The T-Shaped Revolution
IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown coined the term “T-Shaped” skills or employees back in 1991 as part of what IDEO was looking for when hiring. The adoption of more T-Shaped individuals is cited as a leading reason behind IDEO’s success and recognition as being one of the most innovative communications agencies in the world. The term has since been adopted across the industry which begs to ask the following questions:
What is a T-Shaped person? What are T-Shaped skills?
Well, according to Wikipedia:
The concept of T-shaped skills, or T-shaped persons is a metaphor used in job recruitment to describe the abilities of persons in the workforce. The vertical bar on the T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own.
There are quite a few attributes that go along with T-shaped people, one of which is empathy. By empathy, I mean the ability to see a project or a problem from another person’s viewpoint or another discipline. In fact, T-Shaped people are often so enthusiastic about multiple disciplines that they start learning adopting lessons learned as part of their skillset (adding to their horizontal bar).
Another trait of T-shaped people is being highly collaborative. For instance, in the concept phase of a project, ideas are shared but instead of hearing one idea and throwing out a competing idea, a T-shaped person will try to build on the idea given. In essence, the goal is not to compete for ideas to see which one wins, but to build on a concept from multiple ideas.
The idea has taken on global significance in the last few years, in part, due to the ever-changing economic culture and how businesses are adapting. China is experiencing a mini-revolution in the seeking of T-shaped individuals in the workforce. In Spain, the advertising industry is suffering from a lack of qualified people to take up the positions available, even though the unemployment rate is at 25%.
In today’s present environment, the T-Shaped person is hard to find but easy to see. The concept is catching on and more and more professionals are adopting T-Shaped skills, and companies are encouraging the T-Shaped employee for one simple reason: it’s sorely needed.
A more in depth overview of Tim Brown’s vision can be seen in his own words.
As the need for cross-discipline, collaborative, versatile workers increases in a world economy that’s undergoing massive changes, the future appears to be less static and more dynamic than ever.
References and Further Reading:
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