T-shaped people

Tina Seelig, who teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford Business School, talks about the need for “T-shaped people” in a Mercury News interview

This means people with a great depth of knowledge in at least one discipline, like chemical engineering or biology, and a breadth of knowledge across many skills. Across the top of the T are a knowledge of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.

It’s no longer good enough to be an individual contributor where you have a clearly defined role. You need to be able to work across disciplines. The classes range from traditional business topics such as strategy, finance and marketing, but also focus on leadership, dealing with innovation and negotiation — the softer skills that are very, very important. So it’s about management and leadership.

“Failure is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley,” Seeling says.  She tells her students to write a “failure résumé” explaining their personal, professional and academic mistakes.

Every leader in every organization has made big mistakes. That’s why we hire people with experience — we want them because of their successes and for what they have learned from their failures.

Entrepreneurs “see the world as opportunity-rich, and see problems as opportunities,” she says.

When my husband interviewed for a job with Cisco CEO John Chambers, he talked about his failures in a start-up company. Chambers talked about his failures.  My husband got the job. Now he’s left Cisco and is starting a new company. Odds are it will fail. But maybe not.

Chinese students may be strong on technical skills, but they’re not creative risk takers, writes Randy Pollock, also in the Mercury News.

While teaching in China, he challenged his Chinese MBA students to brainstorm a business plan in two hours, giving them a restaurant chain as an example. He asked for originality.

In the end, five of the six groups presented plans for, you guessed it, restaurant chains. The sixth proposed a catering service. Why risk a unique solution when the instructor has let it slip he likes the food business?

Innovators need critical and creative skills in addition to technical knowledge, he writes.

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  1. Tracy W says:

    That’s one of the things I liked about my engineering degree. While on one hand it was very narrow, about the only other university department involved was the maths department (we could take two course outside the engineering school in our second professional year, most students went for maths, interestingly philosophy was a popular second choice), on the other hand it was quite broad, covering not merely the technical skills but project management, a machines course at the local polytech, dealing with innovation, management, although sadly not negotiation.

    On the case of Randy Pollack trying to teach creativity, it is possible that he sucked at teaching creativity? I ran across Marvin Bartel on the web once who has written a series of articles on teaching creativity and how not to do it. His list of top ten creativity killers appears to include Randy Pollack’s brief description of his lesson (although Pollack apparently didn’t manage to include every creativity killer):

    # 5. I Kill Creativity when I Show an Example instead of Defining a Problem.

    # 7. I Kill Creativity when I give Freedom without Focus

    I don’t think that Marvin Bartel’s ideas have been properly tested. But his articles, particularly his argument that the way to teach creativity is to impose limits on students so they can’t take the easy route, do suggest a very different approach to teaching creativity to Pollacks (again, relying on Pollack’s brief description), and it strikes me as quite possible that one way may be better than another.

  2. “The classes range from traditional business topics such as strategy, finance and marketing, but also focus on leadership, dealing with innovation and negotiation”…you can learn some things about “leadership” and “negotiation” from books and classes, but mainly, you learn these things by *doing* them.

    The increasing belief that everything worth knowing must be learned as part of a formal education program is in fact a major inhibitor of creativity and innovation.

  3. Gregory Zhang says:

    Pollock is a well-regarded creativity and branding consultant in China. He’s an excellent teacher, one who gets the nuances of China. He most certainly doesn’t suck, as Tracy W writes. I have had him as a professor in an EMBA program for foreign students. The class he describes was not a “creativity” class, but probably a management class. His goal probably was to get them to work smoothly together, to organize well in a limited time. He gave them detailed instructions he said in the article, so there was focus. I am Chinese-American and I understand how dead-on this professor’s article was. The problem wasn’t the exercise–it was the students. They really are that much in a permanent rut with creativity in the Mainland. Blame the system, not the teacher, Tracy W.