Are you T-shaped?

I recently discovered Keith Sawyer’s blog, Creativity & Innovation. Keith is a professor of psychology, an expert on creativity and well worth a read. In his post about cross understanding in teams he discusses the observation that teams including people with the ability to understand another’s perspective do better than teams that don’t:

[…] cross understanding can help us to explain several apparently contradictory findings in group collaboration research:

1. Diversity often has a negative impact on team performance, and this is sometimes explained by the “social categorization bias” that people have towards similar people. But in some groups, diversity does not result in reduced performance; the authors argue that this will happen when cross understanding is high.

2. In some groups, strong sub-groups can interfere with effective collaboration. But if cross understanding is high, this problem can be reduced.

Related to this is the idea of ‘T-shaped people’ who have one particular area of deep expertise which makes up the shaft of the T, but then also have knowledge and skills in other areas (the crossbar).

It strikes me that most of the social media and tech people that I admire look T-shaped to me: Leisa Reichelt, Stephanie Booth, Stephanie Troeth, David Weinberger, Euan Semple, Lloyd Davis… the list goes on. I wonder if being empathic, able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, curious about the world around it and other people’s experiences, and able to recognise patterns across disciplines is really what marks out a social media natural.

Some people really do just ‘get it’, almost without trying, whereas others just can’t wrap their heads around even basic concepts no matter how often or how clearly they are explained. I have never been able to spot a correlation between age, online experience, social media experience, activity in communities and that ability to comprehend what makes social media different to other forms of communications. Hm, that could be an interesting area of research!