though, or get their own copy.

From a personal side however, whenever anyone enters the threshold of my ‘cube with a ceiling and a door’, I want to always be open to a conversation about how reading the narratives of Francis Begby (Trainspotting) can be a challenging, but extremely entertaining experience. I’ll always be open that the books by Ray Bradbury and Dee Brown (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) are my professional homage to the Rage reading list that started by book collecting in 1996.

I’m always ready to discuss my copy of ‘Russell Rules’ (Bill Russell) and how I got the autograph of one of the greatest NBA’ers in history. More importantly, I’ll tell people his answer when I asked him which of his NBA championship rings was most valuable to him, the first one or the last one.

We spend many hours starting at screens these days, communicating to those down the hall in IM’s or emails. Books can make us accessible. And accessibility leads to productivity. I would recommend to anyone taking the time to read this rant, to place one work that is high on your own personal reading list in your own workspace for your colleagues to notice. You never know where a conversation around ‘Citizen Soliders’ (Stephen Ambrose) will take you.

PS: Read ‘The Martian’ (Andy Weir). It is techie geek manna from Heaven (or whatever red celestial body you prefer).

Jon Tidwell is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Francesca El-Attrash

Jon, love this! You’re absolutely right, a person’s bookshelf says everything about that individual. I’m looking forward to the day I have my own office and will take your advice as to my library collection there.

Becky Latka

Great article! My cube has limited space for books, and tend toward the technical (“Innovations in Fish Passage Technology,” “The Middle Missouri River,” and others), but your point is well taken to add in some personal favorites. I too love “The Lorax” and have a quote on my wall. “Fahrenheit 451” has always been a favorite. In my field of biology and environmental compliance, “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson should be added, as well as “Living Downstream” by Sandra Steingraber.