The Y-Shaped person has a ‘why’ or purpose that runs through them, and through everything they work on or take part in.
“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”
Viktor E. Frankl
“Why did I spend so much time thinking about the design of their corporate office space, or how the teams could collaborate and communicate better, or researching how unhealthy these products were; when my brief was specifically to design beverage packaging for them?” This is what I asked myself a few years ago to help me discover some common threads that existed in my thinking, and how I approached projects.
It didn’t matter if I was doing branding for consumer goods, or a customer journey for an airline, or furniture design, or fashion, or tech; there were some common themes I always tried to embed in the projects. The ‘what’ (the project) didn’t matter because I had a much stronger interest in ‘why.’ I wasn’t always aware or this, or consciously making these decisions, I think it was just part of my authentic self.
I first heard the term ‘T-Shaped people’ about five years ago when I joined Google. I liked it, I thought it made sense and was a good thing to consider as we worked on growing the team, but it didn’t connect with me on any deep level.
The concept of T-shaped skills, or T-shaped persons is a metaphor used in job recruitment to describe the abilities of persons in the workforce. The vertical bar on the T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own.
The T-Shaped term and idea was first used in 1991. I’ve continued to hear and read about T-Shaped people, and how they are the desired type of person for todays work environment. I feel like we are missing something huge though. I think there is another way to look at other people, as well as how we look at ourselves.
When I looked back at all my projects a few years ago, I realized I’m like this. I always had some consistent themes running through the projects I worked on. I was a designer, but I don’t mean themes that were driven by aesthetics or trends; they were/are themes driven by my interests, values, and ‘big-picture’ goals in life.
I’m now much more aware of what consistently drives my thinking, and I make a conscious effort to apply them; but even before I was conscious of these themes, I couldn’t help but let the deep feelings and concerns become a part of everything I was doing.
The Y-Shaped person struggles when they are doing things that go against their core beliefs and values; or when projects simply don’t feel like they are coming from a meaningful place to begin with. It doesn’t really matter how much they are get paid, or how respected they may be; something just doesn’t feel right.