When I graduated from University of Maryland, my dream job was to work for IDEO. I had the pleasure of studying with Ruth Lozner, a professor at UMD, that taught a design in business course. Half of the semester was dedicated to reading ‘Art of Innovation’ by Tim Kelly, IDEO GM. It was inspiring learning about what good creative and product design can be.
Fast forward ten years later. A peer attended a weekend workshop with Boulder Digital Works and returned with a definition for what good digital agency talent needs to be: t-shaped. Origin? IDEO. See excerpt below from econsultancy.com, ‘Will 2012 Be T-Shaped?’:
The term ‘T-shaped’ was first used by McKinsey & Company to describe the type of person they were looking to hire. The vertical stroke of the ‘T’ described depth of skill in a vertical area (in their case strong analytical skills), the horizontal a broader empathy toward other disciplines encountered in the business. This combination of skills enabled a capacity to learn and an adaptability that made them ideal management consultants.
It was the renowned design and innovation firm IDEO, and notably its CEO Tim Brown who wrote about the concept in his book ‘Change By Design’ (and initially in a well-referenced Fast Company article entitled Strategy by Design) that popularized the phrase. For IDEO, the context was in recruiting designers or engineers who were inquisitive about and empathetic with other skills, such as anthropology.
For Recent Undergrads
If you’re a recent undergrad and desire to commence a career in digital, embrace striving to be a cross-disciplinary or a ‘hybrid’ person. Start a blog. Try building a site. Take free tutorials online on Photoshop and InDesign. Take Google Analytics free online certification course. Cultivate a state of mind of being curious, willing to try new things, and embrace appreciation of other peers’ skill sets.
For Agency Talent
Push for opportunities on the job to learn from people in different roles. It will only make you a more talented designer, developer, account manager or producer. Refine your perspective from ‘That’s not my job’ to being a person that can do anything to different degrees of proficiency. Also ask peers in other roles what they read, what side projects they’re working on, and any books they’d recommend. Some of the most successful and talented people I’ve seen in agencies are those folks that collaborate early and often with their peers, are inquisitive in nature, and often practice other skill sets outside of work.
People who understand marketing, good design and technology are rare. Demand for this type of talent is high, and t-shaped people can come at a premium. Smart agencies will figure out quickly how to grow junior talent into t-shaped people, craft a culture to inspire and retain them, and go after the type of work they’ll excel at.
For Human Resources
The following ere.net article sums up nicely where recruiting of t-shaped people will go:
I believe that we will evolve to focus on roles people can take on, rather than on specific skills and experience. We will look for people who have the ability and the mindset to find where they can add value on their own. And people who can move from technical to soft areas with ease will be in high demand. Many companies are experimenting with putting people into role-based work. Google, for example, often assigns engineers to a team where they work out, with the team members, the role they will play.