T Summit: The logic of future talent, work, and higher education

T Summit: The logic of future talent, work, and higher education.

In the age of cognitive systems and social networks, a type of “Moore’s Law for Education” may arise.  To understand this core “smart service system” it is necessary to first think about human talent more precisely…

1. Talent: What is the difference between I’s and T’s?

Today’s institutes of higher education are well designed to produce I’s (I-shaped professionals).  I’s have depth in one area of study, practice, and culture.  More and more employers are looking for T’s (T-shaped professionals).  T’s have depth and breadth.  So T’s have something extra that makes them highly sought after in the search for talent.  For example, Professional Science Masters (business on top of science degrees) can help with boundary spanning abilities; general education (liberal arts) can help provide some of the T’s communication skills; Service Science Management and Engineering courses can also help with breadth; all of these are especially effective when projects (challenge-based, multidisciplinary team projects with industry mentors) are well-integrated into courses across the curriculum spectrum from science and engineering, to management and public policy, to social sciences and economics, to humanities and arts, adopting an essential element of professional schools, like medicine, law, education, and architecture, that build the professional social networks of students before graduation.

Talent is a blend of basic competences, professional skills, and attitudes.  Basic competences (by definition) can be assessed with multiple-choice questions, and certificates of competence are sought after by students and practitioners in search of new employment opportunities.  On the other hand, professional skills cannot be fully assessed except by other professionals, usually during a performance or challenge, such as playing piano, operating machinery, or working well on a team project with others.  Attitudes shape our responses to situations we cannot control, and are fundamental to human performance in challenging situations, but are quite difficult to assess without participating in diverse projects and activities together.  Interaction with others, mentors and role models, is essential for the development of skills and attitudes that go beyond more-easily-tested basic competences.

2. Work: What is the T advantage (especially in the age of cognitive computing, and smarter machines)?

Breadth provides T’s more boundary spanning skills and attitudes,  which sets the stage for improved teamwork, adaptive capacity, and innovation capacity.   Smarter machines are on the way, such as IBM’s Watson system which won against the world’s best players of the TV game show” Jeopardy!,”  and in the age of cognitive computing these smarter machines will easily pass multiple choice tests of competence in more and more areas where human experts have “competence depth.”  Eventually, these systems competence depth (as assessed by multiple-choice competence tests) will be greater than the depth of the best I-shaped human experts, in part because these systems can rapidly “learn” by absorbing millions of pages of text in seconds, and in fact these systems will actually support the generation of new multiple-choice basic competence tests.  In the era of cognitive computing, which has already begun, the T advantage includes boundary spanning skills and attitudes that improve teamwork (empathy and communications), adaptive capacity (co-learning rates), and innovation capacity (creativity and non-routine problem solving).

3. Higher Education: How to foster and inspire more T’s?

Faculty and their courses are at the heart of higher education today, and we expect the same will be true in the future.  Top faculty are among the best I-shaped human experts, the 1% club of intellectual abilities in their nations for their chosen fields of specialization.  When students take courses in a specialized area their “depth competence”increases in a way that can be objectively measured by multiple choice testing.  What is different in the future is that faculty will play an increasingly active role in changing their courses year over year to benefit from new knowledge (discovery, research) and new applications (engagement, entrepreneurship).  MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) and other technologies will be used by faculty to shift standardized, routine lecture materials into student pre-requisites (self-service learning of depth competences); thus freeing up faculty time to inspire students on the frontiers of knowledge and applications, which is inherently social (current world issues, by people alive and contributing today).  The skills and attitudes needed to help students develop social networks to others, including researchers and industry practitioners, will foster greater breadth, and provide more access to role models to learn skills and attitudes.  Both faculty and students are likely to become more T-shaped, as well as the practitioners will become more T-shaped lifelong learners through these challenge-based project interactions – beyond basic competences, skills and attitudes will need to be brought to bear.   A type of “Moore’s Law for Education” may also arise if 10% of most course’s lectures are newly added every year to reflect the fore-front of research and practice, while the pre-requisite MOOC lectures become better integrated and optimized to prepare students to take the more advanced version of the course that emerges each year.   Industry and higher education will both be transformed, co-creating more T’s and fewer I’s – where T’s are better adapted than I’s for a rapidly changing world of opportunities.

This so-called  “law” we envision is quite simple to explain, and requires faculty to shift 10% of their older course lectures to MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) each year, and add 10% new lectures based on topical themes in research (top journals) and business/societal applications (top new business and social innovations related to course topics). Each year the collective of course-prerequisite MOOC lectures gets integrated and compressed by 10%.  No decrease in faculty.  No increase in number of lectures (except as new courses are added).  Increasing student access to course-prerequisite MOOCs.  Success depends on several factors, including re-integration of knowledge, and more-student self-service via MOOCs. Each year the students entering the courses are better prepared, students graduating know more, faculty stay more engaged as stewards of their course areas, and faculty and students expand their social networks connecting to top researchers and top entrepreneurs. The “law” is based on principles of service science, especially the principle of run-transform-innovate (“improve the engine while the car is running,” or systematic exploitation-exploration learning model (Prof. James March, Stanford) – applied to service system entities).

Like the original Moore’s Law this is a “self-fulfilling human law” of investment and change, not a law of nature.

The Shape of Analytics Certification explains T-shaped data scientists for big data analytics

Nick Donofrio (IBM Fellow Emeritus and retired SVP Innovation) explains T-shaped innovators

IDEO CEO Tim Brown explains T-shaped design thinkers

Prof. Henry Chesbrough (Berkeley, Open Innovation) explains T-shaped managers

Gary Beach blogs about Critical Thinking an Quantitative Skills

Business Higher Education Forum describes T-shapes and deeper learning

Dr. Phil Gardner (MSU, Collegiate Employment Reearch Institute) provides references to T-shaped professionals

If you would like to find out more:

The T Summit is coming…




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  2. The gist of service system continuous improvement is very simple, and inspired by my friend and colleague Doug Engelbart (father of augmentation theory – who passed away last year), as well as the work of my friend and colleague James March (father of organization theory – Emeritus at Standord).

    Individual productivity and collective productivity in service systems (socio-technical organizations with customers) depends on three factors: (1) outsourcing routine activities to technology (the tool system network), (2) outsourcing routine activities to other service systems (the human system network), (3) while innovating new higher value uses of the core entity’s own time and other resources (taking on unsolved grand challenges requiring the creation of new knowledge, and applying the knowledge to co-create value). This is what IBM has been trying to do for the past decade. Geoffrey Moore writes about this in “Escape Velocity: Freeing Your Company From The Pull Of The Past.” Where we need to do better in society (IMHO) is rapidly integrating new innovations while rebuilding the new larger integrated whole from scratch year-over-year. The cycle is outsource-routine-activities, add-new-higher-value-innovative-activities, throw-away-old-infrastructure, rebuild-new-infrastructure-rapidly-to-include-innovations-from-last-cycle, repeat-cycle. By shifting just 5% of routine activities each year, an entity is doing continuous improvement that is exponential change in the long-run. Where we are not learning fast enough, which impacts sustainability and resilience, is optimizing our rebuild speed year over year.

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