Business Trend: “E-Shaped” People, Not “T-Shaped”

You may have heard about a “trend” in management, organizational strategy, recruiting and human resources called “T-Shaped People”? It’s not really a new concept since I found an article on it published in The Guardian in 1991, but in recent years with all the down/right-sizing in America, it’s resurfaced.  I keep reading how businesses are seeking “T-Shaped” employees; those with broad experience (represented by the horizontal line in a “T”) plus a deep expertise in their field/discipline (represented by the “T’s” vertical stroke). Apparently, it’s advisable to be both a “generalist” AND “specialist” in today’s rapidly changing economy.

Well, the other night I was talking with a friend who is looking for a job and she mentioned that she was worried because she realized she wasn’t a “T-shaped” professional, but rather a “Hyphen-Shaped Person” (“—“).  I smiled. She said she fears she’s a “generalist” with no real expertise. “I’m not a practitioner like you,” she explained, “but rather a jack of many trades.”

Another friend at my dinner piped up, “I’m a Y-Shaped Person’ because all of my experience leads to something, referring to the implied direction of the “V” shape at the top of the “Y”. He continued, “What good are different experiences if they’re irrelevant to my profession? Who cares if I have diverse experiences, such as working in a circus and bartending school, if they’re not meaningful to my career in telecommunications?” He had a point.

I then wondered, “Where does this leave ‘Pi-Shaped People?” As in the symbol for “pi” (3.14159265)… represented by one horizontal bar, and two vertical bars, symbolic of two areas of expertise?  For example, what if the person is an expert in, say, tax law AND knitting? This person would be a great dinner party conversationalist, but I’m not sure how special an attorney? I’d like to think that inspiration comes from disparate interests, and connecting new dots. I know, for myself, that much of my innovative thinking is a mash-up of my many disparate experiences, interests and areas of expertise.  But, is there really value in litigious knitting? 🙂

Hmm, Isn’t a “J” a souped-up “T”? Same horizontal and vertical strokes, but I see the up-swing of the “J” being a metaphor for “vision” or “innovation”… so then, isn’t a J-Shaped Person”  better than a “T-shaped” because a “J” ALSO implies that the person has a sense of curiosity and exploration? But, are “experience”, “expertise” and “exploration” enough in today’s economy and culture? Nope.

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.  Being an experienced, expert, exploratory “ideas person” isn’t good enough in today’s culture, and here’s why….

E-Shaped People Trend

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. “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.

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.

I foresee a greater emphasis on execution and exploration in business and human capital development.  For example, even the most senior executives today are being asked to share examples of completed work in job interviews, such as decks, business plans, videos of speeches. Questions like, “please provide concrete examples of how you changed a business paradigm or innovated” are increasingly being used to sort candidates and determine their CQ. In this Big Data Era, metrics and measurement are also being used to “quantify” people’s creativity and innovationess (exploration), once thought to be subjective and qualitative.

So, the challenge for us all to remain relevant and useful in this changing world is to:

  • Specialize in something. Really be an expert in a topic. Be the “long-reads” version, not the Twitter version of the topic. Go deep.
  • Amass diverse experiences. Try things. Go places. Absorb. Get out of your comfort zone (which builds new brain synapses). Draw on your diverse experiences to connect-the-dots in new ways… and even create new dots.
  • Innovate. Ask “why is it done this way?” and then come up with a better way to do it. Use “what if…” in your thinking. Think out of the box. Break paradigms. Be a challenger.
  • Produce. Produce. Produce. Have something to show for your efforts (a blog, a small business, a website, a blanket, a portfolio, etc.).  Demonstrate that you can turn ideas into tangible deals. That you can move smoothly from brainstorms to building.  Offer proof of your concepts and constructions. Be a maker, not just a thinker.

People of America: Think “E-Shaped”, not “T-Shaped”. “T” is so yesterday, “E” is where it’s at today… and tomorrow.

happy skies

America: the only culture in the world that feels “happiness” is an entitlement. A right. A “must have.”  The “pursuit of happiness” is even written into our Declaration of Independence. And this “pursuit” is never ending. Ah, happiness is so elusive. They say it’s like a cat… if you pursue it, it evades you. When you ignore it, it comes to you.

This “happiness” craze has even crept into American business culture. In fact, the Harvard Business Review devoted an entire issue to happiness in the workplace. There are over 27,000 books and publications on the subject of happiness. Ironically, the airline industry, which is synonymous with “unhappiness” (think: delays, anxiety, fear of crashing, physical violation by TSA personnel, etc.) is starting to take off on the “happy” trend.

My blog for Kaplan Thaler highlights three kinds of happiness that colored discussion at the Hamburg aviation show this year: physical happiness, emotional happiness and social happiness. Click the graphic below if you’re interested to read how happiness is taking flight!

future of aviation: podcast

Shout out to “AV GEEKS” (otherwise  affectionately known in airline culture as “Aviation Geeks”). In Hamburg, Germany recently I moderated a panel discussion sponsored by APEX.  The panel titled, “The Future of Aviation: Space is the Limit”, included a handful of experts from the European Space Agency, Airbus Future 2050 and the author of “Jetliner Cabins” who each offered up a vision of the future. Some cool ideas were tabled.  Here is a podcast of the full panel discussion. 

