Jack of All Trades, Master of Many

You’ve heard the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none.” And honestly, I don’t get it.

I’m fascinated with learning new skills, obtaining knowledge, and gaining new experiences, so why would I just want to be a master of one skill? Or trade? Or be known by one title or position?

Specialization is a fallacy

What’s odd to me is that the highest titles or positions you can have in your career require you to be a generalist (jack of all trades), so much so that you’re considered a master of a handful of skills and thus, can lead a team or organization, but leadership is also a skill to be learned, we can save that topic for another day. Some of these titles and positions are CEO, President, General, Director, and even Master. They all require you to have a collective set of skills, knowledge, and experience to reach those levels.

Now I’ve been told that companies want to hire specialists over generalists, but the irony is that most specialist jobs are entry-level jobs and most higher paying jobs are saved for the generalist. Next time you look at the requirements and qualifications of a job listing look at how many skills they expect a candidate to have even for an entry-level specialist position.

Famous Generalists

Let’s list a few of the jack of all trades in history and I’ll also list a few of the people I admire and some that I know personally.

  • Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, illustrator, industrial designer, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer as well as having his name given to the leader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • Benjamin Franklin was an author, printer, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat as well as having his dome on our biggest bill, Hundred Dollar Bills Y’all!
  • Tim Ferriss, a huge proponent of being a generalist, is an author, investor, world traveler, lifestyle design coach, breakdancer, fitness coach, and much more. He states the grand confusion of the word master is that most people assume perfection.
  • Ryan Holliday is an author, researcher, marketer, and media strategist. Here is an insight he’s given into doing more than one thing in life:
If you do one thing, you’d be very good at it. If you do two things, you feel really busy. If you do three or five things, you’re not that busy and they all help each other and make you better at them. It speeds the whole process of learning new skills and getting more done.
  • Lindsey Stirling is a musician, dancer, composer, singer, youtuber, fashion designer, and filmmaker. CLICK HERE to watch how she is a Master of Many.

Why Be a Jack of All Trades

As Tim Ferriss would put it, the master of none phrase is wrong, because as a generalist you’ll run the show, you won’t be bored, you’ll be fearless, and have fun in life. Read or listen to his podcast on the subject.

  • Article: The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades
  • Podcast: The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades in audio form.

I’d like to add that being a generalist also fosters greater creativity because you’re able to draw upon multiple streams of knowledge and have a wider perspective and understanding of a given subject.

Plus specialization is for insects, or fast food employees.

But The Truth is

We all can do multiple things if we so choose, but there is a catch.

Sean of the seanwes podcast had this to say on the subject.

We’re ALL good at multiple things. More than one thing. We’re all interested in many things. It’s not that the other people who’ve made it or are “known” for one thing are lucky- it’s not that they were blessed with this one interest and they never had to go through the struggle of picking something to pursue, it’s that they learned to focus.
They did not get good by doing things all at once. You didn’t get good by doing things all at once. No one gets good at anything by doing it all at once.

Listen or read the rest of this episode of the seanwes podcast: 105: What if I’m Jack of All Trades and Master of None?

Did you see what the catch is?

Here maybe this will help. David Cole, Director of Design at Quora stated that,

Learning isn’t a zero-sum activity.

Basically, learning comes with an opportunity cost. So in speaking about design Cole said,

Design and its component practices are like any other craft: you can always develop a deeper familiarity with the minutiae, asymptotically approaching mastery. But this is a process with diminishing returns. Would you rather carve a door 1% better than you did last year, or learn how to build the rest of the house in the same amount of time? As I argue below the cognitive tissue between these skills may actually be more valuable than incremental gains in a single practice.

Read the article by Cole: The Myth of the Myth of the Unicorn Designer

Let’s take a breath and summarize these last few quotations.

The truth is that we all can do multiple things, but in doing so don’t try to do them all at once or learn them all at once. And don’t get stuck trying to learn every little detail about your skill and become a “master” only to realize you’ve actually learned very little of how to do anything. Because the majority of skills you pick up or attempt to learn have within them multiple skills to learn and master, but not perfect.

Evel Knievel stated:

I think if you have ability and talent in one way, you have it in all ways. I’m not a jack of all trades; I’m a master of many. I don’t feel there is anything I can’t do if I want to.

I’m Anthony a digital marketer, video producer, writer, teacher, artist, creative, and jack of all trades, but more importantly a husband and a father.

This article was first published on anthonyambriz.com January 14, 2015.

Let me know your thoughts do you consider yourself a specialist or a generalist?