Being T-shaped marketer makes me cry

T-shaped marketers come in all shapes and sizes. You are probably called by names like growth hacker, growth marketer, technical marketer etc… To be honest, I think any modern marketer or business developer should act like one too.

“Being T-shaped” is an old theory of capabilities and refers to broad skill-set in any given topic. The point is that you master one or a few skills (in-depth knowledge), and the rest of the skills are on “good enough” level.

T-shaped marketer example

In this post, I’m going to tell 3 reasons that make me cry as a T-shaped marketer:

    1. Consciously killing your own baby (a skill) hurts

    2. It hurts ego to say “I’m not able to do it anymore”

    3. Valley of depression – the moment you realize the size of the uphill battle (Dunning-Kruger effect)

1. Killing your own baby (a skill) hurts

As T-shaped marketers, we have dozens of areas of expertise we need to learn and use. Many of us value the opportunity to learn as one of the most significant benefits of this job…

…But all coins have two sides…

Sometimes you need to KILL YOUR OWN SKILL consciously! In other words, you need to realize that in the following period you need to STOP doing whatever you have become good at.

We can have only one ACTIVE (skill or) SKILL SET at a time. By active, I mean that your performance in a specific topic is as high as it can be.

For example, if recently I’ve been writing a lot of sales copy, I will have become familiar with this topic, and it becomes relatively easy to produce high quality copywriting in a short(er) amount of time ( writing process is satisfactory).

However, as soon as I transfer my “core focus” (i.e. where I spend the most time) onto some other skill, e.g. programming, I start to feel that I’m getting OUT OF TOUCH with sales copywriting.

We can find similar parallels in sports. Athletes try to time their PEAK PERFORMANCE to be ready for the competition season (not before or after it). Therefore, if you are a long jumper and heading to the Olympics, there’s no need to be able to jump 9 meters (+29 feet) six months BEFORE the Olympics.

As knowledge workers, we have similar requirements for peak performance in our skill management/development. My copywriting example is, of course, a simplification, so in practice, we talk about having a specific set of “active skills.”

For example, if focus heavily on B2C lead generation for a year, my “active skill set” consist of things like Facebook ads, landing pages, copywriting and email nurturing, then afterwards I may need to tweak some other parts of the business…

Example of active skill-set

…And if my following task is to jump into product development, my next “active skill set” may include  items like competitor research, mockups, user testing, UX and analytics and it make take some time for me to “warm up” these skills again …

Just warming up may not even be enough; I probably also need to catch up with the latest “trends” in the field (or at least be aware of them).

2. It hurts the ego to say “I’m not able to do it anymore”

Now and then I receive inquiries regarding topics I’ve worked with earlier.

For example, someone can ask me to plan a Facebook ad strategy. This feels good of course when people see you as a go-to guy in that area.

The challenge comes if I haven’t been following the development of the Facebook ad system (nor using it much) lately.

All the tools and platforms used by technical marketers tend to change weekly, and it’s actually a really full day job to keep yourself updated with all the latest “versions.”

So now you need to produce some white lie(ish) explanation of why you are not able to deliver that service currently. And it’s not because you wouldn’t have the time or interest – it would just take too much time to “warm up” that skillset; especially as the ROI is quite low for smaller one-time “skill switching.”

Occasionally it may be better to outsource these kinds of cases, even if it’s one of your core competence (according to the majority of business philosophies core competencies should be kept “in-house”).

According to me and my peers’ experience, this can be especially burdening for personal types who are deeply analytical and/or perfectionist oriented. These fellows are the ones that prefer to do thorough research first and take action second (going through absurd amounts of information can be exhausting).

3. Valley of depression – the moment you realize the size of the uphill battle (Dunning-Kruger effect)

In short: Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people think they master a specific topic – even they still are on a beginner level.

For me, this is the most stressing “element” of a T-shaped marketer’s daily life (and the biggest trigger of sleepless nights). It’s the moment when you realize that things are much more complicated than assumed and you are much more on a “newbie level” than you considered earlier (see the image below).

Typically, it strikes when you are expanding your skills and building something new for the first time with new tools or applying old skills in a new business area/context.

I call this period “the valley of depression”. The good thing is that this stage is the one that naturally  forces out /eliminates all the “weak minded,” so the competition then becomes much lower.

The challenge is that backing out is not an option anymore; the train is already moving, and the only way out is through finishing the irritating project. The only viable option is to nail the established goals, so you just need to keep calm and trust the process.

The valley of depression – not the favorite part of my profession.

I just try to reassure my fears by reminding myself that I’ve done this dozen of times successfully and this is what I love to do and what I’m best at. Consequently trying to switch the nascent feeling of panic into some gratitude for being able to do what I want.

This “phenomenon” is not limited to business skills only, and it works with any knowledge or proficiency you are trying to acquire.

Tim Ferris used (almost) a similar curve to express his mental rollercoaster while speed-learning new languages in his book 4-hour chef (in the meta-learning chapter about the frequency of studying). Highly recommend for anyone interested in practical hands-on speed-learning techniques.

“…hmm, what’s the SEO keyword research?”

For example, think about learning SEO…

When you dig deeper into search engine optimization, one of the first topics you will become familiar with is the “on-page SEO.” Thanks to all the low-quality content marketing, search engine results are full of these “5 easy tips to rank better” posts suggesting that tweaking your h1-headlines will solve all your traffic problems.

You acquire a nice confidence boost feeling that it seems to be a straightforward process (or at least that’s how I felt).

Certainly, for a period, you have fun going through all the website headline types, tweaking meta descriptions and feeling productive (while calling yourself an SEO-expert).

Finally, the truth dawns as you realize that this was a valid tactic 10-15 years ago (and an on-page SEO should be common knowledge for any website).

At this point, you are at the bottom of the “valley of depression” and as said, it hurts. Fortunately, the only way is up, and if you’re lucky the next thing you start to consider might be something like  “…hmm, what’s the SEO keyword research?”.

And what do you think, does this sound familiar? Please let me know.

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