Why we ALL now need to be T-shaped

Oct 21, 2013

The concept of T-shaped people has been around for some time. It was first used by management consultants McKinsey & Company to describe the type of people they wished to hire. The term has since been embraced by Tim Brown, CEO and president of global design company IDEO and a raft of marketing professionals across the world.

The idea it that the vertical stroke of the ‘T’ represents the depth of a persons expertise in a single field and the horizontal span represents their knowledge of wider disciplines and their ability to be empathetic and collaborative.

It is important to understand that T-shaped people are not a ‘Jacks of all trades’. They have a deep understanding of one discipline but combine this with an understanding of other disciplines with a willingness to continually learn and share their knowledge. The pace of change in all of today’s markets means opportunities are opening up for people who can work collaboratively and develop and build upon other people’s ideas.  Companies such as Apple, Nike and Proctor and Gamble are all looking for T-shaped people to drive innovation.

Innovation of course is not only the preserve of the corporate giants. I believe that in order to succeed in whatever field you operate in we must all become T-shaped. Organisational and commercial landscapes are undergoing seismic changes driven by the current economic situation and/or the influence of digital technology. Jobs for life no longer exist and the old ways don’t seem to work anymore. With continual downward pressure on all sectors from publishing to the music industry, from the high street to health and public services. New thinking and innovation are required and this will be delivered by the T-shaped.

So how do you become T-shaped?

  • Always remain inquisitive and creative.
  • Develop a broader set of skills.
  • Build a mentoring relationship with a specialist in the discipline you’re interested in.
  • Broaden your skill set to include interpersonal communication skills such as leadership and active listening.
  • Be open to life-long learning.

Do this and yourself, your colleagues and the teams you form will generate stronger ideas. Ensuring you will deliver the solutions you need to the challenges you face.

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Hoults Estate, Newcastle upon Tyne

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