Specialization isn’t always a good thing. Photo from 1951 assembly line.
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 — “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.
It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect.”
Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre?
Not at all. Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.” Hogwash. Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year.
4) In a world of dogmatic specialists, it’s the generalist who ends up running the show.
Is the CEO a better accountant than the CFO or CPA? Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals” are called such.
3) Boredom is failure.
In a first-world economy where we have the physical necessities covered with even low-class income, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs drives us to need more for any measure of comparative “success.” Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy. Generalizing and experimenting prevents this, while over-specialization guarantees it.
2) Diversity of intellectual playgrounds breeds confidence instead of fear of the unknown.
It also breeds empathy with the broadest range of human conditions and appreciation of the broadest range of human accomplishments. The alternative is the defensive xenophobia and smugness uniquely common to those whose identities are defined by their job title or single skill, which they pursue out of obligation and not enjoyment.
1) It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense.
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.
Why take their advice?
Here is a description of the incredible Alfred Lee Loomis, a generalist of the highest order who changed the course of World War II with his private science experiments, here taken from the incredible portrait of his life, Tuxedo Park:
Loomis did not conform to the conventional measure of a great scientist. He was too complex to categorize — financier, philanthropist, society figure, physicist, inventor, amateur, dilettante — a contradiction in terms.
Be too complex to categorize.
Look far and wide. There are worlds to conquer.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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405 Replies to “The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades”
In investment, Warren Buffett dislikes diversification because you are choosing to add second rate stocks to your portfolio instead of more first rate stocks.
A skill can’t be added to linearly, so developing another skill is time well spent – assuming it will be used.
General Practitioners (Family Doctors in the USA?) are being valued more now than in the past, as the specialist forgets the broad basics of medicine in the quest to delve further down into being a jack of only one.
Great article, even though it appears to be over two years old.
But as a JOAT myself, and seeking work right now, I’m not finding any opportunities for the generalist, even as I agree with the points made here. It seems jobs out there fall into one of two categories:
* Extreme specialization. Some specific job that the applicant has spent years training and studying for, and several years’ experience doing.
* Extreme dummies. Basic labor, for people who are neither specialists or generalists. They don’t know anything about anything.
Thank you Tim – I have always thought (somewhat negatively) of myself as a Jack of all trades – this makes me feel much better.
I propose that while the jobs to be had out there are often for ‘Extreme specialists’ or ‘Extreme dummies’, it seems likely to me that the ‘People Doing The HIring’ are Jack-Of-All-Trade’s, running their own business and creating their own careers.
I’m one of them 😉
I accept that, although, I’ll theorize that JOAT isn’t really what makes for your success. It seems to me that most successful business owners have a knack for working with people: finding good employees and business associates; inspiring the team to produce good work, and to do a lot of it; solving problems that come along; finding good deals from outside sources; “selling” yourself, your ideas, your products/services, etc.. I suppose it helps to be a JOAT to accomplish those things (don’t want to be perceived as naive or a dummy about anything, or be taken advantage of due to your naivete…) but JOAT isn’t what makes it “happen”. It’s those other “people skills” that are of greatest importance. A JOAT without that can’t run a business, unless it’s a one-man (or “mom and pop”) operation.
So how about this: Be a JOAT, but only if you think you can be a successful people-person leader, too. Otherwise, be a specialist.
According to Michael Gerber (E-Myth), one should be a Jack of at least 3 trades. (But the 3 really encompass many sub-skillsets, including being a “people-person”).
Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician.
I’ll buy that a JOAT will do better in this economy… specialization only works in really large companies that have created, (and can afford) positions with idle time.
From my own experience:
One could never be an “enterprise level systems integrator” without being a JOAT.
One could never be an “enterprise level solutions architect” without being JOAT.
I’ve seen specialist fail at this for years, because they can’t see the entire picture… they only see what they specialized in.
The ones who only specialize do the work but leave a “mess” behind them when they leave.
Having a lot of width and depth on key items is what I have be successful. Leadership/”People-Skill” is definitely one to go deep on but certainly not the only skill needed, IMHO.
I believe the same is true for any Entrepreneur.
They have to see the entire picture, and be a good leader to boot… it is no wonder leaders are so few compared to the masses… it is pretty demanding stuff!
Infinite thanks for such a well-written, fresh perspective. I have been a jack-of-all-trades my entire life and have followed numerous pursuits- softball, vocal jazz, choir, cross country, guitar, painting, writing, photography, piano..(you name it), and have received opposition, discouragement, and disapproval from the majority of the people that I know. How many reading this can relate to being called everything from a “quitter” to “indecisive”? Well, you’re correct, Mr. Ferris, we are NEITHER.
In fact we are the most qualified sort of people because we bring rich variety to everything that we do. I’ve always known that being a JOAT was the right thing for me, so I followed my heart and have reaped extroardinary benefits. I am considered by myself and others an excellent softball player, vocalist, and writer. Additionally I am a very good runner, guitarist, and volleyball player. I relay this to verify that IT IS POSSIBLE TO SPECIALIZE (I.E EXCEL) AT ONE OR MORE THINGS WHILE STILL BEING A JACK OF ALL TRADES. Ferris is correct in stating that the term “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” is indeed artificial pairing when looking realistically at the 80% 20% rule; it is my guess that fellow JOATs work very hard at a multitude of subjects, thus outperforming the lazy specialist.
