I’m in love with the T-shape of you

I am going through yet another leadership training program and yet again I get the same verdict: goal-oriented, structured, achievement-driven, knowledge-driven. I whisper into my colleague’s ear: “I am not a people person”. He whispers back: “then maybe you don’t have the right job”.

jigsaw puzzle

Research Director AI

Research Director AI

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The fun fact is that I find a lot of people who are like me. So, I started to analyze the strengths of my leadership team as a whole and came up with; warm, innovative, fun, and some great people leadership skills. So luckily, together we represent all the different but important pieces that we need for this organization.

It got me thinking, last year I wrote a blog post about playing solitaire. This time it’s different– It’s all about putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

For instance, my leadership team comes to me and says: “Elena, we need to have regular all-employee meetings, and no, it’s not OK for you to join online, be present, visible, receptive” - exactly the push I need. I am thankful to have support from my team in various dimensions - we complement each other as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each team member comes with a set of special skills, and together we are complete and efficient.

Each piece of our jigsaw puzzle is unique - we have different backgrounds, skill sets, preferences and passions. My unit is a self-going agent within a company close to 100,000 employees representing all its values. Our shape is perfect for our mission, to be the driver of artificial intelligence technology leadership for Ericsson. But if you zoom out, we are a piece of a bigger puzzle.

Let’s now zoom back in again. It’s not just our unit that has a shape. Each person has a shape as well. A T-shaped person has in-depth knowledge in one field (vertical bar of T) and a broad knowledge of an application domain (horizontal bar of T). For example, a statistician specialized in political systems. Or, a politician who knows statistics. It is important that the two bars are connected. For instance, if you are really good at solving differential equations and know a lot about French porcelain of 17th century, then you cannot automatically call yourself a T-shaped person, as they are not really connected the same way.

And similarly to T-shape, there is a Pi-shape with one more leg of in-depth knowledge, and an E-shape… you get the point. In general I would say, the more "bars" you have as a person the more interesting you are. Of course, and in case you choose to be I-shaped, you can still be endlessly interesting for people who are into the same field, but you run a risk of being seen as ‘just a geek’ by everyone else.

Personally, I have been working hard on diversifying my professional profile (or adding more bars to my shape) while keeping it all connected. I gladly take opportunities of diving into new areas and shifting my focus from old areas. In the long run this strategy should bring me to the shape of a Swiss army knife. There are plenty of "bars" of different shapes and directions, and they are all connected, and one can actually choose which parts of the knife to fold in or out. Or, if we were to tweak the rules of the jigsaw puzzle, the more skills you have, the better you fit in with the other pieces.

Still, having all these different skills is one thing and enjoying using them is another. Doing a good job is not necessarily the same thing as having fun at work while doing a good job. Being a fan of multi-parametric optimization problems, I aim at maximizing the fun, so that we all get to use our favorite skills. So forgive me for not being a people person, luckily I have my team to compensate for that. And next time you find me hiding in a corner during a mingle, please come by and say: I read your blog post!

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