April 23, 2014 | By

Cowboys and Librarians – Why Both Are Needed in the Office

By Stacey Watkins


Before you jump to stereotypes (cowboys are cool, but librarians are boring), you should know there are both upsides and downsides to both personas. The good news is there’s room for both in an IT department or company. Not sure which category you fall into? Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Did you have a VoIP phone before most of your coworkers and friends?
  • Did you download the preview of the latest Windows Server version before it was RTM (released to manufacturing)?
  • Did you announce your last IT upgrade or suggest a few possible dates?
  • Have you had a pilot project that lasted more than two weeks?
  • Do you more often ask for permission or forgiveness?

You get the idea. Cowboys are risk takers, always on the cutting edge. They’re early adopters who tend to install software before it was popular just to try it out. Librarians, on the other hand, are risk averse, doing everything by the book. They like consensus and approval before trying something out or moving forward.

So how do these very opposing archetypes work together? And how do you avoid the pitfalls of each of the extremes? It’s really not so tough. Just a tweak or two can reel in a cowboy and ignite a librarian.

According to Margie Warrell, who discusses risk in her book Stop Playing Safe, those averse to risk (listen up, librarians) often look back and wish they’d played it a little less safe. She suggests three simple questions for identifying the risks worth taking:carryingbooks

  1. What would I do if I were being more courageous?
  2. How will inaction cost me one year from now if I do nothing?
  3. Where is my fear of failure causing me to over-estimate the size of risk, under-estimate myself and holding me back from taking risks that would serve me (my business, etc.)?

Conversely, a cowboy needs to find balance between calculated risk-taking and recklessness. In her blog post on, Gwen Moran discusses the four traits that cowboys should keep in check:

  1. Sensation-seeking
  2. Concern about consequences
  3. Impulsiveness
  4. Denial

The best teams have choreographed the dance of risk and stability; no company or department can survive on either gambles or safe bets alone. It takes two to tango: the cowboy and the librarian.



Discuss / Read Comments

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Explore our other Perspectives or Recent Posts.