One thing that’s great about JOATs is that we’re fearless- and simply don’t conform. I’d personally prefer to have personal satisfaction with what I do (whatever it is) than become someone else’s robotic-performing-monkey just so that I’m deemed “sufficient”. Haha.
A million thanks to you, can’t wait to read your book!
The modern music industry is a perfect example of how a specialist can sometimes be less valuable. You can have a PhD in music but you will never make as much of an impact as Ke$ha, a drunk blonde who’s screams and moans are fixed with pitch correction software and auto tune. Most pop songs are made of almost the same chord progressions, so to make a hit would require probably a few hours of learning. So how does someone like Ke$ha make tons of money, influence fashion, have the most downloaded song in history, and be an all around bad ass? It definitely was not becoming a specialist in music. I seriously doubt she is a marketing expert. Not a dance expert. I believe behind all of the marketing(drunk slut party hoe) Ke$ha has probably learned how to blend in to many fields of the music industry.
Hey Spencer, cool comment man, and well-timed for me 🙂 Though I may not personally love encouraging others to subscribe to the views Ke$ha presents in her songs, I do agree that she seems to have learned to blend many of her personal gifts, personality traits, and resources to create societal ‘success’ for herself, and I love it. I find many celebrities and entertainers are excellent examples of people who’ve blended a significant number of interests into one successful ‘career’. Which is awesome. Ke$ha is a very poignant example (because she is incredibly hot right now,) and my friend Adam and I banged out an acoustic cover of TikTok just yesterday ( gogo two guys singing Ke$ha 😀 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPNkCWLfmGM )
“So how about this: Be a JOAT, but only if you think you can be a successful people-person leader, too. Otherwise, be a specialist.”
>> Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill <> Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy. <> It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense. <<
Exactly. Many people don't understand why we like to invest time in learning things that have no apparent and imminent benefit. And they define benefit only in material means 🙁
What happened to the motto "learning for the sake of learning"? And, is it not benefit enough to keep the brain cells working and alive? I would wish people could understand the joy when you walk through a group of tourists and can pick up words from different languages, even if only a few 🙂
I wrote too much … so long.
Oh, bummer .. something happened to my previous post. I think we are not supposed to use angle brackets. Sorry about that !!
– Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill
Exactly. For instance all the things we have to learn at school. I think we loose a lot of time with the wide-spread 12 year public school system. How many times do we have to learn the same grammar rules over and over? They don’t change each year for God’s sake. The same with history, geography, etc.
There are only a few courses that need more time to understand thoroughly, but all the time we have during our school years are not used wisely. They try to teach skills and knowledge in the same way, which is utterly wrong.
And what about all the the courses they should teach, but for some reason are abandoned from the curricula, such as logic, rhetoric, etc. How many times do we encounter people, grown-ups they believe themselves to be, who speak and ‘reason’, but make no sense at all.
In the East they had an all-round education system in the past. We had theologists who mastered many of the Islamic studies alongside with mathematics, astronomy, medicine, architecture, … Unfortunately, these days are gone.
– Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy.
Exactly. Dostoyevsky described this beautifully in one of his books .. I think it was The House of the Dead. It was about how meaningless work can crush the spirit of a man.
I think many students and academics can relate to this. How many times during a PhD study are we asking ourselves, what purpose it all has and why we have to work 2-3 years on a very specialized problem to get an incremental improvement that will benefit only a handful of people if any. I wrote about this in my tiny post “bugs in writing”.
My dream is to see the days when there are going to be platforms where real people state their real problems and others work on solving them.
– It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense.
Exactly. Many people don’t understand why we like to invest time in learning things that have no apparent and imminent benefit. And they define benefit only in material means 🙁 What happened to the motto “learning for the sake of learning”? And, is it not benefit enough to keep the brain cells working and alive? I would wish people could understand the joy when you walk through a group of tourists and can pick up words from different languages, even if only a few 🙂
I wrote too much … so long.
I encourage my children to be jack and jackie of all trades and not just for financial reasons but the intellectual stimulation and always telling them, Never stop learning. It is fun and so rewarding. Learning is like going into a candy store if one enjoys candy, where does one start? Great tips!
Awesome post Tim. I love it!
🙂 Thanks, it’s really motivated me to just go out there and try out new skills. Venture out of my specialization and experience something (I’m an entrepreneurship student)
I’m thinking of learning how to cut hair. (hahaha, I’m sounding like a Zohan right now) and maybe learn how to do crafting. There’s many things I’m eager on learning how to do.
Keep it up Tim! 😉
In the middle of Four Day book right now and love it. Period. Very focus, very informative and motivational.
My Blog post-specific Comment/Question:
At first blush, this on-line article tends to be a bit at odds with the section in the book about focusing on current strengths vs. working to improve weaknesses and how the latter just makes you mediocre as it does not serve to leverage ones strongest skills.
Would be curious to get your thoughts/comments on the balance between these two ideals/maxims/principles for my edification.
A new blog-follower/book fan
The antidote for being a specialist is to be an entreproducer. This is the most profitable life model and the most exciting.
First of all what is an entreproducer?
An entreproducer is similar to a Hollywood producer mixed with a traditional entrepreneur.
