For some time I have been aware of the notion of the inimitable T-shaped person being the holy grail of agency and creative company HR departments. A person capable of extraordinary feats of specialist endeavour matched only by their ability to assimilate and collaborate across multi-disciplinary teams – particularly in digital agencies.
A lot has been written on the supposition that the best people to lead us into the new frontier should be ‘T-shaped’ econsultancy article by Neil Perkin and McKinsey and Fast Company and wiki to name a few with McKinsey probably claiming the right to use this as a proxy to hire the perfect consultant although Tim Brown at IDEO probably has the IP on this one.
I was talking about this with the rather excellent Mr. Thwaites of Crayon - and soon to be Karmarama - about the necessity of having the right people to create cultural capital that can be leveraged as an agency’s best way to protect its price premium.
We spoke about planners (natch) and talked about the creation of a company full of these types of people and how in previous lives we had tried to ensure we always had a department of excellently odd shaped people – no offence guys!
BTW - in my head a ‘T-shaped’ person unfortunately resembles the Honey Monster – forgive me it’s just a wholly inappropriate image I am finding hard to kill as I write this.
What about T-shaped planners an’ that?
In Tim Brown’s excellent book Change by Design the `gardening' skills of senior leadership should be used to tend, prune, and harvest ideas – which is the role both of a great head of planning but also of a great planner on the ground. It is about knowing when to back up and when to press on, when to tweak and when to leave alone. That is about patience and leaving things to arrive at their natural conclusion - even when you think you know the answer. This can’t be taught – it can be learned however – usually by trial and error – and it comes with experience. As does allowing other people to have the ideas which is something that Jon Steel eloquently says on this film - it’s a bit long but worth it for that bit of advice alone:
Way back in the mists of time I wrote a piece about Convergence Planning - the need to rethink the DNA of a planner for the Velocity Age which got a bit of attention but since having been hacked a few times only exists now on a few other people's decks. I shall have to try and rescue some of the old stuff when I can find my way through the mire of domain registrations. Ho hum!
I still feel that there was something too simplistic about the term ‘T-shaped’. It feels lazy – someone else’s shorthand and because really great planning isn’t like other disciplines where you have a central skill but are empathetic to all. It’s about understanding human beings first and foremost - not just the technology. The human drivers haven’t changed for centuries – but the technology has. Get the first bit right and the technology will serve the purpose not define it.
So I say bring on the X-men - defined as those that have the pre-requisite skills to do all the things that ‘T-boys’ do, but – with an undying curiosity to understand and explain human behaviour in all its guises. Everything flows from that – whether it’s advertising or acting as the active brand guardian to provide the energy for a brand to create the context within which people can experience it.
And if you get a few of those in your agencies – you’ll have an endless supply of insights that the people paying your bills will be able to feel comfortable about paying that bit extra for.
Happy to provide a deeper explanation of each of the points on the X to explain the depth of the talents that make up IMHO the best planner for the Velocity Age if your interested - get in touch :)