“T” or “I” shaped professionals: general versus specialised

“T” or “I” shaped professionals: general versus specialised


During this crisis, we must learn the value of general, or “T”-shaped, professionals. These types of professionals are characterised in that they have various areas of learning, they learn quickly (ultra-learning) and they possess a wide range of register and diverse skills for adapting to the reality.

Then there are “I”-shaped professionals, who have great knowledge of a limited range of subjects (uni-learners), who have vast prior experience preventing them from changing, and their skills are connected to their expert knowledge.

 “T”-shaped or “I”-shaped people are “ideal types”, as Max Weber said, in order to explain two different realities. In order to overcome this crisis, we are going to need “T”-shaped professionals due to:

  • Their tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Their portfolio of skills which facilitates adaptability.
  • Their diversity of learning context.
  • Their speed when learning new concepts.
  • Their rate of unlearning what they did earlier.

What is a “T”-shaped professional like?

The post-coronavirus world is not going to be a limited game, like chess, where the interesting aspect is having hours of entertainment, but rather it will become a new game, where questions still have to be asked in order to understand a new reality. We could say that it will be an open-ended game and, therefore, we do not know how it will be played, because it has never been played this way.

What identifies these “T”-shaped professionals?

These five features:

1. Later vision: They are people who started to work late, but they have had broad training in different fields causing them to put different skills into practice. They have received a true university education in all respects. As Steve Jobs said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking”.

We should shy aware from those who do not change or who have vocations early on with a view to being experts, but who are blinkered. A later vision is aimed at allowing your value to be found after your brain has been configured and furnished by different areas of knowledge.

2. Diversity of experience: if you have had broad and diverse training periods, a “T”-shaped professional also has to be identified with those experiences in different environments they have known. We should flee from “uni-experience” people or those with traditional training paths.

Having a diversity of experience gives us the possibility of having a varied portfolio of skills that have had to be adapted historically to different environments.

Having later vocations and a diversity of experience are two basic elements for having “T”-shaped professionals.

3. Ability to integrate: Those studies performed in order to identify the importance of diverging and converging thinking and the need for synthesis in order to take more thoughtful decisions tend to suggest that general professionals know how to integrate better. Integrating different information means having a balanced processing of the information, a general overview, orientation towards the solution and a capacity to synthesise in order to take the best decisions. Rather than having expert analytical professionals, we need professionals who integrate different concepts into targeted solutions.

4. Capacity to learn / unlearn: The future is full of paths we have to undo because we have to explore other mental strategies.

Just as important as a later vision and diversity of experience are integrating and this capacity to be able to change. Relativizing what has been learnt and quickly exploring new learning objectives is essential for obtaining professionals with a high level of adaptation to the particular times. We always speak of the capacity to learn and place secondary focus on the capacity to unlearn. What is the point in learning accumulatively without changing what we have learnt previously?

Learning and unlearning are processes that should be used every day in order to change. We can change by doing new things and by no longer doing things that were adapted to previous environments.

5. Fast learning speed: Not only do we have to learn and unlearn at all times, but we have to learn quickly. Speed is an adaptive feature in such a digitalised environment as ours. We need professionals who are open to learning quickly in any place. The fast pace of events set by the environment should be the reference for our continual learning process.

The differences between “T”-shaped and “I”-shaped professionals are as follows:

Later vision/Diversity of experience/Integration/ Learning/Unlearning/Fast learning speedSpecialisation early on/In-depth homogeneous experience/Analysing/Practising what has been learnt/Normal learning speed

As always, it is good for all organisations to have professionals of both types, but in times of uncertainty and significant changes in socioeconomic paradigms, we must give priority to professionals “T”-shaped professionals interpreting the reality, rationalising alternatives and, at the end of the day, proposing different solutions at different times. The future does not consist of making attractive offers with approaches from before the coronavirus crisis, but of analysing new human needs, which will be those that become the new demand that will lead us to the new supply.

In this sense, “T”-shaped professionals are able to contribute more to understanding these new human needs, which are going to be the key to supplying with greater added value.

We therefore believe that having teams consisting of “T”-shaped professionals is a way of foreseeing the future. We have to think now about hiring people in a different way. We do not need registers of expert knowledge or tests for measuring skills, but rather we must understand types of experience and soft skills. We no longer need profiles listing skills, but skills based on long-lasting experiences.

One more recommendation to conclude: instead of predicting what you might like, examine who you are like and the complexity involved in the comparison process.

What is the algorithm for identifying the soft skills of “T”-shaped professionals?

All I know is that I cannot learn this from any examination or test or traditional skills-based interview. Therefore, when will we start to be more creative for the next selection process?

F. Javier Cantera Herrero, chairman of Auren Consultores.