Hollywood producers are a perfect example of why one should strive to be a generalist. Yes, there are thousands of people who can write better scripts, can crunch more numbers on an Excel spreadsheet or animate Shrek’s facial expressions but the producer is the king of the castle. A producer needs to understand both creative and commercial appeal. The producer needs to have the creativity to buy a great story with memorable characters and place the right actors in that story. Secondly, the producer has to be able to understand whether or not a movie will sell prior to raising money from investors.
The ideal person for the 21st century will be a creative type that can grow their own food, do electrical wiring, repair diesel engines, code HTML, speak multiple languages, and have excellent leadership skills. Oh, being able to ride a horse will help too!
Posting this comment excessively late, but…
I enjoy being a “Jill of All Trades” because when the economy gets crazy like it is right now, I can use some of my other general skills to maintain my business and employment options. I have found that this way of “working” has created a situation where I am less likely to burn out and am always exercising my brain. And unbelievably, I mastered “specializations” and created a consulting business out of all my general knowledge of specialized trades. It CAN be done and be done well and profitably.
I do appreciate the specialist, however, especially in the sciences. These people do AMAZING work and never get a book deal or end up on Oprah and yet they are researching and discovering things that make our lives better everyday. Major kudos and thanks to these dedicated professionals.
On a sad note, many of my former friends never understood my need to have such varied interests. (They wanted a good, safe government job and then spent endless nights worrying about retirement and how much money they needed to be comfortable.) Nevertheless, in creating this way of life for myself, I hope I have found some kindred spirits out there! (Hopefully some of you posting on Tim’s fabulous blog.)
Tim – Keep the dialog going my friend. You are doing more than you could ever know for so many people out there who want a different way of life!
Hope to see some of you on my travels!
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert Heinlen”
Then again … maybe we cannot choose. Maybe each of us just needs to find the path that works!
Early in life I was often asked, ‘How many horses can you ride at one time’?
My response always was, ‘Very True…time to focus on one thing’.
Although something inside me always had to come up with new ideas and learn new things. And later I realized those who rode only one horse had all their eggs in one basket and were typically broke.
Hats off to being a ‘General’ and long live this post!
It’s a relief to see a positive comment about being a generalist. I’m still a teenager, but I notice the the great advantages of being a generalist while doing a gig some time back (Behind scenes tech during School Play). During the gig my instructor had to leave out for about 6 hours before the play and handed all of her duties to her apprentice. Her apprentice was so overwhelmed she had given up. Though I was younger than the apprentice(4 – 6 younger I can’t remember) I was able to completely direct and work for 5 hours until the job was done. Now I hadn’t told the director about how I was multitasking between everything when her apprentice didn’t, but I was okay with that. I wasn’t perfect and couldn’t see the detail in anything, but I could see the big picture of anything with ease. This was purely because of the great amount of exposure I had between the ages of 0-12. It’s the same with my math and science subjects in school. I really only know the basics like (+,-,*,division,squt, exp, derivatives, integrals, inf, and limits) in math and things like (Reactions, Force, drivers, directors, amplifiers, Simplifier, containers, converters, timers and distributors). Which are simple enough for everyone to learn, but I’m always called smart because I can pick up on any concept that would use those principals faster than others who don’t know much about them Even though I know I’m not that smart.
I recently told my mother and father that I wanted to become a generalist, they both said it was crazy. Then if a teacher were to ask me what I wanted to become when get I older, I would say “A generalist” and they would look at me strange. I say it again it is a serious breather to see the pros of generalistic( I know it’s not a word-yet).
You aren’t crazy, but you’re wrong. Sorry folks to rain on the parade here, but you’re wrong.
I’ll prove it: go to Monster.com, and search for “generalist” or “jack of all trades.” Good luck.
Kevin, your high school play isn’t the world of work. The world of America 2010 is such that you must have education and experience in some field, to earn an income greater than about $15/hr. You could be a successful generalist in a third world country (or America 1920) but not here, not now. Nobody’s going to hire you for that, nor can you open up a business doing it. Not that alone, anyway.
That’s not to say that having varied interests and skills isn’t a good thing to have, enriches your life, keeps things interesting, makes you wiser, makes it possible for you to do some tasks yourself rather than hiring others, etc. But that’s not how you’ll earn a living. You’ll earn a living by being really good at something in particular. That’s what other people will pay you for, just like you pay other people for their specialized skills (right?).
It’s been mentioned in this thread that some managers and business owners are generalists, and that’s true, but again, that’s not why they’re business owners and managers. They’ve reached that success because they’re good at running businesses, which includes “people skills” (leadership, discipline, inspiration, etc) money smarts, developing innovative business strategies, and their own discipline to work a whole lot of long hours, at the same job, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. And a lot of them do indeed have education in business, accounting, management, and at least some education in whatever it is they’re managing.
Bottom line: make sure you’re excellent at doing *something* that others are willing to pay you for. Being somewhat good at a lot of different things won’t cut it, if you want to earn a decent living. People will pay you more, the better you are at providing some particular product or service. If you’re a natural leader, then that’s your specialty (and do what you can to enhance that, such as work experience and education).
