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T-Shaped Creativity

Image by David Armano
As a creative generalist, I pride myself on my tendency to pursue multiple interests and attain a range of skills rather than focusing on one specific expertise.

But we all have strengths in certain areas - there are very few of us who are actually jack of all trades.  T-shaped creativity is a way to showcase these core skills against the secondary skills and knowledge that make us unique as creative thinkers and doers.

T-shaped individuals

I first learned about the concept of T-shaped creativity through Mark McGuinness's Creative Pathfinder course, but IDEO's Tim Brown is also a big proponent of the idea.
Basically, the T-Shaped model takes creative generalism a step further, essentially suggesting that we're all both generalists and specialists.  The simple design is a way to map out core skills next to the knowledge and secondary skills that help make these base skills so meaningful.

So, if you look at T-shaped creativity in terms of an individual's skill set, the vertical stroke consists of specialist skills and knowledge while the horizontal stroke comprises generalist skills that allow the individual to position his or her specialism in a way that's useful and desirable for others.
For example, while I typically categorize myself as a creative generalist, I specialize in the following areas:
  • Writing
  • Health and Fitness
These specialties are the vertical stroke of the T, my core skills and knowledge.  My generalist skills are:
  • Journalism
  • Copywriting
  • Freelance writing
  • Blogging
  • Photography
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Marketing
  • Non-profits
  • Technology 
  • Research skills
  • Travel expertise 
  • Personal training
My (doodled) T-Shape, therefore, would look like this:

While my skill set is fairly well-rounded as-is, I'd ideally add a specialty or two and several generalist skills (as well as strengthen some current ones) throughout my lifetime.

T-shaped creativity in the workplace

Companies like design and innovation consulting firm IDEO are making a concerted effort to put together teams of T-Shaped creatives in order to cultivate a more experimental, curiosity-driven workplace.
David Armano of Edelman Digital explains the concept of T-shaped team building and how it can fit into a workplace environment (described in more detail in a post on the Marketing Profs Blog):

The notion is simple - cultivate people on your team that have a core competency, but can easily branch out (like the shape of a T).  They ideally possess traits such as curiosity, empathy and aren't afraid to ask why.  And there is a distinction between this type of individual vs. a jack-of-all trades.  The core competency and branches are complimentary, with branches being secondary strengths.  It represents breadth and depth of skills.

His image of how a T-shaped workplace can be applied to the creative process of interactive marketing and experience design is shown above.

Everyone is a generalist

The T-shaped creativity model suggests that while some of us may have a longer vertical stroke (suggesting more of a specialist mindset) and others may have a longer horizontal stroke like my T example (indicating more of a generalist mentality), we are all generalists and specialists to some degree.

What does your T-shape look like?

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