You can download my presentation here:  APEX Hamburg_sdv1

honeycomb engagements in-flight

Report from the Aircraft Interiors, Catering and On Board Services Expo in Hamburg, Germany (April, 2012)

All brands can learn from a theme apparent in aviation design, technology and business: be bee.

Everywhere I looked at the ExporI saw “honeycomb” patterns and structures: from textiles, to stacked seat designs, from organization systems to cushioning material, from exhibition maps to display architecture. I learned that honeycomb is one of nature’s most elegant and strongest structures, packing a lot of content (people, exhibits, cutlery, amenities, etc.) into a small area. In addition, it’s a metaphor for our era dominated by social networks.

The airline industry, like a lot of businesses, still runs on the strength of human relationships and its “knowledge network.” The industry is small, tight and personal, with very little personnel turn-over. “Shhhhh,” they told me. “We want to keep it a secret how great this industry is.” Conferences, like this one, are key for face-time amongst people residing all over the globe. The four days were packed with “break-out” sessions and networking events. Every nook and cranny was filled with the buzz of people conversing, exchanging ideas and solidifying B2B trust.

This year, the star of the show was social networking: technology systems for inside airplanes AND social media coverage of the show. Tweet Walls shared real-time participant thoughts, bloggers outnumbered traditional journalists, and exhibitors pushed-out invitations on FourSquare.  Airbus announced new airplane designs that have built in “social zones” and in-flight entertainment companies boasted systems that support the trend towards BYOD (“bring your own device”, as in passengers using their phones, ereaders and tablets for self-tainment).

The lesson: the business of brand-building still relies on a combination of “hi tech” and “hi touch”; real-time face-time cannot be replaced by “iComms.” Human interaction and real life communities, not simply online communities, remain core to our behavior. Technology and social networking merely add a rich extra layer to life… and attract bees to a real-world honey pot.

twitter + gong show + reality tv =

A new phenomenon has hit our culture:… it is live video streaming/chat with strangers,  where you the viewer can vote the streamed broadcast on/off the air. It’s similar to Skype in that it’s live video chat. It’s similar to Chatroulette in that it’s random AND it has a simultaneous chat stream.  It’s similar to YouTube in that it has broadcast channels. It’s similar to Yelp in that you rate people/broadcasts.

The goal of the broadcaster (i.e., the person at the other end of the camera broadcasting) is to maintain viewer interest and get them to keep voting for the stream to continue broadcasting (i.e., green thumbs up vs. red thumbs down). The streams are organized by topics (e.g., Music, Politics, Talk, etc.). However, most of the chatter is Twitter-esque drivel, where people aren’t saying anything meaningful.  Many of the broadcasts are video diaries of mundane musings and partially formed ideas.  So, votes seem to be based on the broadcaster’s sincerity, personality or appearance. This is a medium where “style” trumps “substance.”  Compelling personalities win votes. is “Reality TV 2.0″… hyper-real interactive web TV.  The “Gong Show” voting feature forces the broadcasters to “perform” and play up to the audience. The voting (every minute) keeps a constant stream of broadcasts and new personalities coming online from the queue. “Group Think” seems to be evident as well; when it appears the majority of viewers are skewing towards a vote, then it looks like the rest of the viewers jump on the band wagon and side with the general sentiment. reminds me of a talent show I recently attended at the Apollo Theater in NYC, where the audience’s screams determined the performer’s fate. What ended up happening is that blocks of like-minded audience members formed and found each other and then they started to coerce opposing blocks. Sometimes though intimidation and sometimes through charm. The audience’s stance (the mob) was as unpredictable as a flock of flying birds, and I found myself giving thanks that I was not in a Roman Colosseum.

Given that the broadcasters on are from all over the globe, it’s a virtual “united nations network” cultural exchange, where viewers are asking the broadcasters (via chat) cultural questions about music and language (e.g, can you say ‘I love Harriet in Norwegian?” and “Which do you like better, the music from Eminem or Robin?”). The website is essentially a way in which to interrogate someone. The person is literally under the spotlight. For this reason, it’s an excellent cultural anthropology tool. I wonder if there’s a way to apply “social listening” filters to hone in on relevant conversations (e.g., direct me to broadcasts that mention words that interest me)?

Anyway, this website is brilliant. It will surely evolve into a billion-dollar-buy-out or an IPO because it perfectly plays into several trends:

  • Quest for celebrity
  • Craving to express (and be heard)
  • Hashtag activism
  • Crowd-sourcing content
  • Drive to collaborate
  • Cultural curiosity
  • Voyeuristic rubbernecking

keynote speech: curious culture

At the Airline Retail Conference (ARC) in Singapore last month I presented a curious trend. Literally.