Let’s see, Admittedly, your comment “Don” was set in the year 2010. So you are obviously deprived of foresight. It’s just unfortunate you negated a young kids perfectly rational and insightful post–as well as all the rest of us (“you are wrong”.) So, maybe at the time you wrote your post you saw no generalist or cross-functional managers when you searched Monster (not the best job search engine, imho btw) but you failed to read the tea leaves that the rest of us were hinting at. If you merely google “generalist positions” today, you get 5.7M hits. There are a large number of websites that are devoted solely to placing generalists, either that or have divisions that are. Who knows where this will lead, but I humbly suggest you stay out of the business of coaching children about their futures. Please.
I can’t believe I missed this post for so long. A great article, with at least as great comments. This coming from a professional welder/bartender, sales(auto and guns), flagger, internet marketer, competitive shooter, exceedingly competent rock crawl driver as well as general ohv’er, and marine electrical specialist. And I’m reasonably sure I could survive in the wilderness of the northwestern United States for several days if I had to assuming I had a knife and a fire starter.
I grew up with a father that was a machinist. He had a knack for being able to fix most anything that involved welding or machining, but he could also frame a house, build a deck, or anything else. Because of this, I learned to do lots of things early.
As someone above mentioned, some of us just get too freakin bored to specialize.
Thanks for this one Tim.
P.S. If you ever want to learn to draw and fire a handgun and hit a target from a street holster in under a second. Let me know. I’d be glad to help.
Thank you for reminding me how to tie a full windsor knot in my tie! We’d learned in boot camp (Parris Island) but that was 20 years ago. So, I went on YouTube awhile back and there you were… the author of that cool book I’d just read “The Four Hour Work Week.” Now THAT was a cool surprise.
Also, I’ve used your recommendations for efficiency in my business (“If you need a response within 24 hours, please call Elisha, my assistant…” is one) and at first ticked off some folks. But, my friend, I don’t care because they are nowhere near as productive as I am and I’ve become more productive thanks to you.
Aside from the “Tim is great” tone of this post, as a former journalist as well, I wanted to let you know that I appreciate your stance on your copy – “credit the blog if you can” is laudable and I certainly will.
Count me as an ardent reader and know that any time you want to skydive/swim/run/shoot/learn how to drive a tractor trailer/scuba dive/learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu/ Look into the LEED green building system/ etc… I’d have a blast working with you.
All the best,
The ideal person for the 21st century will be a creative type that can grow their own food, do electrical wiring, repair diesel engines, code HTML, speak multiple languages, and have excellent leadership skills. Oh, being able to ride a horse will help too
apparently in the world we live in, mastering a certain craft is a one way ticket to success. but this notion proves to be true when you are a novice. an employee has to master something or at least be good at something before he gets noticed and be a candidate for promotion. when you rise up the ranks you need to broaden your spectrum by learning other trades to make your own better. =)
Maybe I shouldn’t compare being a polymath to being gay, but in my mind, just as being gay is not a choice, being a polymath is equally not a choice. I mean, I’ve always known I was one, a polymath that is, since I started school.
I just liked diverse subjects and had way more hobbies than the others. There were though and there still are times when I think I have encountered difficulties because of it and I still often think I should specialize in something.
We have to admit, that this article is a FEEL GOOD article – that is all, something to reinforce and validate our choices. It is unfair to say that being a generalist is better than being a specialist or vice-versa. I just think if you yearn to be one you shouldn’t settle for the other because you will be unhappy no matter how successful.
hah. i’m glad to hear that you think its hogwash that people think most things take a “lifetime to learn”. Of course, learning will continue as long as the longer is willing to learn but I get your point.
There are people who just think specializing in something is the way to go. The sad thing is that, they will forget everything else and ignore everything just so that they can focus on specializing in one area.
But learning is such a multi-dimensional process and if we are ever to become educated men and women, then we must have a basic knowledge of all things important in life.
Lol that’s why I joined a liberal arts college.
a lot of these people also tend to get very defensive when you question their knowledge about things outside of their specialty. I guess they live in fear.
I wasn’t sure where to contact you at for asking you about some of the content in your new book, so i’ll give this a shot. I typed in biology in your search box to maybe get an insight about all of the, well, biology involved in your book. I mean I want to know everything about all of the biological processes involved in any one of the topics you cover. I know this can’t be explained in a blog post, but maybe you could direct me to a good book, and not just a everyday biology book would be better.
one of the best blog posts i’ve ever read.
I cannot believe I’ve only just discovered you Tim … where have you been !! 😉
The times I have been told to focus and specialise, I can’t tell you … as if my ability to be pretty OK at a lot of different things (and crave to do more) is bad.
Reading this reaffirms how thankful I am to be me. I do not have the remotest desire to be put in a box or categorised.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Loved this countercultural message! Made me feel OK again to not be so niched out that I’d be out of business when the 6 people who are into that specialty retire or die. Aren’t all good leaders generalists?
I am completely in love with this post – so much so, I’ve bookmarked it for future stalking.
I’ve always taught my daughters to reach as far as they can possibly go – then reach further still. People who teach and preach “specializing” in one area probably do so because their own reach is limited. Either that or they’re a little lazy.
It isn’t healthy for the mind or spirit to box yourself in any way. Thanks for such an eloquent and wonderfully written reminder.
Thank you. I am a jack of all trades because I love to learn new things and get bored after I’ve mastered them. I love to do all things and all of them different. The first time I heard “jack of all trades, master of none” I took it as an insult, but your article has reminded me why I love it.
Actually i agree with all of you as i am a jack of all trades myself.
