Yesterday I was discussing with someone the “Jack of All Trades” versus “The Specialist” argument. Then today, Timothy Ferris posted his article The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades.
Tim’s article was the catalyst, telling me I needed to write about this. I fully support being a Jack of All Trades, as I feel I am one.
Being a Jack of All Trades broadens your horizons.
Knowing one subject in its entirety is enviable, known as The Specialist. However, if you know a subject to the exclusion of all else, your usefulness is limited. On the other hand, having limited knowledge on many subjects allows you to include yourself in many more discussions. The more you know, the more people will talk to you; whereas, if you know one subject very well, you will only be consulted on that specific subject, which is severely limiting and potentially debilitating.
Specialists will not advance as far as Jack’s of All Trades (JoAT’s).
As I said above, if you are the authority on one subject, you will always be asked to focus exclusively on it. Whereas the JoAT will be spread across multiple projects, tasks and areas. A JoAT will make a better manager than a specialist any day of the week.
Specialists are the best employees. JoAT’s are the best managers and Business Owners.
If you are a Jack of All Trades, like I know I am, do not fret. You are in the best shape as you can handle most of what is thrown at you. Sure, the resident “programming god” might be able to out code you, or that “artistically gifted designer” might be better than you, BUT, you are capable of much more than they are. As a Jack of All Trades, your versatility makes you invaluable in many situations. The Specialist might outshine you in JUST ONE area, but you will outshine them in ALL OTHER areas.
You must be a JoAT to run your own business.
Specialists are great, and make sure you hire them for specific tasks you need accomplished. However, to run your own business or work for yourself you must be a Jack of All Trades. No business owner is allowed to focus on one, and only one, thing. If you want to work for yourself as a Web Designer, Programmer, etc. you will not just do your key job function. The Business Onwer is required to be all departments. Finance/Accounting Department, Marketing Department, Customer Service Department, Maintenance Department, IT Department and the list goes on. The JoAT will have no problem handling all these hats stacked atop their heads. That “programming god” you know would be a great employee, but you, the JoAT, must be there to handle everything they can’t.
The “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” is a myth.
Being a JoAT is great, yes I’m slightly biased. The capability to have a conversation with near anyone on almost any subject is liberating and opens many doors. However, being a JoAT does not guarantee lack of mastery. A person may be the best programmer or web designer around, while also being great at handling their own business. Being a Jack of All Trades does no guarantee a lack of Specialization. The difference is that the JoAT is good at many things, while only being great at a few.
Leverage your JoAT abilities out in the world.
Personally I’ve had conversations with people from high technology to janitors. I have knowledge on both subjects. I love technology and I’ve cleaned buildings. Being a Jack of All Trades will help you in every part of life. Make sure you use your abilities. Your vast array of knowledge is what makes you special. Do Not be ashamed of it.
Remember: “The Specialist will always be the best in one area, but you, the Jack of All Trades, will be better in many areas.”