Who we are is not static. We evolve, we grow, and we add knowledge.
I used to tell technologists that are at a career ceiling that they can either specialize or learn how to manage. Get really really good at something specific or get good at managing and interacting with people so you can scale your experience across multiple team members.
But now I think there may be a third option.
As someone with a number of years in design, marketing, programming, business, film, music, and more I have come to this intersection. An intersection of disciplines that has been both an incredible experience and a frustrating limitation of today’s businesses that is always looking for a square peg. While many businesses need that square peg, I describe myself as more of a dodecahedron. I have worn many many hats in my career and learn quickly.
All three of these areas fascinate me and i continue to build these muscles where ever I get the opportunity.
Fortunately for cats of my stripe, the square peg thing is being challenged. The definition of work is changing.
According to Nasdaq.com, by 2020, 43% of the workforce will be freelancers.
The gig economy is real. Fractional leadership is enabling businesses to leverage seasoned talent in new ways.
Growth in these areas is driving exposure to other disciples.
This exposure is creating more people known as the “T” person, a person with depth in a particular area, and breadth across several other disciplines. This may be the developer who understands the business and design or the designer who understands how coding works and is pretty solid at Agile product development.
In the world of technology, a great example is the term “Full Stack Developer”. This gets tossed around a lot today as does a “Front-End Developer with Design skills”. While these unicorns do exist, they are hard to find and typically come with “a lot of time in x, and far less time in y, and z, but I’ve touched the full stack”.
The business gets to best leverage that depth, but can also leverage the breadth for additional needs, such as leading projects or making better informed decisions.
Other examples include
Marketing and recruiting
Today, recruiting is marketing. In a tight talent market, people want to know about your company and why they should care.
A company’s biggest asset is its people. Building a good culture and creating brand advocates is one of the best ways to put the “T” in Team.
Promise and delivery
I wrote an article about marketing and operations going to coffee every week. I still think this is a solid strategy. While fake it till you make it is one thing, don’t lie to customers, it will catch up with you. Marketing people who have an understanding of operations and vice versa are going to make much better decisions for the company in the long run.
Finally, say it with me “we are all in sales”. It’s true, in business, it’s best to appreciate the mentality and potential that comes with this mindset. Sales is a sliver that goes all the way across the T, and once mastered creates an enormous amount of breadth and flexibility.
In any event we have entered a period where the intersectionality of disciplines is more pronounced than ever. Business are pushing more and more to leverage additional skills into each role and they will pay a premium for it. We should all be so fortunate to be able to call ourselves a “T” person.
A few tips on building out the top of your “T”.
Pick an area and just do it
Most people appear to be waiting for permission to do something. This is why I love entrepreneurs, they just do it. They don’t wait for permission, they beg for forgiveness. Success means chewing through walls sometimes, and there is a lot of opportunity out there, but it doesn’t always knock.
Volunteer for special assignments
Raise your hand. Many folks, particularly at larger organizations watch something that needs to get done as if they were a tourist. They watch it go by, undone, or picked up by someone else when the pain is too great. But some will look at it and say “wait, shouldn’t somebody do something about that? How about I take a first pass?”
Start a Side Hustle
Basically every interesting multidimensional person I have enjoyed the company of has some sort of side hustle or idea. Something inside them that’s hungry, something they have tried or practiced, just for the shear exploration. I can guarantee they learned something from those experiences even if it didn’t make a dent in the universe. A side hustle means you have to figure it all out. You will learn more than you imagined, and increase your professional capital along the way.
Go to x events this quarter. Walk up to 3 strangers at an event and give them a business card (MN this is a tough one, I know, but give it a shot). Worst they can do is give you a weird look as they take your card. Push yourself outside your comfort zone and build up some resilience for uncomfortable situations. It’s how we grow.
Give a talk
They say the best way to learn something is to teach it. Explore the design characteristics of Object Oriented Development or the natural overlap between marketing and psychology. Sign yourself up, do the research, and you will find a way to give that talk.
Find another reason
Career building, interest, boredom, a bet, whatever. Find a reason to do something different and get out of your comfort zone. It’s like building muscle. Muscle is comprised of tons of fibers. Each new experience is like a fiber, building muscle.
Leverage your network
Talk with friends, family, community groups. Sign up for free sessions somewhere. Do informational interviews. People want to help, and if they are excited by what they do, they will make you excited about what they do. Exposure is key. We must see what’s out there so we can explore it. Find someone to help expose you to something new.
There are so many ways to build breadth in today’s world. Barriers are lower, the internet had democratized information, and employers are beginning to value the “T” people out there.
So, whether it’s looking for that promotion, joining the gig economy, building a startup or entering a new industry, understanding the intersectionality of disciples and the value it creates across all areas of life is worth a look.
It helps us grow better businesses, careers and is an extraordinarily interesting approach to the universe.