What i see, understand and experience is jack of all trades will be the one who will be the survivor- out of the survival of the fittest theory.
Jack of all trades will be master of all in the very best manner as our mindset and soul is open. We love everything, good or bad. We do not judge or prejudice.
I really think that with the way the business world is moving, people who are more adept at seeing the inherent “interconnected” of things will be very valuable. I’m sure they already are, but I think their importance will increase as time. I’m not sure of the relationship (exponential vs. linear), but I think there’s no doubt that a relationship exists.
With Love and Gratitude,
I tend to sympathize with what you said because i am like that myself, but I think there is a fundamental difference between being a jack of all trades and a true master. Yes, diversity of experiences and multiple better-than-average achievements are enjoyable, but there is something special about being at the top of the world in something — a feeling jacks of all trades are unlikely to ever experience. Of course, that said, most people are neither jacks of all trades nor masters of anything, so being a jack is still better than nothing 🙂
I feel home. Thank you people 🙂
A proud jack of all trades
Late to the bandwagon but anyhow, this article resonated with me. I guess you could call me a Jack of all trades (or a Jill, seeing as I’m a woman!). I am skilled at various things but not specialised in any one of them. For example, my hobbies include graphic design, web-design, writing, photography, etc. I am good at all, but not outstanding in any of them in particular. It can frustrate me at times because I see someone else’s graphics/website and I think “wow, mine sucks in comparison!” and I feel rather inadequate.
Funnily enough my University degree encompassed many different fields, including ecology, conservation, biodiversity, sustainability, project management, climate change, geology, geography, natural hazards, remote sensing and geographical information systems (GIS). So when I graduated I had skills and knowledge in all of these areas but was not particularly specialised in any one of them. This has had its advantages and disadvantages.
An advantage has been employment. I am currently temping in the State Government (of South Australia, which is where I’m from) in a GIS position. I have noticed that Government departments like employees with multiple skills, especially when your skill includes GIS! It means they can move the person to different positions throughout the business with ease. One reason why I got the job I am in now is because I am qualified to use ArcGIS software and it meant they didn’t have to train me to use it.
A disadvantage is not knowing which direction to take in your career. Sometimes I wish I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I like where I am now but there are other things I wish to engage in (like in the environmental field) but I’m not sure what exactly, I don’t have a ‘job title’ in mind, so-to-speak. But I am only 22-years-old, and it’s likely I might not stay in the one job all my life. Who knows what will happen?
Your article has given me a boost of confidence about being a ‘Jill of all trades’, Tim 🙂 So thank you!
HAHA. I was Electrician-Jack yesterday, wiring lights in the crawl space under my house, and house seal Jack, sealing my vents to stop summer condensation. Got it done, and did a neat job too, but if I’d have paid me electrician rates, the mortgage would be gone. I must have spent 9 hours in 2 days to crawl around and wire 3 lights, 1 outlet and 1 switch, the latter of which I miswired and had to do again.
Thanks for your encouraging words. I am a young entrepreneur and I have always supported the idea of being a “Jack of All Trades”. I believe that pursuing expertise in multiple skills rather than simply specializing in one makes you a much more flexible person than most, which will allow you to seize many different opportunities as they come your way. From my experience, having a substantial amount of knowledge in many different categories has helped me to adapt to my surroundings more effectively and to live the lifestyle that I desire.
All the best,
Awesome post!!! You say above it takes 1 year to become world class at pretty much any skill.
Given your martial arts background, i would love it if you could do a post on applying Pareto law to becoming a specialist at say kung fu or kick boxing in under a year.
It could have a plan of action? Detailed analysis of what factors lead to quick improvement (flexibility, stamina etc..) and a list of recommended exercises!!!
This would be a great read
I am a true believer in learning to do many things well and pride myself in being able to do just about everything in my life myself eg fixing cars, home maintenance, electrical, building, health, diet etc.
A perfect example of this is one of my idols, Chip Foose, from the TV show Overhaulin. He can design, weld, build, panel beat, spray paint and create amazing art works. Each one a skill that many specialise in yet he is probably better than most specialists at each one.
Life would be boring if you focused on just the one thing. Try your hand and live a little.
More power to you Tim.
There is a question I’d really love for you to answer, and one that I think a lot of people would be interested in…
We very rarely hear about all the times you’ve failed. I can understand why it’s not good PR to publicise your shortcomings, but recently I’ve been reading a guy called Preston Bailey’s blog (he’s an amazing event designer) and regularly, he’ll share his biggest mistakes with readers and retell anecdotes of times when his plans have gone awry. This was the most inspirational thing he could have done as it totally humanised him and made his fans (me included) feel like, ‘he screws up too – heaps! so maybe I have a shot at being as good as him’. It was empowering. I’ll always look up to him for being so humble and putting himself out there (especially as some of his worst mistakes were pretty terrible!).
I wonder what your top three mistakes of all time are? and how can your fans learn from them?
Thanks Tim, I really look forward to your response.
p.s – my question is part of a sort of ‘exercise’ from Ramit Sethi based on smashing assumptions. I hope you can smash mine and respond!