I combined my professional interest in “curiosity” (being curious is how I earn my living) with my personal interest in curiosity; in December I completed a Master’s Degree in Education from Pace University, where I focused on “curiosity in classrooms” and how to “teach” and inspire curiosity. In connection with this, for two years I synthesized dozens of articles, research reports, websites and books on various aspects of “curiosity.” AND, I conducted my own body of research on curiosity for my thesis.

So, I’ve become somewhat of an “expert” on the topic of curiosity and I’m putting what I learned into practice in my day-to-day life.  Hence, I’ve adopted a new self-professed title/role/persona of a Chief Curiosity Officer.

My keynote presentation, titled “the Curious xCursionist”,  can be watched on YouTube here:

However, here’s some key points about our curious culture:

benefits of curiosity include happiness

For all you curious cats that are “meta curious” (i.e., curious about curiosity), it is a  state of mind and mood. Curiosity can be developed: taught and nurtured. It is separate from IQ. It is contagious. And, it’s addictive (think why you can waste hours playing Seduko). It’s been proven to prolong life, lead to stronger relationship, help with coping with chaos and change… and leads to happiness. And everyone wants to be happy. In  fact, our culture is down-right fixated on the “pursuit of happiness” which is probably why so many Americans are taking mood-lifting drugs. The United Nations has named April the month of “Happiness and Wellbeing”, with Friday the 13th of April declared “National Happiness Day.”

rising curiosity in culture

If one does a simple Google Trends word search (aggregated and normalized) it shows a sharp increase in “How” and “What” questioning from around 2007.  And specifically, Asian countries  (emerging markets) are asking more questions than developed markets, lead by the Philippines, India and Singapore (see below). In addition, search engine usage is growing exponentially, especially as more people carry WiFi connected smartphones.

curiosity drivers

A number of things are happening in the world right now that are creating a “perfect storm” for a “curious culture”. The combination of the following six phenomena are driving curious behaviors:

  • Big Data – Leaps in processing power make it possible for us to process more data, info and insights than ever before, expanding our horizons.
  • Content Creating Tech – A new and constant stream of technology and software inspires us to explore, create data and develop new content.
  • Democratic Data Today, everyone has access to information and information and ideas are being shared like never before.
  • New Visualization – New ways of looking at, parsing and communicating information and exploring  real and conceptual worlds have been developed in the past 2 decades, fueling discovery.
  • Non-Fiction Media – “How It Works” type TV, magazines, books, websites and apps promote exploration. (Some say the reason why there is so much reality “How It Works” media out there is because it’s cheaper to produce than fiction.)
  • Innovative Design – Advances in design, coupled with an appreciation for novel and different design, pushes us into a world of the “unexpected.”

six tactics to tap curiosity

Research shows that curiosity can be “planted” and nurtured. Of course the implications of this for education are enormous; nurturing curiosity in learners for self-guided growth could be an antidote to a broken education system.

However, in our own day-to-day lives, we can pique other’s intrigue and curiosity (Those of you writing online dating profiles take note.) And, in branding and marketing, these six techniques serve to create interest and meaningful engagement:

    • Tension
    • Secrecy
    • Fantasy
    • Play
    • Novelty
    • Power

If you want to know more about the specifics of these techniques  you need to contact me. This is the subject of my Master’s thesis and is proprietary intellectual property.  It’s fascinating stuff.  Stay tuned.

prediction: SOC (share of connectivity) replaces SOV (share of voice)

Culture is everywhere. It permeats everything, so I’ve been pondering “how” things get into our culture today (i.e., today’s cultural infrastructure, given the connected, social world we inhabit).

This year experts predict that mobile phone access to the Internet will surpass computer Internet connections.  Additionally, pundits say that this is the year that >50% of Americans will carry a Internet connected smartphone.  As the number of smartdevices and WiFi connected machines in consumer’s lives increases, and the connected ecosystem expands, then it seems likely that it will become easier and faster to impact culture. Memes will spread faster. Trends will have shorter adoption periods, peak and burn out faster.

Consequently, share-of-voice (i.e., how LOUD a message is heard) is an antiquated communications measure.   As brands, politicians, celebrities, movements, companies, institutions, etc. strive to be heard they will engage with us throughout the ecosystem. This means the future of communications will be competing for share-of-connectivity (SOC). “SOC” is shorthand for connecting with people in meaningful ways, seamlessly across all the channels in the ecosystem.

I foresee that “SOC” will replace “SOV” in the marketing and branding world. The new measure of effectiveness will be SOC.

Those who want their messages to cut through all the noise will need to design trans-media (trans-device) messages and experiences, to engage connected people via multiple touch-points. This means that brands and personalities will become ecosystems too.

SOC Example: Nike

Nike is an ecosystem that has infiltrated our culture in countless ways.  Nike+ proves that the company is masterful at commanding SOC. Nike generates content and taps consumers for content. They offer software for content and store it in the cloud. Nike exploits the Internet and offers many Apps which run on any OS and every possible device; they even produce their own peripheral devices. Nike owns the lion share of the sports category’s SOC as a result of this approach.