T-persons in a complex world

Complexity is here to stay. In this new environment, what skills will be needed and which people will be best prepared?

We constantly hear that we are in an increasingly complex world. We struggle to understand what is happening and wonder why things are happening differently from what we are used to.

If we unravel the meaning of this complexity, perhaps it will be easier to know how to situate ourselves or what tools or skills we need to strengthen in order to be more adaptable to the continuous changes that are occurring in our environment.

First of all, it is important to recognise that complexity is not the same as complication. What is complicated can be divided into different parts in order to be understood. However, the complex cannot be divided, as it is like a mesh of heterogeneous and interrelated elements, which cannot be understood individually if they can be separated.

In order to navigate the complex, it is necessary to accept uncertainty and unpredictability. The more complex a phenomenon is, the more uncertainty it generates and, consequently, we have no way of foreseeing, with any degree of certainty, how it will behave.

The complex is highly mutable and this means that it can change at any time without following a pre-established and/or easily recognisable rule. This makes it difficult for us to understand and surprising to see how our organisations composed of people and even ecosystems that are subject to constant change behave.

Another feature of the complex that we humans find hard to accept is that we are constantly working in unfinished processes. We interact with protocols and rules that are constantly changing, which means that we have to adapt to new ways of acting and we have to change our strategy frequently.

A curious thing about complexity is that it brings to the surface new combinations of elements or patterns of behaviour that we did not know and that reveal new properties, new capabilities, new businesses, new ways of doing things that did not exist when these elements or patterns were considered in isolation. This seems obvious when we create a new score, but in the business world, complexity is generating new melodies that break with classic models of market behaviour.

Complexity breaks the balance of things, because uncertainty, unpredictability and instability make this balance impossible. It is precisely this instability that so disconcerts us that prevents us from being able to make medium-term forecasts, which we have used so many times and which have helped us at other times.

Indeed, complexity is here to stay. So, in this new environment, what knowledge will be necessary and which people will be the best prepared?

Faced with this big question, some large companies are beginning to look very seriously at the possibility of selecting and hiring people known as “T” people. Unlike an expert in one thing (who is identified as an “I” type) or a generalist who is a jack of all trades but a specialist in none, a “T” type person is one who, while competent in one area, is skilled in many others.

The “T” type is a metaphor used to describe the skills available to people with particular skills or knowledge. As well defined in Wikipedia, the vertical bar of the letter “T” represents the depth of skills and experience gained in a single field, while 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.

T-persons are increasingly in demand in the world of work, as they are able to offer a high value-added approach in uncertain and changing environments. Their global and interdisciplinary vision allows them to act as connectors, to be creative, innovative and can more easily address the day-to-day challenges facing organisations today. These profiles are similar to those Renaissance personalities such as Leonardo da Vinci who were able to break the established canons of their time from very different disciplines at the same time.

Contrary to what we may think, “T” type people are far from being a strange species in our society. They are women and men who have been trained in their speciality, but who also possess a curious and inquiring mind that has led them to delve into and even master many other skills.

This permeable attitude, open to knowledge, with an interest in seeing the world in perspective and making use of intersections and bridges when creating, solving and communicating, is necessary today in order to be able to provide answers in any type of scenario.

Companies are obliged to incorporate aspects as diverse as omni-channeling, new customer acquisition models, big data, artificial intelligence, new technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality and blockchain into their business strategy. A range so diverse that it is difficult to cover it only with the talent available to the company itself.

It is necessary to look for more interdisciplinary people in our organisations who respond to this “T” professional profile, to combine and complement them with other external professionals capable of providing vision and experience in other disciplines and in the management of complex environments.

Knowledge and skills can only be acquired by the individual. So far, no one can know or learn for someone else. That being the case, I would use a phrase from the Athenian philosopher Socrates who said “Only knowledge that makes us better is useful”.

And I would add, the knowledge that makes us better as a company is the knowledge that inspires us to continue learning every day and that incorporates things that we are passionate about, that makes us more universal and that allows us to connect more easily with the changes that our environment poses.