Thank you for this article! As an interdisciplinary artist and schizophrenic crafter, this article describes my process to at T! I love to experiment and make different things and play with different materials. My head has always worked like this for as long as I can remember. Even my library which is quite large has everything from history, feminist theory, animal rights, English literature, science fiction novels, philosophy, sociology and children’s literature etc.How boring only ever do one thing! My life is exciting and I keep things fresh. I hope this article helps others understand that creative, innovative and career people are not one-dimensional and can be good at a lot of different things all at once— AND THAT’S A GOOD THING!
“It’s more fun,…”
Finally, someone who thinks like me. Most don’t see “fun” as essential for success. It’s the reason why many don’t have passion for their work.
In reality, it’s more than just about “success”. It ‘s about happiness :).
These are some very good reasons. Keep up the work.
Is it possible, Tim, that you are not really a generalist, but a specialist in learning new things?
Great article. I don’t agree with the point about boredom.
You missed out the reality of meditation and service.
Boredom is usually a emotion lurking around self service/self
Many tasks which may seem boring (like washing other people’s dishes),
are actually very good for us, because it humbles us and puts us in a
frame of mind of serving others. It quietens the crazy mind, and brings the
mind under control, so that it may be used as a tool for doing good
things, rather than being the master of a person. (chaos, unhappiness
The mind can be your best friend, or your worst enemy.
I agree with all your other points completely. Amazing article!
Peace and thank you for sharing this knowledge!
Follow your bliss, serve god and do good things!
I’m 18 and I’m not in college like my family and friends tell me I should be. Taking a year off I’ve discovered many more interests and capacities than I thought I possessed. I’ve always had the hunch that the “jack of all trades, master of none” mentality wasn’t quite true, so I’m very grateful for this article, for the identification of the reasons I was looking for.
I only stand to learn how to orchestrate my band of interests: music, acting, writing, and business.
What would you say is the best way to learn this, Tim?
Landon, over the past few years I’ve worked on over 400 productions as an actor – something I would never had done at your age, but should have!
Why? Because by now I would be a union actor and probably have a better idea where acting fits into the bigger picture of my life’s work. After serving in military and switching roles even then, I’ve also been an IT project manager, real estate agent, business broker, notary, commercial field inspector, mystery shopper, author / speaker, online instructor, videographer.
At 18 you have a lot more room to stumble and learn with a lot more room to learn and try again but also quite a bit of pressure to live up to other’s expectations.
At 46 you have lot less margin for error and possibly more wisdom (hopefully) that you need to live your life your way, but possibly more pressure to fulfill demands and obligations like family.
Recently, I connected with Puttytribe – a growing movement of folks who understand that not everyone is meant to be a specialist. In the end it’s important to connect with those who not only “get” you but also high five your successes along the way.
If you haven’t watched it yet, be sure to check out Steve Jobs’ speech to the graduating Stanford class. It’s a must for renaissance souls – especially because he talks about how taking a calligraphy class in college led to Apple being the first computer company to use fonts, and the rest is history, as they say! Stay hungry, stay foolish,” because “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back!”
I appreciate positive thoughts on being a Jack of All Trades.
Steve Jobs did innovation and leadership. Innovation is often putting together existing technologies in a new way. I do not see this kind of innovation done by a devout specialist.
Specialist are highly needed as well. I have met a lot of people who thrive at this and never seem to get bored with this. Steve Jobs would need those people to carry out his ideas. It’s about finding ones strenghts and weaknesses and getting the most of it.
I’ve thought a lot about this subject because is has some definite practical applications about the way to live your life and I think you make some strong arguments.
I do think, however, that there is a lot to be gained from pursuing ‘mastery’ with at least one skill over years and years. Not perhaps, it terms of improvement in that skill, but the philosophical lessons that walking that ‘path of mastery’ for so long teaches.
An example, when you stick with something that long, you eventually plateau in your improvement. You’ve done the 20% that’s really effective and now your ROI for your time is a a lot lower. You CAN move on to the next thing, but there’s something to be gained from continuing to practice your craft goallessly, not seeking improvement per se, but practicing for the enjoyment of practicing.
If you jump around all the time, you never get that.
So a happy medium, for me at least, has been to find one or two things I really enjoy and want to practice ‘all my life’ (e.g. cooking) and continue to hop around pick up other skills in a more ‘jack of all trades’ way.
Another lesson though was that you can also pursue mastery with the sort of ‘meta-skill’ of learning new skills. If you consciously practice the…practice…of learning new skills all your life you get the benefits of mastery there and all the benefits of being a jack of all trades that you mentioned above.
I was feeling kind of down thinking I’ll never be better than mediocre and reading this made me feel a little better. ty.
Interesting observation, but, da vinci may not be the right choice because he might be a ‘master of many’.
Da Vinci being a master of many is exactly the point, making him the perfect example. It’s still possible to dominate many fields.
Another good example, closer to these days, is Bruce Dickinson: Iron Maiden lead singer and professional airline pilot (to be honest he is even a good author, check out his books)…
I totally vibe with this, I could never see myself pigeoned holed into one thing, even as a dj I am into many different forms of music which keep me excited. I would be so bored with one style of music. A great example is being a film director, a good director has to know a lil of editing, acting, camera operations, lighting, bookings, catering, fashion, make-up, etc to create a masterpiece of a film. A specialist would fail in such an endeavor. Same holds true of a conducter of an orchestra. As in life you will have those that are generalists and some that are specialists, I think finding which one excites you the most is the path one must be aware of. Great book BTW just started reading it!
