Recruiters: Mind Your T’s and Q’s

Finding the right person for the growing range of new technologies can be difficult. There are skills shortages in a number of areas, and there is a rush to fill them with obvious talent. In this rush, however,  it is important to remember that the specific skills are of only transitory value, and requirements will shift as the next new thing comes along.

Digitization is rapidly converging traditionally disparate processes and technologies, creating a need for a new kind of worker. In focusing constantly on specific technical skills, we may be weakening the ability to understand the broader context that must fuel innovation. There needs to be input from the Arts, from global experience, and from the imagination. This demands a different type of learning.

In the late nineties, “T-shaped skills” were introduced, with the vertical bar representing dept of skills and the horizontal bar, the ability to work across disciplines. This was useful in a structured and deterministic world. But we are now in a time of vast changes, shifting skills requirements, and new pressures from robotics and AI. It’s time for a new, and complementary, concept.

Some years ago, I drew a cartoon about recruitment fads ( in reaction to “T-shaped” assumptions. In it, I introduced “Q-shaped” skills as “roundness of knowledge with a squiggly bit underneath.”

Although this was partly in jest, it does raise a significant point. In a converged world, “T-shaped” is no longer enough. Just as Steve Jobs drew from calligraphy for PC invention, exposure to a much wider range of knowledge is increasingly essential for innovation. Imagination and ingenuity are also at a premium.

Certainly, “T-shaped” skills will always continue to be important. But handling the growing possibilities of digital convergence creates a need for the nuanced “Q-shaped” skills that focus upon the big picture and its imaginative possibilities.

We have already seen how over-emphasis upon rote learning and tests can increase “T” and diminish “Q” skills. Companies lacking in the former will have trouble meeting the needs of the moment; companies lacking in the latter will fail to envision  the opportunities of the future.

We need to increase our “Q” skills to create the Total Quality workforce of tomorrow.


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