Innovation Mojo (#3): T-Shaped People

Adapted from IDEO

What is a T-Shaped Person?

A T-Shaped person is someone who has two kinds of characteristics.  The Vertical stroke of the “T” is the depth of knowledge a person has in at least one discipline. 

The Horizontal stroke of the “T” is the breadth of knowledge and ability to have cross-functional awareness across multiple disciplines or lines of business.  

A T-shaped person provides more overall value to a project as they are better at fostering the diverse connections and conversations that bring exceptional ideas to the table.

Individual contributors are the so-called “I-shaped” people.  They are not necessarily bad. There’s a place for them in the organization. They are for example the technical specialist in an engineering organization.  They may not care to understand the functional workings of the organization but are passionate about engineering in excruciating depth.

What tends to happen in teams with all I-Shaped people is that each person brings in a single-minded point of view and it becomes a negotiation at the table as to whose point of view wins. The result of this is a very average product deliverable. 

On the other hand, folks that have the breadth of knowledge but do not have the depth of skill to contribute often struggles at work. They do not get the respect from their group.

If you find yourself reading this as an I-shaped person and want to develop into a T-shaped person, focus on three things: 

  • First, develop empathy (the 1st step in design thinking). Empathy allows you to imagine the problem from another perspective – to stand somebody else’s shoes.  
  • Second, develop your interest in collaboration and in working with other people. Get curious in what others in the team are working on.  
  • Third, learn to be entrepreneurial – Entrepreneurship cultivates a range of important life skills, from leadership and team building to negotiations and decision making.    

Further Reading: IDEO T-Shaped Stars:

Ref:  Innovation Engine by Tina Selig

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