Why Jacks Of All Trades Beat Masters Of One

Dylan Chia
Oct 30, 2020 · 3 min read
Photo by Grvault from Pixabay

We’ve all heard the phrase before. Typically used with a negative connotation, it’s meant to imply that having basic knowledge of several subjects is not as useful as having mastery of just one. However, that’s often not the case in reality.

Before exploring that, we first have to consider the origins of the phrase. According to StackExchange, the origin of the phrase goes back a few centuries to 1618 when it was known as “Jack-of-all-trades”. Back then, it simply referred to anyone who could competently perform several tasks of different natures and wasn’t used as a casual phrase.

About a century later in 1721, we have the medieval iteration of the phrase we’ve come to know today — “A Jack of all trades and good at none”. It’s more self-explanatory here and is sort of the ancestor to the phrase we’re familiar with, as the definition matches the impression we’re given when it is mentioned.

Fast forward to the modern-day and the phrase has once again evolved to keep up with the times, as it’s now been stretched out even further. The full phrase is now “Jack of all trades, master of none, though ofttimes better than master of one”, implying that it is indeed better to be a multitalented novice than having just one area of expertise in today’s society. However, why is that?

To understand this, we can use languages as an analogy to help simplify the situation. Assuming English is the only language you know, you’d be pretty safe when travelling as according to NationsOnline, 83 countries have English as an official language. However, what if you’re feeling a bit more exotic and decide to travel to a country that doesn't speak English?

That analogy is just a light-hearted example of why being a master of one can be somewhat detrimental. If you were bilingual or even trilingual, the world can be your oyster when it comes to travel, as you’d be familiar with more local languages that can aid when it comes to communicating overseas.

On the other hand, if you spoke only English, you’d be more limited when it comes to communicating with the locals, which may affect your experiences overall (although that’s not to say you can't enjoy yourself because of that and I'm in no way discouraging any readers from letting that affect your destination decisions).

In the real world, this can also be relevant as factors such as technological advancements and economic situations have affected the validity of certain jobs, and have even caused some of them to be obsolete. This means that not only are some jobs becoming more integrated, but that if we don't learn to swim in such currents, we’ll sink. Basically what that means is that we now have to be multitalented, and adapt and improve ourselves in order to survive.

For instance, imagine the average journalist. In the past, all they had to focus on was getting scoops, arranging interviews, and writing stories. However, due to economic reasons, they might now need to take on additional roles in order to save costs and manpower elsewhere. They might have to help with managing the social media of the news agency, take photos of events, edit said photos, and so on. If they’re unable to cope with the additional responsibilities, they might just get replaced by someone who can.

Overall, while the phrase might have been relevant in the past, it certainly isn’t the case anymore. We’ve since progressed to value people with more talents over a professional in one. We no longer dislike the Jacks of all trades, we aspire to be them now.


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