“The best T-shaped people are comfortable being a master of one trade, but also a jack-of-all-trades.” — Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO
When it comes to high-performance, some people argue for “I”-shaped people.
Others argue for “T”-shaped people.
But there is a great argument that the key to high-performance is actually to be an “E”-shaped person.
Are you I-shaped, T-shaped, or E-shaped?
E-Shaped, Not T-Shaped for High-Performance
I is depth, T is breadth, and E executes (Of course there’s overlap, but you get the idea.)
If you think of yourself as a mini-business, can you “execute” your ideas? (either yourself, with others, or through others, and amplify your impact)
And, by the way, just how important is the ability to execute?
Ability to Execute
Well, it’s important enough that Gartner uses “Ability to Execute” as a key criteria in its Magic Quadrants.
Ability to execute + high-impact ideas are a recipe for value.
After all, what good are a bunch of ideas if you can’t make them happen.
Keep these mental models in mind as you design your career path and grow your capabilities, skills, and experiences.
With that in mind, let’s explore a little more …
Here’s what Wikipedia says about T-shaped people:
“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.”
(The earliest reference to T-shaped people is by David Guest in “The hunt is on for the Renaissance Man of computing,” in The Independent, September 17, 1991.)
By contrast, I-shaped people have a very narrow, but expert domain skills in one specific area.
According to Sarah Davanzo, E-Shaped people are those that “execute”:
“People (workers) today also need to be able to execute. As they say, ‘ideas are like noses, everyone has one.’ I’m tired of people coming to me with a great idea or invention, but with no clue how to bring it fruition. Real genius is being able to execute ideas. “
An “Ideas Person” Isn’t Good Enough
According to Sarah Davanzo, an “ideas person” isn’t good enough. You need the ability to execute. Here’s what Sarah says:
“Being an experienced, expert, exploratory “ideas person” isn’t good enough in today’s culture, and here’s why. The trends clearly favor those with “breadth” and “depth”, as well as the tangible (execution) and intangible (exploration), implying having both a big-picture outlook and an attention to detail from being a practitioner.”
4-Es: Experience, Expertise, Exploration, and Execution
According to Sarah Davanzo, “E-shaped” people have a combo of 4 Es:
“’E-Shaped People’ have a combination of ‘4-E’s’: experience and expertise, exploration and execution. The last two traits – exploration and execution – are really necessary in the current and future economy.”
Note – If you want to work on your ability to execute, Getting Results the Agile Way is a good way to start (It’s the playbook I wish somebody would have given me long ago.)
Is Your CQ (Curiosity Quotient) the Key to Your Future Success?
According to Sarah Davanzo, your CQ matters more than your IQ and EQ:
“Exploration = curiosity. Innovation and creative problem solving is tied to one’s “curiosity quotient” (CQ). In this day and age of constant change (think: Moore’s Law), one’s CQ is more useful than one’s IQ or EQ.”
Side note – Edward de Bono wrote about how exploring ideas is how to have a beautiful mind.
Bill Buxton on I-Shaped People
Bill Buxton puts a spin on “I-shaped” people in his article on Innovation Calls for I-Shaped People:
“But while I love Bill’s (Bill Moggridge) notion of T-shaped people, things are just not that simple. So as both compliment and complement, I propose I-shaped people. These have their feet firmly planted in the mud of the practical world, and yet stretch far enough to stick their head in the clouds when they need to. Furthermore, they simultaneously span all of the space in between.”
Three Pillars: Business, User Experience, and Technology
According to Bill Buxton, at Microsoft we purposefully plan for equal levels of competence and creativity in business, design, and technology.
Bill Buxton writes:
“When you slide multiple Ts together, their cross bars all overlap, indicating that the various Ts have a common language, and, ideally, their combined base can be broad enough to cover the domain of the problem that you are addressing.
At ( (MSFT)), we try to make sure that in looking at new product or services ideas, we have at least three Ts, which we call BXT, reflecting equal levels of competence and creativity in three domains: business, (in design), and technology. These are three interdependent and interwoven pillars we see as the foundation for what we do.”
Abstract + Concrete = Outstanding
Outstanding people can generalize and abstract, as well as get specific and make things actually work. They bridge the head in the clouds and feet on the ground with other people.
Bill Buxton writes:
“I once asked him (Brian Shackel) if he had noticed any particular attributes that distinguished the students that went on to do remarkable things compared with the rest. His answer was as immediate as it was insightful.
He said: ‘The outstanding students all had an outstanding capacity for abstract thinking, yet they also had a really strong grounding in physical materials and tools.’ By this, he meant that they could rise above the specifics of a particular problem to think about them in a more abstract, and in some ways, more general way.”
Jeroen Kraaijenbrink, Strategy & Leadership consultant, introduces us to V-shaped people.
The T-shaped employee is someone who has deep knowledge in one area and shallow knowledge in a broad range of other areas to enable collaboration, while the V-shaped employee has the same deep and shallow knowledge, but also has adjacent knowledge related to their core expertise.
Being a specialist is important, but having adjacent knowledge makes employees versatile and agile, able to do more than just their primary job and switch roles to grow. This knowledge is medium-deep and medium-broad, making employees versatile and agile.
Here are key points that Jeroen makes about V-shaped people:
- Like the T-shaped employee, a V-shaped employee has deep knowledge in one area. And along the same line, they also have shallow knowledge about a broad range of other domains.
- The key difference is the part in between. What is needed to effectively work in organizations today, I believe, is “adjacent knowledge,” knowledge that is related to the employee’s core expertise. It is not deep, nor shallow, but in between—hence the V-shape.
- Being a specialist is great, but both from an individual’s career perspective and from an organizational perspective, we need people who are versatile and agile. Who can do more than just their primary job. Who can switch roles and grow. This requires them to have adjacent expertise in areas close to their core area.
- This adjacent knowledge is expertise that is not as deep as their core knowledge, but also not as shallow to simply enable collaboration. It is medium-deep, medium-broad, enabling them to be versatile and agile.
Expand Your T-Shape with Personal Effectiveness
One way to grow your T-Shape is to grow your personal effectiveness capabilities.
The U.S. department of labor actually has a Competency Model Clearninghouse. You can easily browse different industries and find a list of Personal Effectiveness capabilities.
For example, in the Information Technology Competency Model, they list the following Personal Effectiveness Capabilities:
- Interpersonal Skills and Teamwork
- Adaptability and Flexibility
- Dependability and Reliability
- Lifelong Learning
BTW – did you notice that Personal Effectiveness is at the base of the pyramid of the competency model?
The higher you go up, the more narrow and specific it gets. The lower you go, the broader and more general the competency model is.
Personal Effectiveness is at the base of all the pyramids. That should tell you something.
Note – If you want to work on your personal effectiveness skills, I have a knowledge base at Sources of Insight that focuses on personal effectiveness, personal development, leadership, productivity, emotional intelligence, time management, strengths, motivation, and more.
- Bill Buxton on Innovation Calls For I-Shaped People
- IDEO CEO Tim Brown: T-Shaped Stars: The Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture (On “integrators” – “if you have a company full of T-shaped people, you don’t need the facilitator, because everybody can do it anyway.”)
- Sarah Davanzo on Business Trend: “E-Shaped” People, Not “T-Shaped”
- Career Development, Professional Development, and Personal Development
- Getting Results.com (All things “ability to execute”)
- Sources of Insight (Personal Effectiveness)
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