5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades

by Katie Ledger on November 26, 2007 · 3 comments

in Uncategorized


Tim Ferriss says “Specialization isn’t always a good thing”.

Are the days of Da Vinci dead? Is it possible to, at once, be a world-class painter, engineer, scientist, and more?
“No way. Those times are long gone. Nothing was discovered then. Now the best you can do is pick your field and master it.”
The devout specialist is fond of labeling the impetuous learner — Da Vinci and Ben Franklin being just two forgotten examples — a “jack of all trades, master of none.” The chorus unites: In the modern world, it is he who specializes who survives and thrives. There is no place for Renaissance men or women. Starry-eyed amateurs.

Is it true? I don’t think so. Here are the top five reasons why being a “jack of all trades,” what I prefer to call a “generalist,” is making a comeback:

5) “Jack of all trades, master of none” is an artificial pairing.

4) In a world of dogmatic specialists, it’s the generalist who ends up running the show.
3) Boredom is failure.

2) Diversity of intellectual playgrounds breeds confidence instead of fear of the unknown.

1) It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense.

He goes on to say, “The jack of all trades maximizes his number of peak experiences in life and learns to enjoy the pursuit of excellence unrelated to material gain, all while finding the few things he is truly uniquely suited to dominate.

The specialist who imprisons himself in self-inflicted one-dimensionality — pursuing and impossible perfection — spends decades stagnant or making imperceptible incremental improvements while the curious generalist consistently measures improvement in quantum leaps. It is only the latter who enjoys the process of pursuing excellence.

Don’t put on experiential blinders in the name of specializing. It’s both unnecessary and crippling. Those who label you a “jack of all trades, master of none” are seldom satisfied with themselves.

Be too complex to categorize.

Look far and wide — there are worlds to conquer”.

I want to agree with Tim but believe there is room for both. I think of myself as a bit of a jack of all trades and certainly the enjoyment factor plays highly. But do we ever really think we have mastered something – isn’t there always something to learn?


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bruce Lynn November 30, 2007 at 8:07 am

I would add to the list of reasons the benefit of Cross-fertilisation. Diverse experiences help people to look at different problems in different ways and apply a range of what might on the surface appear to be completely unconnected areas.

As with many things in life, I think the answer is a the right balance between Generalist and Specialist for each person in each context. I often coach people to strive to be ‘Jack of all trades, and master of *one*.’

2 Katie Ledger December 2, 2007 at 1:44 am

I think you are right Bruce and indeed I find that I now approach challenges in new ways that i wouldnt have considered before. like your end thought!

3 Shaye August 20, 2008 at 9:08 am

Sorry, Katie, I completely agree with Tim. I think there needs to be a push towards being generalists rather than mastering one thing. We live in a very competitive, complex and constantly changing world ruled by the creation and sale of businesses and unless you are a business owner, you’re not in control. While mastering one area may get you one job, but what will you do when you get downsized and there are no other jobs like that available? What if you can’t get a job in what your master’s or PhD is in? well, there’s always McDonald’s…In a world of “find your passion” and “do what you love” and “pick one thing and do it until you die” it is refreshing to know I am not the only one that thinks the ways of the current working world is limiting and frustrating. I realized I wanted a lifestyle rather than a job something similar to what I had as a student in school: to do 7 different things for 3-4 months, self-managing my assignments and then graduate to the next level. In the real working world you’re supposed to do the same thing for 80 years, and you don’t need 80 years to “master” what that job requires, maybe only a few months. Then what? Do it again and again! I envy actors who can have 10 jobs in one year, really. My work experience has been aggravating and I have changed jobs a lot which is why my true resume is over 3 pages. I am scrapping the resume and HR driven world and am in the process of becoming a “Jane” of as many trades as I can because that is the only way I think I could be happy. (And no I do not have ADD). I am grateful for Tim’s article.

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