What’s the T of T-Shaped Thinking?

alexgarciatopete Innovation, Organizational Design, Research, Transdisciplinarity Leave a Comment

While some may consider it a buzz word, T-shaped as a concept can offer a profound understanding of members of a team or the leadership and structure of an organization. Originally, T-shaped meant deep expertise in one area (the vertical of the T), while having broad-yet-shallow knowledge of other areas (the horizontal cross of the T); the model was useful for cross-functional positions, such as managers of engineering teams, who need to be either an expert in management and knowledgeable of several engineering subdisciplines to lead well (or the opposite). However, in Transdisciplinary Intelligence terms, T-shaped has a twofold meaning that better match the reality of industry and the world.

First, instead of boxing an individual as “expert of one area,” we acknowledge that their core expertise can comprise multiple disciplines or domains, while the broadness stands for a type of proficiency for collaboration in/with other domains. For example, a data scientist (before coining the term and the formal establishment of that area) would be considered a core expert of statistical models, data processing, visualization, and computer science; and their success as a data scientist would be dependent on their proficiency of business or public policy in order to collaborate in those data-heavy sectors.   

Second, the T can also mean the shape and orientation of the transdisciplinary thinking typical of an organization’s culture and/or its leadership:

  • Transformative Are they trying to turn an issue into a solution?
  • Transgressive Are they defying rules and disrupting their industry?
  • TranscendentalAre they going beyond the known boundaries of their industry?

No matter what the T stands for in T-Shaped Thinking, it’s all about thinking forward.

What type of T-shaped does your organization thinks?

Or does it at all?

SOURCES:

Barile, Sergio, Giacomo Franco, Giancarlo Nota, and Marialuisa Saviano. 2012. “Structure and Dynamics of a ‘T-Shaped’ Knowledge: From Individuals to Cooperating Communities of Practice.” Service Science 4 (2): 161–80. https://doi.org/10.1287/serv.1120.0014.

Dykes, Thomas H., Paul A. Rodgers, and Michael Smyth. 2009. “Towards a New Disciplinary Framework for Contemporary Creative Design Practice.” CoDesign 5 (2): 99–116. https://doi.org/10.1080/15710880902910417.

Hansen, Morten T. 2001. “Introducing T-Shaped Managers.” Harvard Business Review, 13.

Karjalainen, T-M, M Koria, and M Salimäki. 2009. “Educating T-Shaped Design, Business and Engineering Professionals,” 5.

Kluger, Max Oke, and Gerhard Bartzke. 2020. “A Practical Guideline How to Tackle Interdisciplinarity—A Synthesis from a Post-Graduate Group Project.” Humanities and Social Sciences Communications 7 (1): 47. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-020-00540-9.

Neeley, Kathryn A, and Bernd Steffensen. 2018. “The T-Shaped Engineer as an Ideal in Technology Entrepreneurship: Its Origins, History, and Significance for Engineering Education,” 32.

Oskam, I F. 2009. “T-Shaped Engineers for Interdisciplinary Innovation: An Attractive Perspective for Young People as Well as a Must for Innovative Organisations,” 11.

Priaulx, Nicky, and Martin Weinel. 2018. “Connective Knowledge: What We Need to Know about Other Fields to ‘Envision’ Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration.” European Journal of Futures Research 6 (1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40309-018-0150-z.

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