T-shaped people and their areas of expertise

A great deal of success in Open / Collaborative Innovation depends on winning the „right people“ for driving the change. Studies have shown that T-shaped experts are pivotal in this approach.

We came across an interesting question in our recent project work: How does one evaluate efficiently the expertise base of an individual?” In other words: How could you efficiently and rapidly assess the “horizontal line” of the T-shaped experts, i.e. the subject areas in which the individual experts could connect to external innovators?

We were not looking for a comprehensive and lengthy process. Rather we were interested in a clever methodology that could elicit these areas of expertise within a 1-hour interview. These areas of expertise could then be combined with the expertise areas of other experts so that internal teams could be staffed with a broad and diverse set of expertise areas – while at the same time limiting the number of people involved.

We ended up with a methodology that systematically analyzes expertise areas in four dimensions: Industries, Materials, Functions and Methodology. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Compile a list of INDUSTRIES / CONTEXTS

  • Discuss similar industries / contexts (e.g. expertise as Application Engineer in paper products could also be valuable in Application Engineering in the Packaging Industry and also in Business Development in Renewable / Organic Packaging) and add these to the original list

Step 2: Compile a list of MATERIALS

  • Discuss: Which materials are similar and might be added to this list even though he has not worked in them (e.g. magnesium and aluminum)
  • Discuss: In which industries are these materials used in and add these to the industry list even though he has not worked in them (e.g. super absorbers are also used for blocking water penetration in underground power or communications cables)

Step 3: Compile a list of FUNCTIONS

  • Discuss with the expert whether his areas of expertise might be extended up-stream or down-stream (e.g. from Development to Pre-Development / Applied Research or Process Engineering)

STEP 4: Compile a list of areas of expertise relating to METHODOLOGY.

Compile a list of all methodological skills that were essential part of the expert’s jobs (e.g. Lab analytics or TRIZ)

  • Add to this list all methodological trainings that the expert has received in the last 5 years (e.g. Design Thinking)
  • Discuss with the expert contexts in which these methodological skills might be applied