As you’ve hopefully figured out by now, we all come in different shapes and sizes. Some of us are giants, some of us are bookish, some of us are athletic, and some of us are womanisers. Some of us are moody, some of us are obtuse, some of us are terrible dancers, and some of us are hilarious storytellers. Some of us are several of these and more, but you get the picture : we’re variously well-suited to the tasks set before us in the world, some better than others for this or that task. Sure, news at 11, but so what, right ?
Well, are you familiar with the notions of “I-Shaped” and “T-Shaped” people ? If not, it’s pretty simple. A “T-Shaped” person has abilities that cover a more impressive range of skills and subject matters but their proficiency in any individual one is relatively and necessarily limited compared to that of those of world-class expertise. An “I-Shaped” person, by contrast, claims proficiency in fewer domains but their expertise is dramatically more developed in that select area, even over-developed at the expense of other more generalist skills.i Now you can certainly imagine a variety of graphs combining either or both of these models, but the broader heuristic stands : some of us like to know a bit about everything no matter how outside our circles of control and influence, and some of us like to deep dive into a given subject matter until we’ve explored its darkest depths and rooted out its strangest mysteries.
Today we’re going to expand this concept beyond mere skills and subject matters, as it’s conventionally understood, to add a little more granularity for the “I-Shaped” people.ii Today, we’re adding people, projects, and subjects to that column :
Deep divers of PEOPLE - These are the life-long relationship builders and maintainers. You might call them “the connectors,” but regardless of what you call them, they take a preternatural interest in the minutiae of the lives of their friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances, going well beyond personable or even productive conversation to find out what really makes someone tick. These are the personal trainers, family lawyers, therapists, bff’s and others who dig deep into you and who you really are. Without them, there would be no confession booths (nor written biographies).
Deep divers of PROJECTS - These are obsessives who sweat the details,iii working overtime and then some in order to ensure that project perfection is achieved. These are the dentists, case lawyers, veblen-craftsmen, techno-utopians, and others who refuse to stop and refuse to settle for anything less than the ideals summoned up by their vivid imaginations. Without them, there would be no space shuttles (nor persian rugs).
Deep divers of SUBJECTS - These are the weirdos who go three sleepless weeks after learning about Bitcoin. These are the sorts of people who want, nay need to become all-but-unsurpassable subject matter authorities and are all too happy to devote the weeks, months, and years needed to do it.iv These are the monks, ivory tower researchers, hedge fund managers, expert salesmen, and others who deep dive into an area of expertise and don’t come up for air until they’ve grabbed every pearl of wisdom they can. Without them, there would be no Great Man “Theory” of History (nor cryptocurrency).
That’s pretty much it. You might personally have varying (and mild) degrees of any of these three conditions if you’re a “T-Shaped” person, but if you’re a “I-Shaped” person, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be all-in on just one of them. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for more diversification, nor the dispositional capacity for it.
As with any other system for knowing thyself, helping to identify your strengths and weaknesses – as well as those of the people you live and work with on a daily basis – can only improve your mental maps and the processes you use to shape your business and personal life.
For without maps, we’d just be adrift at sea…v
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- Autists who can compute 25-digit factorials in a split second but can’t feed themselves are an extreme example of the “I-shaped” person. [↩]
- As with every other facet of life, the better and more adaptive your mental models, the better and more successful you’ll be! That this point is lost on a generation of social “scientists” and “informed voters” who “just want the facts” is why they make such easy harvesting for the Bahamas-Shillary-SillyconValley machine. What, you thought they were just making progress ? Har. [↩]
- These are the Mies van der Rohes for whom “God is in the details.” [↩]
- Nothing is worse (or more impressive) for these people than meeting a random who knows more about their beloved subject matter than they do and they’ll be damned if they ever let something like that happen. Oh the embarrassment! (Or the awe!) [↩]
- If this smacks of some sort of “self-improvement” claptrap, then either read between the lines to see that giving you the tools to reframe the world around you, which are then to be used to fail fast (with, sure, a mentor to guide you, hopefully one who gives more of a shit about you than I do), is a whole fuckton more productive than closing your eyes and wishing upon a star for Prince Charming and a tailored glass slipper. If that still doesn’t click, figure out that while self-knowledge != self-improvement, there’s a huge amount of mental clarity to be obtained from better taxonomy, particularly in the “gender soup” era. Logical frameworks for classification have forever been a staple of productive minds, whether inter- or intra-species. And to put it in broader terms, fuck your ignorant medieval caste system and its platonic forebearers. Give me growth or give me death. Enough of this self-defeating, paralysing wanking already. To paraphrase, Nike, Just Fucking Do It. Practice the script and get up on stage. We ain’t nothin’ but players. [↩]