Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

The science, management and engineering of service systems is associated with a call for T-shaped people. The most recent emphasis is on T-shaped professionals, which was preceded by T-shaped skills, with linkages back to a 1990 study on hybrid managers. Some insight can be gained by working backwards through the nuanced terms.

The 2008 Cambridge (IfM and IBM) report issues a challenge to universities for developing skills, and then seeks to enlist support from business and government.

Developing T-shaped professionals
Discipline-based education remains a vital role of modern universities. In order to close the skill gap, however, universities should also offer students the opportunity to gain qualifications in the interdisciplinary requirements of SSME. Such qualifications would equip graduates with the concepts and vocabulary to discuss the design and improvement of service systems with peers from other disciplines. Industry refers to these people as T-shaped professionals, who are deep problem solvers in their home discipline but also capable of interacting with and understanding specialists from a wide range of disciplines and functional areas.

Widely recognised SSME programmes would help ensure the availability of a large population of T-shaped professionals (from many home disciplines) with the ability to collaborate to create service innovations. SSME qualifications would indicate that these graduates could communicate with scientists, engineers, managers, designers, and many others involved in service systems. Graduates with SSME qualifications would be well prepared to ‘hit the ground running’, able to become immediately productive and make significant contributions when joining a service innovation project.

Support needed from business and government

Establishing SSME qualifications is a challenging task. Interdisciplinary course development requires significant effort to develop because different faculty members might find it hard to work together sustainably over time. Educational innovations are vulnerable because they are often reliant on the efforts of one or two people. Interdisciplinary programmes are even harder to organise, and more expensive to initiate and maintain, than conventional ones. Rapid progress in the design and delivery of these programmes would require support and resources from business and government. [p. 11]

This isn’t nearly the first mention of the idea of T-shaped. Leonard-Barton (1995) provides a drawing of T-shaped skills, while describing the resistance of businesses to develop them.

September 6th, 2008

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