Respect the unexpected: President Trump and asterisk-shaped disruptors

The idea of the T-shaped professional has helped people to de-specialize for years now.  It suggests that success requires both deep expertise, and the ability to work across disciplines and team with colleagues. There’s even a conference that promotes ways to make more, better T-shaped professionals, the T-Summit.

Expertise and broad integration can power fantastic execution. But perhaps there’s a need to embrace a level of boldness and insight from chaos gets beyond two zen-like straight strokes of a T.

Perhaps its time to add some new letter forms to describe other forms of craft and leadership. In good fun, Timothy Plummer extolled the virtues of the asterisk, as the student speaker at last year’s commencement at RISD. You can watch it here, or read below as I help make his case connect this to today’s Big T inauguration. 

In ancient Greek, asteriskos means “little star”.  Its the symbol that hangs unspoken above the rest of language. Hiding truth in contracts, tainting sports statistics by its appearance and warning that your mileage my vary.

Asterisks suggest we can never tell the whole story in just one take. They nag our attention toward the hidden until our curiosity breaks loose from the easy story-lines of advertising and local newscasts. They are the little stars which light the way to the messy truth.  When you finally get to truth, it is always messy. And we need asterisk-type thinkers to make connections, notice change and confront easy explanations with uncomfortable questions and facts.

Today we’re inaugurating a President who is both a populist tycoon and reality-show misogynist. His wealth either makes him independent of party or beholden to foreign funders. He’s either a teller of unpopular truths, or a generator of ad hominem slurs. Perceiving Donald Trump is a reciprocal action, which is constructed as viewers connect what they are shown of him to their own knowledge and beliefs.

Asterisks interrupt preconceptions and received wisdom with facts, and point the way to progress that our own stories may obscure.

There is no shortage of self-delusion and deception in our time. Could there be a better time to apply asterisks for a clearer view of a world too often hidden by its own false narrative?

 

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