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I am reading a book I was given for Christmas called The New Philanthropists by Charles Handy. He has developed a whole series of short studies of modern, often smaller scale philanthropists in contrast to the picture we often envisage of Rothschild, Gates, Wellcome etc. What I found more interesting was that he asked each one to put together a still life of five objects, including a flower, which represents them, and their journey.

We have just spent the weekend in Hay-on-Wye, an annual treat exploring secondhand bookshops. On returning home, and scattering my purchases on the bed, I wondered what the set of titles I had chosen said about me:

  • The Complete Book of Plant Propagation
  • Six Easy Pieces : The Fundamentals of Physics explained by Richard Feynman
  • Home sausage making
  • The Zen Calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Cancel the Apocalypse : the new path to prosperity
  • The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

The last one was a 50p paperback in an honesty bookshop beside Hay Castle, and will probably end up in book sale fairly soon. But the others will find space on the shelves at home and become part of my life. As I visit people around the University, there are books and other personal items which adorn their workspace. Things they have elected to keep. Things which are important to them. What do these things say about us to those we work with and live with? Are we conscious of what they say about us?

I am really interested in authenticity, particularly with respect to leadership and management. Are the objects we keep around us a clue to the authentic individual, or perhaps just another artfully arranged layer masking the real person? I don't know, but I will be looking even harder at the bookshelves in future.

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