What shape are you in?

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Do you know the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”? Are you a Jack / Jill of all trades? If you know many things, does that mean you’re a master of none?

Is this a bad thing? What does this mean for you as a person? What does this mean for your organization?

Too many questions I know, so let’s start by looking at you as a person.

As a Jack / Jill of all trades you know many things, just at a superficial or semi-skilled level. How fulfilled does this make you feel? Are you respected in a specific field; are you acknowledged amongst your peers for your skills?

As part of career evolution, individuals with the most successful career are those that have evolved to be Pi or Comb-shaped.

As we start off on our careers, we will often try various options; multiple industry sectors, multiple roles, multiple qualifications, maybe even multiple countries. While we’re finding a fit for our interests we evolve into the classic T-Shaped professional; master in 1 discipline, but high-level, generic knowledge of many topics.

It’s at this point in our career that evolution can stall. It’s easy to stay in the “safe zone” of our own abilities, especially when we’ve achieved recognition in that field or are commanding a great salary. Let’s face it, it’s easy to stay where you’re comfortable; especially if the rewards feel good.

But how long is it before your entire career actually stalls? How long before your career itself actually stalls? How long before you’re not considered for that promotion, you’re no longer viewed as the industry expert, your qualifications expire, your field of expertise is no longer a relevant field?

As I’ve already mentioned, the most successful careers are realized by those who continue their evolution into Pi and Comb-Shaped professionals.

Pi-Shaped professionals are those who diversify and specialize in two areas while retaining their broad knowledge in other disciplines.

Comb-Shaped professionals diversify and become specialists in multiple disciplines, all whilst retaining their broad knowledge in other disciplines.

Evolution into a comb-shaped though must come with a warning; diversifying too much into too many disciplines too quickly will result in your skills becoming too diluted and you becoming that Jack / Jill of all trades again.

Now I’ve looked at you as a person, let’s look at this from an organizational perspective.

What benefit is a comb-shaped professional to an organization?

Think of a comb-shaped professional as being multi-lingual. Not just a translator, but someone who was brought up in a household speaking multiple languages. This person doesn’t just have knowledge of grammar and spelling, but also a deep understanding of phraseology, culture, colloquialisms, intonation, etc. The comb-shaped professional is immersed in multi-disciplines.

A comb-shaped professional is able to join-the-dots between the disciplines. Detecting synergies, articulating relationships, and identifying potential points of failure and weaknesses.

Professionals versed in multiple disciplines are also able to bring diverse experts together. The ability to speak in multiple languages builds trust with each expert and facilitates collaboration.

Lastly, and perhaps the most disruptively to the organization, comb-shaped professionals are better placed to challenge decisions and the wisdom of experts. A com-shaped professional is better positioned to challenge thinking.

All of this brings us to a harsh reality; being a comb-shaped professional will do wonders for your confidence, skills, and C.V. It’s also what your organization needs to be successful, however, it’s often the last thing your organization wants; because no-one likes to be told they’re wrong.

There’s no doubt that comb-shaped professionals are what’s best for an organization, but leaders have to be accepting. They need to be in a place where they welcome feedback and are open to continual improvement before they will be able to accept the benefits that a comb-shaped workforce will bring.

If you’re interested in learning more about governance, check out my training for operations and project management on ITProTV.