Joe Lewis (RIP Joe!), an American pioneer in Karate (1974 heavyweight champion), won more titles in his 17 year fighting career than any other Karate fighter. He was chosen in 1983 by his peers as the “Greatest Karate Fighter of All Time”.
All that started after he received his black belt in seven months. His sidekick was the best in the business and in many tournaments won every single point with only one technique…the side kick.
Kicking the asses of “specialists” with the times the experience …my kinda guy.
Hi, everyone. On an impulse, I just looked up Jack of all Trades today and it took me to Tim’s blog and consequently all of you. I also am a devout generalist with good work history and credentials. I have proven myself by being a mere Bachelor level educated curiosity –leaving many one-eyed and degreed engineer coworkers in the proverbial dust. Which brings me to a lament about something that was a constant source of annoyance and which I can imagine some of you know and understand. The business jealousy and disrespect from engneers and PhDs (and other certificated “experts’) toward the minimally degreed generalist is so widespread, unproductive, and quite often ad hominem.
I’m an example of one mid level in a continuum of what we all can reach and surpass if given the opportunity. And, I belielve that all of the generalists commenting here are heroes in their own right. Unfortunately, Our society largely doesn’t integrate folks like us very well. People say, “if they made people lots of money, they would hire them.” Unfortunately, we don’t do what’s best for us as a people more often than not –because of lots of things, but it ends up being about ego and insecurity, usually. So we often suffer from the same thing from others we as individuals have often worked to overcome, fear of risk or the unknown.
I lucked out and was close to someone who started a company. She hired me almost immediately to lead her Design R and D, which I did for 12 years as one of 3 Directors. I made 6 figures for 9 of those 12 years before the company was bought out. The founder is long gone now and the new company had trouble deciding what to do with me. They seemed to think laying me off was OK, though. I am currently building my 4th private business but now having trouble narrowing down my offerings… because it feels unnatural to me.
I am so glad to have found this site and read what some of you have written about your experiences. Thanks for making my day.
sorry left out my name in the first post. Joatoaj is “Everett”
Great comments on here, I am in good company!
I’ve always thought the idea of Jack of All Trade’s was the right life path and guess I’ve been a”generalist” my whole life. I love the best that life has to offer and want it all, basically all the time. It seems I am not alone.
My experience has been that society thinks of the Jack Of All Trades as a poor vagabond. But it’s also been my experience that it is often best to be on the other side of the fence than everyone else.
Thanks for the encouragement, Tim and everyone.
Certainly an interesting perspective on the Specialist – Generalist question and probably one of the few ones that makes some great points for being a generalist.
Great post over all and makes great points, however I still think it is best to have a wide spread general knowledge and specialise in a few aras that is of most interest to the individual or company.
Needed to hear this. I’ve been facing a lot of judgement of people saying that I should only focus on one thing.
Would it be possible if I share this post on my blog?
So true Tim.
Hello all, despite the generalist dissatisfaction with rampant misunderstanding and lack of serious consideration on many fronts, (for the most part), anyone else out there having problems with the green background of the text? I realize I’m now in a even smaller much maligned subset of generalists– the renaissance colorblind. I was thinking about the likelihood of this being a problem with one of the few web conversation that I really have enjoyed!… I laughed!
Thanks for never failing to help me feel less hopeless about my chances for getting another job.
Regards to all.
(But seriously, any other colorblind folk having a problem here?)
For all ( colorblind ) who has difficulty reading, Do the following :-
Click Edit Menu then click “select all” or simply use “ctrl+ A”.
thanks, that worked great. Now I can read!
Makes a lot of sense. I completely agree.
I arrived to the same point of view, and applies to every field. Take for instance Mixed Martial Arts, you have to excel in every field, and that doesn’t mean that because you know everything, you do not master the different parts.
A boxer could be better than a mixed martial artist in fencing, but I doubt it would be better in MMA fight, but the MMA fighter, could go for both fights with better chances of success.
The same applies for business, and even more, because the generalist can outsource the specialists, but the specialists would have no idea of what to outsource, since they do not see the whole picture.
That’s the reason why I left finance department after 4 years. I prefer to enjoy working, learning and having different experiences, than a normal, predictable, specialized, linear life.
Can I also add that specialising also doesn’t guarantee you becoming a master at all anyway.
True! A reason more to enjoy different things and at least have a great time!
Great blog post! It’s 2013, and I think this is becoming more true each day!
I agree wholeheartedly that in running a business, breadth of knowledge rather than depth of expertise is most helpful.
I’m curious though who the Renaissance men and women are in the business world today? I was really impressed by Bryan Goldberg’s piece on this subject in Pando Daily titled, “You don’t want experts. You want jacks-of-all-trades”: http://pandodaily.com/2013/03/22/you-dont-want-experts-you-want-jacks-of-all-trades/
Worth a read. Other than this guy, who else fits the bill? Steve Case? Jay-Z?
Hey all. Thanks for the link, Ryan.
something came to mind the other day, and I wondered what the context was for Heinlin’s comments as so appropriately stated by an earlier post….
stands repeating I think: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. ” Strong and meaningful words it would be nice to know what he was reacting toward or against at the time. Does anyone know the context for this?
