Strategy by Design | Fast Company

Recruit T-Shaped People

Regardless of whether your goal is to innovate around a product, service, or business opportunity, you get good insights by having an observant and empathetic view of the world. You can’t just stand in your own shoes; you’ve got to be able to stand in the shoes of others. Empathy allows you to have original insights about the world. It also enables you to build better teams.

“We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do.”

We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped people.” They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T — they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need. That’s what you’re after at this point — patterns that yield ideas.

These teams operate in a highly experiential manner. You don’t put them in bland conference rooms and ask them to generate great ideas. You send them out into the world, and they return with many artifacts — notes, photos, maybe even recordings of what they’ve seen and heard. The walls of their project rooms are soon plastered with imagery, diagrams, flow charts, and other ephemera. The entire team is engaged in collective idea-making: They explore observations very quickly and build on one another’s insights. In this way, they generate richer, stronger ideas that are hardwired to the marketplace, because all of their observations come directly from the real world.

Build to Think

“Design thinking is inherently a prototyping process. Once you spot a promising idea, you build it. In a sense, we build to think.”

Design thinking is inherently a prototyping process. Once you spot a promising idea, you build it. The prototype is typically a drawing, model, or film that describes a product, system, or service. We build these models very quickly; they’re rough, ready, and not at all elegant, but they work. The goal isn’t to create a close approximation of the finished product or process; the goal is to elicit feedback that helps us work through the problem we’re trying to solve. In a sense, we build to think.

When you rapidly prototype, you’re actually beginning to build the strategy itself. And you’re doing so very early in the innovation cycle. This enables you to unlock one of your organization’s most valuable assets: people’s intuitions. When you sit down with your senior team and show them prototypes of the products and services you want to put out in two years’ time, you get their intuitive feel for whether you’re headed in the right direction. It’s a process of enlightened trial and error: Observe the world, identify patterns of behavior, generate ideas, get feedback, repeat the process, and keep refining until you’re ready to bring the thing to market.

Not long ago, we worked with a large food-processing company on the possibility of incorporating RFID technology into its supply chain. After many rounds of prototyping and getting feedback, we made a three-minute video that described a very complex interaction of suppliers, customers, logistics, weather, geography, and a host of other real-world conditions that showed how RFID might work. The video rapidly accelerated the development of a potential RFID-based strategy, because the company could instantly give us even sharper feedback and help us refine it. Rapid prototyping helps you test your progress in a very tangible way and ultimately makes your strategic thinking more powerful.

The Prototype Tells a Story

Prototyping is simultaneously an evaluative process — it generates feedback and enables you to make midflight corrections — and a storytelling process. It’s a way of visually and viscerally describing your strategy.

Some years ago, a startup called Vocera came to us with a new technology based on the Star Trek communicator — that “Beam me up, Scotty” device. They had worked out the technology — an elegant device the size of a cigarette lighter that you could wear around your neck and use to connect instantly with anyone on the network. But the team had no way to describe why people would need the thing. We made a five-minute film that played out a scenario where everyone in the company had these gadgets. The storyline followed how one person used the communicator to rapidly assemble a crisis team dispersed across an office campus. The film showed that while fixed communications and mobile phones are very good for expected interactions, this device was ideal for reacting to the unexpected.

Some more info on T-Shaped People that might help you to come up with your own profile …

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