The Expert Generalist: Becoming a T-Shaped Professional

If you’re like me you are interested in lots of things that are not always connected and you struggle when people inquire about your expertise. As long as I can remember I’ve never been content with having one interest and have always resented the idea that people cannot specialize in multiple things. I recently discovered that there is a term used to describe this phenomenon, T-Shaped professional.

The concept of T-shaped professionals was originated with Tim Brown, former CEO of IDEO, who shared that his company applied a method of hiring people for both their breadth and depth of experience. T-shaped professionals have both breadth in knowledge and skills and depth in specific areas of expertise. What makes T-shaped professionals so effective is that they are immensely empathetic, having an intense sense of other’s perspectives.

The bar on the top of the ‘T’ represents the breadth of their knowledge, while the stem represents a deep understanding of their own area of expertise. Separately they can be useful, but when combined they can be incredibly powerful.

Think of yourself as the “T” shape. Some people may find that they are only a specialist with no general or broad knowledge, which is represented by the “I”, or they may have broad knowledge, but no specialization, which is represented by the dash.

Becoming a T-shaped person has the unique ability to provide you with the benefits of specialization and generalization while avoiding the pitfalls of being only a specialty or generalist. These benefits include becoming more creative and engaged, and you will experience more satisfaction because you will recognize that your knowledge can be applied in new, innovative ways.

The big question is how do you become a T-shaped person?

  1. Assess your skills and knowledge
  2. Determine what you want to improve and maintain
  3. Create SMART goals and determine how you will evaluate your progress
  4. Figure out how to maximize the experiences around you

Are you familiar with T-shaped professionals? Share you thoughts in the comments!

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