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E-Shaped People, Not T-Shaped

Note: The updated page is located at E-Shaped for High-Performance.

Are you I-shaped, T-shaped, or E-shaped?

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?   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 …

T-Shaped People

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.)

I-Shaped People

By contrast, I-shaped people have a very narrow, but expert domain skills in one specific area.

E-Shaped People

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:

“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.”

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
  • Integrity
  • Professionalism
  • Initiative
  • 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.

Additional Resources

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