This morning on the plane home I read an article from Stanford's Social Innovation Review entitled "Design Thinking for Social Innovation" by IDEO's Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt. In the article the talk about looking for team members who have their own "T". The vertical line of the "T" is each team member's unique skill or knowledge that they bring to a cross-functional team and the horizontal line of the "T" is a shared set of characteristics that all of the team members share: empathy, respect for the unique talents of others, openness, curiosity, optimism, a tendency to learn by doing, and experimentation.
I like this approach to team-building because it inherently incorporates diversity into the structure of a successful team while also making sure that team members are cut from the same cloth at a very basic human values level. I also think it's a healthy recipe for building out friendships and relationships in our lives, as well as a good strategy for building a family. It's a formula for accumulating a set of good-hearted, talented people. And isn't that the kind of people we'd all like to surround ourselves with?
How does one go about building a personal "T"? Can empathy, curiosity, and optimism be taught or are these traits we must be born with? Can we build an education system that instills and nurtures these values into our children at the very beginning of their learning years? I'd like to think that we're all born curious, and I'd like to think that our natural creative, empathic nature is so strong that even if we have lost our way, these tendencies can be recovered and strengthened.
And what about that vertical in the "T"? How do we discover what makes us special? Is that something special about each of us something we are born with or is it something that we learn? And can it be changed throughout our lives? I believe that the answer is a resounding "yes" on all counts. My special trait is my storytelling, my writing. While I have a natural inclination for this, it requires practice. I certainly wasn't born knowing how to write well. I needed to put a lot of time and effort into it, though because I enjoyed it and saw a rapid rate of improvement with my practice, I was encouraged to become an even better writer.
I've seen this same pattern with every person in my life: my brother-in-law who is a fine painter, my friend, Kelly, who is a master project manager, my friend, Ken, who is a beautiful dancer and a gifted physical therapy assistant, my friend, Brooke, who is one of the most promising young acting talents on television, and my friend and mentor, Richard, who is one of the most successful and talented fundraisers in the nonprofit field. Incidentally, they all have a fabulous sense of humor and are some of the kindest people I've ever met.
I suppose that there are Mozarts and Einsteins among us, walking around, born brilliant, born as prodigies. I just don't know any. All of the brilliant people in my life, and I am very fortunate to have many, have found and leveraged their "T" because they have worked hard at something they love. And they're better off for this because their hard work also gives them the empathy and appreciation they need to be not only brilliant, but to be imbued with hearts of gold. Their "T"s are apparent in every part of their lives. They give me an example to strive for and are my greatest reason for hope.