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Are You Ready to Form Voltron? (June 2010)


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Ridiculously swift 10-minute introduction to T-shaped people and why they are important within integrated creative agencies. Presented on June 7th 2010 at the Boulder Digital Works 'Evolve' Event at the ADC in NY, as part of Internet Week.

In addition to sketching out why these hybrid people are so important in creating new forms of output, I briefly touch on the importance of the agency implementing the right kind of 'operating system' (the processes, values and culture within a company) if the fancy new 'software' is going to run smoothly.

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  • This is a presentation that I keep coming back to whenever I'm looking for inspiration. Thanks for sharing it here.
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  • Very inspirational. Your last post for BBH labs had me running back to the drawing boards to rethink my creative studio's values & process. Cheers and good luck.
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    JUNE 2010


    1. Want to talk about T-shaped people
    These are the types of people we’re looking for at BBH.
    To create new kinds of output, in new kinds of ways, at unprecedented speed.

    Should stress, in 10 minutes, this is going to only be an unsatisfactory teaser. Apologies for that.

    4. This is as much a story about how five lions become one awesome lion - Voltron.

    9. In summary, the challenge is to transition the agency from this as a process . . .

    10. To this as a process.
    It means casting and resource management are super critical, if efficiency, speed and margins are to be maintained.
    Because everyone is involved from the start, and throughout. No more batons.
    And we need to add in technology and technology thinking.
    Finally, we need to add in partners, the network of collaborators that exists beyond the four walls of the formal agency.

    11. It actually looks a little more like this.
    No straight arrows of linear progress.
    Rather iteration, collaboration (& certainly some chaos).

    12. In fact, this is Voltron.
    A mighty machine, greater than the sum of its parts, working smoothly together to be awesome.

    16. T-shaped people have two distinct attributes.
    The right set of skills; something at which - ideally - they are awesome.
    The right sensibility; they’re ego-less, generous, and collaborative.

    17. The vertical stroke of the “T” is the person’s specialist contribution to creative or business success. What they’re awesome at. What - when the chips are down - they can deliver like no other to make a difference to the way a project is going.

    The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the person’s disposition for collaboration across disciplines, and beyond their narrowly defined area of excellence. They need to be able to see the world from another point of view (so they need empathy) and they need to be excited by things they can’t do, but others can (so they need enthusiasm. So T-shaped people have both depth and breadth in their skills.

    For more on T-shaped people see a great interview with IDEO’s Tim Brown: T-Shaped Stars: The Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture -

    18. Me-We: how do they talk about what they’ve been working on, what they’ve achieved? Is it about me? Is it about we?

    1+1=2: do they describe how creative magic can happen at the intersection of the right skills and disciplines? Or is it all a bit more traditional, and about big teams being better through sheer numbers?

    I can teach: sure, we need people who can teach, but more than anything we need people who are prepared to learn . . . if they appear to have stopped learning, or not embrace each day as if they’re starting out dumb, they’re probably not T-shaped.

    Linear: how do they think, how do they work, how do they see their role within the process? If they see themselves as a stage, a department, a baton-passer . . . or if they see their agency as any of those, they are probably not T-shaped. If they are connected, happy to blur responsibilities and stages, and bring with them a network of people who think and work the same way, they probably are T-shaped.

    Closed-Open: what’s their digital footprint like? Are they generous with comments, sharing inspiration, linking others thinking into their networks? Do they blog? Do they give ideas away? Are they positive, building on, versus destroying others ideas?

    21. Far too often we see companies shipping in - at very great expense - awesomely gifted people who are T-shaped.
    But if they don’t find the right environment when they land, they will leave very quickly.
    The operating system needs to be ready - especially the processes for collaborative creativity.

    22. If you spend more time on hiring new people than working out how best your existing people can work together, you’re doomed to an expensive failure.

    23. We’re talking about resources today - people.
    But there are other factors that comprise the operating system of an agency.

    24. Here’s a one-side summary of the plan to Embrace Change, to evolve, at BBH in New York.
    You’ll note right away how resources are just one of the four core areas of internal focus.
    The other three are both harder to get right, and take longer.
    The external elements - network and clients - comprise the agency’s ability to (a) become a networked agency, versus an agency in a network and (b) become a genuinely creative business, versus merely a service provider. Of course, the reframing of clients is the hardest of all (& note, it’s not all client’s fault this is the hardest).

    25. So thinking about change, and about new skills . . . about T-shaped people, it’s critical to ask yourselves not only where are we going to find these types of people, but also how can we create the right system for them to thrive within when they arrive.

    26. On YouTube:
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Are You Ready to Form Voltron? (June 2010)

  1. 1. Boulder Digital Works Evolve! Are You Ready to Form Voltron? A 10-minute presentation, June 7 2010 Art Directors Club, Internet Week, New York © BBH New York, June 2010. Licensed under CC. Some rights reserved.
  2. 2. Ben Malbon Executive Director of Innovation, BBH New York Founding Partner, BBH Labs
  3. 3. T-shaped people. And why they’re important. 3
  4. 4. How Commander Keith, Pidge, Lance, Sven & Hunk . . . . . . transmute into Voltron 4
  5. 5. For us, it’s not about ‘being digital’. It’s about being integrated. 5
  6. 6. Being integrated means ‘getting’ digital. And ‘getting’ digital is as much about new behaviors as new skills. 6
  7. 7. What we produce has evolved. 7
  8. 8. What we produce has evolved. And so how we produce it also needs to evolve. 8
  9. 9. ‘Then’ 9
  11. 11. ‘Then’ Now © BBH LLC & Made By Many Ltd Licensed under CC Some rights reserved 11
  12. 12. ‘Then’ Now 12
  13. 13. This requires an evolved set of resources. 13
  14. 14. We need people fluent in at least one language. But literate in many. 14
  15. 15. We need T-shaped people. 15
  18. 18. How do you know when you’re looking at a T- shaped person? Well, a resume or portfolio is not enough. 18
  19. 19. I-shaped T-shaped Me We Big: 1+1=2 Better: 1+1=3 I can teach I can learn Linear Networked Closed Open
  20. 20. T-shaped people are not enough on their own. They need the right operating system in place to run effectively. 20
  21. 21. Operating system not ready? Then even the best software will fail. 21
  22. 22. (Note: this is the part that most agencies forget. Busy hiring in awesome people, but running on old OS.) 22
  23. 23. © BBH LLC & Made By Many Ltd Licensed under CC Some rights reserved
  24. 24. Think: what’s your plan for Forming Voltron? It had better be *at least* this good . . . 25
  25. 25. Thank you @BBHLabs @malbonnington @bdwcu 27