To Drive Innovation In Your Company, This Is Who You Should Hire.

To Drive Innovation In Your Company, This Is Who You Should Hire. 

If you want to create a more innovative culture in your company, look for T-Shaped people.

According to IDEO CEO Tim Brown, a T-Shaped person is someone who is an expert in one area, but can also collaborate across other disciplines. The vertical bar of the ‘T’ represents depth of skill. The horizontal bar represents breadth of knowledge, or the ability to collaborate across disciplines.


T-Shaped people can also be described as having an “agile mindset”, as opposed to a “fixed” mindset. People with agile mindsets look for opportunities to change and grow, both personally (mastery of a skill) as well as in a team (collaboration).

I-Shaped, Comb-Shaped and Hyphen-Shaped
If you take away the top bar of the “T”, you’re left with an “I” shaped person. This is someone who has depth of skill but lacks exposure or empathy to other disciplines. Although these people may be experts in their area, they may work in silos or have diva attitudes.

Then there are “Comb-shaped” people, who have deep expertise in more than one field, and are still able to relate to other fields outside their niches. As you can imagine, this kind of people can be hard to find.

Hyphen-shaped people are those who have a lot of exposure to different fields, but have failed to become a specialist at any particular one. In other words, a jack-of-all trades and master of none.


Why these shapes matter

People drive innovation. It takes a talented team of people to spot market opportunities, execute and scale with speed, and problem-solve along the way.

But these kinds of people are not easy to find. Someone with excellent technical skills, may just rub everyone the wrong way. Or someone with great interpersonal skills may lack execution ability when it comes down to details.

To drive innovation, people need to have both 1) depth and 2) breadth of skill and knowledge.

Here are 5 reasons you should be looking for T-Shaped or Comb-Shaped qualities (vs I- or Hyphen-Shaped) in the people you hire:

1. A more collaborative and less political organization

In companies that hire largely for technical skills, you risk hiring people who see work as a competition. This leads to office politics and also potentially silo mentality. Individuals may focus on advancing their own personal skill sets and avoid collaborating with others.
This is to the company’s detriment, especially in big projects where collaboration is critical.

When you hire T-shaped people, work becomes more collaborative rather than siloed and competitive.

2. Higher quality of work
In hyper-growth mode, it is easy to favour hyphen-shaped people who can juggle many different roles in a fast-paced environment.

Such people may have a great attitude and get on well with colleagues – but lack the vertical bar, or expertise in a particular discipline, to ground them. For a company to become a market leader instead of merely a contender, hiring people who are experts in their fields is a must.

Hiring for T-shaped qualities ensures that not only are individuals able to adapt to uncertainty, but they bring valuable expertise to the organization as well.

3. Internal transfer of knowledge
A common challenge faced by organizations is the loss of knowledge and technical expertise whenever key staff members move on.

I-shaped people are usually poor in transferring their skills and knowledge on. When they leave an organization, their expertise leaves with them.

T-shaped people, being more collaborative in nature, are better suited to train and mentor junior staff members. Their willingness to pass on their expertise ensures core skills are retained within the organization.

4. Speed and flexibility

When you hire T-Shaped people with different skill sets, things get done faster.

On a project-level, there will be more expertise available to deal with a wider range of challenges. That, coupled with the willingness to collaborate, means that less things need to be cascaded to a managerial level.

In conclusion, it takes a broad mind (breadth of knowledge) to spot market opportunities. But strong execution skills (depth of knowledge) is what will allow companies to grab those opportunities.

Using this T-Shaped framework, you can better determine the kind of people you need to position your company for success.

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