Unicorn and T-shaped people in memory lane

A T-shaped Kalle? No, I'm having coffee, thanks.

A T-shaped Kalle? No, I’m having coffee, thanks.

Maybe you have heard of T-shaped people? T-shaped people have deep skills in one field in combination with a strong general knowledge and ability to collaborate well with others.

Today, I decided to write the post earlier during the day instead of late in the evening. So, I’m living the cliché and is writing this post at a café by Järntorget in Gothenburg.

Unicorn shaped people?

A friend sent me a very interesting presentation from Agile Korea 2015 about creating Unicorn ranch presented by Keywon Chung at Lab80. At first I was amused and a couple of pages into the beautifully crafted presentation, I was hooked.

The presentation is not about unicorns in the “normal” innovation sense, that is as a start-up with a valuation above one billion USD, but define a unicorn as someone with an almost impossible deep and wide skill set that can provide exponential value to others.

The presentation consists of beautifully crafted slides and boy, they touched something deep within. This lead to that the post ended up being a bit longer than I expected.

In getting to learn design thinking very hands on together with fantastic people from IDEO five years ago, I extended my width as a T-shape. The ‘I’ part of the T-shape has been there a long time. Let me share how it all started.

Growing up

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an inventor and a musician when I grew up. I didn’t have it as a goal. It was more that  I found myself passionately interested in building stuff, solving problems and making music.

The normal way would be to get educated in these areas, but I found the Swedish education system very narrow minded at the time. My way of learning is by doing things,  not by reading without applying. I need to make mistakes fast and quickly learning by it.

This lead to that my high school was focused on applied electronics (learning how to solder, repair and build stuff) and not so much on the more analytics parts. This high school program did not qualify me to the university courses that I found interested so I went on my own very strange path.

Electronics galore

My passion for electronics and computers in my teens and twenties lead to me getting a job as a digital electronics designer at Ericsson back in 1996. During four years I learned very hands on how to build high-speed digital electronics. After four years I decided to do something else and at that time I had lead a design team and designed a triple CPU communications board with engineering samples of a brand new PowerPC processor able to interface at the time a blazing 155 Megabit for one of the first 3G Radio Base Stations (the blinking thing in a container that talks to your mobile phone) in the world.

I was in nerdvana…and I was becoming bored.

Enter the software

I managed to transform another of my hobbies, programming, into a skill that paid my bills. It took around eight years for me to get bored of that. In 2008 when I transitioned once again around 40% of all the cats (and other boring traffic) viewed on mobile devices in the world passed through code that I had written. Once again nerdvana. Once again bored.

Leadership

I found myself wanting to combine another interest of mine that had been lingered in my head since my early twenties, leadership. I started working as a systems manager bring a lot of extremely talented people to work together to solve complex technical issues. During this time I also got promoted to technical specialist in the strange area of Packet transport in microwave networks. Geek alert for sure.

I was working working with complex communication infrastructure topics and it was pretty cool to be presenting at a UN standardisation organization (ITU) and leading international teams for several years.

Maybe it isn’t much of a surprise, but I grew tired of that too. At that point in time I was recruited to a strange team, headed from Silicon Valley, to learn design thinking and influence and organization of 5000 people to think differently regarding innovation.

Design thinking and innovation

Now, we are back where I started. Working with brilliant people from IDEO that I am forever grateful for having met. This triggered a path where I got to integrate my music interest as well by being introduced to Burning man in 2011 at the IDEO office and then going there in 2013.

I have worked with one organization in trying to improve the innovation capabilities for five years. Five years! In contrast to changing direction every other couple of years I can persevere for a very long time when I truly believe something. Sometime it is perseverance on the borderline of stupidity. But oh what I have learned things. My experience from these past five years is almost impossible to achieve. I’ve learned from so many failures (some small, some spectacular) in trying to strengthen innovation capabilities that is pretty close to silly.

After two years working as innovation driver for Ericsson in Gothenburg (a workplace with more than 2000 people), I felt once again that it was time to do something new.

Is that a bird or a plane?! No, it is a unicornsultant!

Now, I am here. I have started Unicornsulting knowing that I can and want to help and people and organisations to break patterns and find new opportunities.

Back to the childhood dreams

When I look back on my childhood aspirations I find it interesting that I am an inventor with a number of granted and applied patents and also a musician (even though that is definitely not paying the bills).

The music part is pretty autodidact in parts too. I studied percussion for a teacher, but I managed to learn synthesizers completely on my own. I play in a number of bands and it might not be a total surprise that I love electronic improvisation music.

So, why am I writing this?

I don’t know. I felt that I had to tap into this because my company Unicornsulting is me. What I am selling is my skills and me as a person. This can be a pretty difficult job at times to try to weed out what I can bring to the table that brings value for others.

My unorthodox background has at times been rather difficult in the past with a lot of self-doubt, but nowadays I find my path invaluable. This is because I find that I more often than not have a different view on things than someone that has taken the “normal” path.

If I would boil down what I bring to the table is something like this:

I have the curiosity, eagerness and ability to learn of a five year old combined with the experience of a 45 year old. I want to use this to help others to transform the way  they look at things in order to find new exciting opportunities.

Am I I-shaped, T-shaped, π-shaped or unicorn shaped?

Most of the days I hope that I am pretty much Kalle shaped. At least I seem to be that after my first cup of coffee.

In my specialist days, I was pretty I-shaped. Design Thinking helped me expand into a T-shape. Music and my budo practice has turned me into a π-shape (several deep skills).

Unicorn shaped? Who knows.

It’s just you and me and rainbows, as Edward Ka-Spel beautifully sings.

/Kalle

Three things I am grateful for today:

  1. Serendipity! Being sent the cool presentation by a friend and running into a cool designer, artist, entrepreneur while sitting at the café writing this post.
  2. Soy latte with extra espresso shots!
  3. My weird and twisted path in life that has lead me to really awesome places and made me meet fantastic people.

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