One of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite movies comes appears in The Pursuit of Happyness. It is a memorable moment when Will Smith’s character, a soon-to-be-homeless entrepreneur called Chris Gardener is walking down Wall St and is stopped in his tracks when he sees a beautiful red Ferrari 308 GTS.

Watch the clip >>

“I’ve got two questions for you. What do you do? And how do you do it?”

The scene is worth it for that line alone. I know I’d be much better off, and probably have much better relationships with more people, if I took the time to ask them those two questions.

But that’s not what strikes me about this scene. It’s the fact that the stockbroker, explains that not only do you not need to go to college in order to get to where he’s got to, but

“You have to be good with numbers. And good with people”.

Good with people. And good with numbers.


Too often in business, especially in recent years I have noticed, leadership gurus and business schools have been teaching executives to only concentrate on their strengths. Better to focus on your strengths than your weaknesses, because you are probably weak in those areas for a reason. They might use the example of education, where teachers try to get A* Math students to be better at English, whereas what they should be doing is getting much better at Math and ignoring their English. It’s a controversial approach but one that leadership coaches such as John C. Maxwell suggest is the right approach.


I’m quite good with numbers, but ever since school I was always quite awkward around people (especially ones I didn’t know). I was never told to become a rock star at maths, I was told instead of get better at subjects around humanities. The argument goes that if I did focus on my maths, I wouldn’t have struggled so much doing maths at college. As it is, I found my dream job as a result of beginning my career in social media, an industry that insists upon it’s professionals being good at numbers and with people.

I’m not so sure.

Spending time at IBM, a huge organisation with over 400,000 employees, it strikes me that while there are certainly GREAT people who specialise in very niche areas around one skillset, the people I see who are the most successful are the ones who have made an effort to not just focus on their strengths, but to make sure that they are good with people and numbers.

Let’s take marketing as an example and look at the skills marketers need in 2017.

Historically you had two types of people.

Firstly, the brand marketer who was good with people. They were generally creative types who managed agency relations, looked after PR, helped to create compelling content and generally focused on all the human consumer facing aspects of business communications.

Secondly, we have an analytical marketer. These folks, driven by a love of numbers and insights, helped to measure the impact of marketing campaigns, run reports and make suggestions about which strategies to run at which time. At a risk of stereotyping, my experience generally has been that brand marketers are great with people and are often the most fun at parties, but the data marketers (like developers) often prefer to be in small groups of just their own kind, with as little socialising outside that group as possible.

“Since when did marketing become the make it pretty department?”

We referred to both of these roles as “T” shaped roles. People who were quite good at lots of disciples, but went deep in one. In this case, either brand (people) or data (numbers). It makes sense, especially because as humans we are naturally more comfortable dealing with one or the other. Logic or emotion. Left brain or right brain thinking. Driven by either the head or the heart.

In 2017, I don’t think we need more “T” shaped people. We need more “π” (Pi) shaped people. Pi shaped people are also quite good in many different business areas, but they choose to go deep in two areas ~ often one focused around people and one focused around numbers. The rise of the marketing technologist over the last three years as one of the most influential roles in the industry is a perfect example. Like a mashup of a CIO (good with numbers and tech) and a CMO (good with people and creative), a marketing technologist must be good with people AND numbers.

It’s not a sentiment that everyone will agree with, nor is it one that every role would benefit from, but it’s maybe worth bearing in mind next time someone tells you to only focus on your strengths…

“Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.” – Joe Chernov

ICYMI ~ Here’s a couple of good articles about the rise of the marketing technologist:

Communications Designer @IBM • Climate Reality Leader • Lover of Old Business Books, Clever Technology and the NHS • Based in London, UK.

%d bloggers like this: