The concept of T-shaped skills was first introduced over 20 years ago, but its importance, - to both individuals and organizations, - has continued to rise. A growing number of articles have been extolling the value of T-shaped professionals, that is, individuals who combine deep cognitive, analytical, and/or technical skills in a specific discipline, with broad multidisciplinary, social skills.
As described by IDEO CEO Tim Brown: “The vertical stroke of the T is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. That can be from any number of different fields: an industrial designer, an architect, a social scientist, a business specialist or a mechanical engineer. The horizontal stroke of the T is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines.”
T-shaped skills are increasingly valued in the marketplace. For example, a recent paper by Harvard professor David Deming showed that labor markets have been rewarding individuals with strong social skills, that is, with interpersonal skills that facilitate interactions and communications with others. Deming’s research showed that since 1980, social-skill intensive occupations have enjoyed most of the employment growth across the whole wage spectrum. Employment and wage growth have been particularly strong in jobs requiring both high cognitive and high social skills. But since 2000, they have fallen in occupations with high cognitive but low social skill requirements, - “suggesting that cognitive skills are increasingly a necessary but not sufficient condition for obtaining a high-paying job.”