T-shaped people and culture for collaborative innovation

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Jan 05, 2017

Collaboration is an important aspect of any activity. It has particular importance for innovation, which involves exploration involving people in flexible and overlapping roles, as distinct from production which involves relatively stable roles and boundaries between them.

The nature of the culture and the people required for effective innovation has been referred to as "T-shaped".

Adam Hansen, @adhansen, of this parish, referred to this in a recent tweet:

T-shaped culture. The 8-second attention span counterbalanced by depth. Medium just the start. More deep-dive media. #innochat

This is a term that I am familiar with from the mid-1980s where it was frequently used to describe people who were well suited to the technology consultancy (PA Technology) where I worked.

Specialists are required for high performance in areas that are important to a project, enterprise, or organization. But many specialists are uncomfortable and/or, even, clueless outside their main area of expertise.

"T-shaped" refers to people who are both specialists and generalists. They have a working level of capability in a wide range of areas, and a high level of capability in one (or a small number of) specialist area(s).

This maximises the combination of their contribution in their area of specialism and their ability, through their general capabilities, to collaborate effectively and identify the areas of required specialism.


Let's discuss the importance of T-shaped people and culture to collaborative innovation during #innochat on Twitter on Thursday January 5th, 2017, based on the following questions:

  1. What value does being T-shaped contribute to innovation?
  2. How can we compensate for a shortage of T-shaped people?
  3. How can we identify, find, and attract T-shaped people?
  4. How can we make ourselves (or others) more T-shaped?
  5. How does being T-shaped relate to other aspects of collaborative innovation?


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