Why collaboration is the key to success in the tech industry

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Q: What information do you need to be successful in the tech industry?

A: You don’t have to be an expert technologist to make a big impact on technology. Mary Grove, who worked at Google and is the managing partner of Bread & Butter Ventures, said there was no linear path to the tech adventure. So, while we educate students with technology dreams, it is essential that we focus on teaching them to think, rather than teaching them what to think. For example, when we consider the digital transformation of healthcare, we might conclude that because technology can turn everything upside down, we all need to become technologists.

What we really need to lead disruptive change are T-shaped people. T-shaped people have demonstrated knowledge and expertise in a particular area, but have the ability to collaborate in all areas. They are different from I-shaped people, who are very deep in a technology, but unable to collaborate outside of that expertise. They are also different from generalists who can collaborate but have little depth in anything.

T-shaped people aren’t tech-savvy at all. But they have shown critical thinking in at least one area. Thus, they are confident in applying their critical thinking to new areas. They can quickly immerse themselves in new possibilities. They can harness the talents of I-shaped experts who deeply understand emerging technologies. They ask big questions. They trust what they know and, more importantly, what they don’t know. They have the credibility of synthesizing information in a number of areas. They understand the difference between technological capacity and human needs. They realize the importance of the match between technology and the environment. How many of these leadership skills require technological expertise? No.

To develop the T-shaped mindset, start with who you are uniquely, what you uniquely know, what you can do uniquely and build from there. Partnerships are essential. Find people who complement your skills and weaknesses. Take small risks and learn from failure. Try something and see. If it works, do more. If not, try something different.

John F. McVea is Associate Professor in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

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