I have swung my pendulum both ways in the thought process on this issue. I think being able to understand where another is coming from is one of the most powerful tools someone can have. If you live in your own little universe you can never relate to others thus never bridge the gap between tech and art, sports and culture, product and marketing, sales and development. When you are exposed to the fears and dreams in others areas you can envision so much more, create and blend things that to a balanced well versed person intrinsically blend.
My favorite book ever was Ben Franklins autobiography but I have also read Malcom Gladwells Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. I found these fascinating. Ben Franklin tried to learn Latin at a young age but failed. He later learned French, Spanish and Italian. He came back to Latin after learning these languages and found it a breeze. The nuances, derivations and other insights he learned from the other languages helped him to come back and master Latin. It was the generalist quests for knowledge of all that led him to become a master of this skill and many.
I can’t completely buy into the 10,000 hours to mastery theory given by Gladwell and have myself been a huge believer in the 80/20 principal. I played baseball from age 3 until 15 but could start on the JV team. I took up football at 15 and was all county within two years in high school and then started four years in college. I went from never doing shot put to being 2nd in the state in one year at 17. 10,000 hours would not have made a small person better. (I’m 6’3 245) Using slow motion video of my own throws in practice was my first look into the 80/20 effect in my own life. Learing Olympic Lifts, Deadlifts, and Squats were some of the others.
The mind is the most powerful tool we have. I become obsessed with subjects, sport, bio’s, careers, etc for periods but just like anything else my enthusiasm wanes. You can push yourself to keep doing the same thing for the rest of your life but why. As far as we know for sure we only go around once. People who buck the trend seem to be much happier Richard Branson starts different companies all the time, Arnold went from lifting, to acting, to politics, to author.
Tim F understands that it’s the ability to reinvent the quench for knowledge that is the secret. When you can reset the quench the passion will follow, with passion comes drive, drive creates intensity and focus, intensity and focus with proper knowledge produce results at an accelerated pace. Results combined with productive choices will lead to a fulfilled existence.
I love to vary my own sports from skiing to mountain biking to surfing. Even if a routine might not be the best a new and different routine in the gym leads to quick gains because it is a refresher for the mind a welcome change to the body. You had previously flattened your bell curve and need to reset it.
The people who reach mastery without being well rounded often are lost without a guide and never learn how to transition or refocus. Look at Bobby Fischer, sports hall of famers, workaholics, former olympic athletes. The ending of one sided perfection is not often pretty. The mind recoils in horror due to never pushing in other directions. I think the mind has many pathways. Exploring each one to it’s fullest will lead to balance, invention and the next modern day renaissance man.
Great article as always
I have listened to your book the 4HWW! Great stuff, but you already know that! I’m in the mist of applying the principles learned in your book. Going on a Radio show hosted by Neil Strauss The Inner Circle. E-mailing Magazine editors, opened a blog (that sadly needs help and web traffic). The struggle is I have been doing all this in secret and it makes it so much more challenging. If you can give me any tips on moving foot traffic online or be as kind as to post a comment on my page I would greatly appreciate it!
This is my favorite read you have posted here. Thank you Tim.
Awesome stuff in this article. Thank you so much! Everyone else just writes about the downsides of being a jack-of-all-trades, but this is what people really need. I myself do everything from auto repair, to web development, and everything in between. Keep up the good work!
This was really funny and logical , I loved it . Having said that , it dint require to ridicule the idea of mastering just one thing . Some who have read this are mistaken in thinking that it is ok to not be focused . It is ok to know just enough to master one thing and one thing only , even a generalist cant claim to know everything. also nothing is mastered without touching upon various skill sets. To survive itself you have developed social skills, immunity , communication etc.. So while mastering one thing you are not any less by choosing not to master everything . I totally agree with the capacity of the human mind to master many things.Mastering at least one thing I feel should be a worthwhile endeavor for the limitless human mind . Once that is achieved , sometimes people are rewarded with enough security , financially and enough satisfaction psychologically to undertake a spiritual journey of just understanding the true nature of nature. Some great people in history have never felt the need to prove anything. Also nothing guarantees boredom only the incapacity of the mind to entertain itself with yourself.
I trade Forex for a living, and ever since I switched to playing only one pair (GBPAUD), learning everything about it, inside and out, only focusing on mastering that pair, optimizing my money management and the trading strategy specifically for that pair for 6 months straight, I’m now trading it with 75%+ success rate. And every trade makes me 3-6 times more than what I lose.
This was the best decision I’ve ever made, play one pair well, rather than 10 pairs poorly. It gives me an edge over 99% of traders out there. I can come with full confidence, put down 200k on a trade, and walk away within a two hours with 100k in my pocket. All this while hanging out at Nikki Beach, Miami. Easy and stress free.
I’m 101% sure that if I kept playing many pairs like 99% of traders out there due to greed of trade volume over trade quality. I would probably have quit FX very quickly due to the stress, losses and information-overload.
The fact that you become a master of one pair, is a long term asset that no one can take away from you, EVER.
Daniel, It appears to me one could think that you are adding data in support of the ubiquitous concept that specialization is the best approach. However, in reality you are showing that using your best knowledge of a given field–in this case, realizing that trading one vs. many is a good idea –is the best approach for this particular “science.” So? (I apologize is this wasn’t your point.) No one has said that using your best effort or information in a given area isn’t a good idea and I believe my appreciation of the joat approach comes from all the reasons listed above in the many thoughtful posts. However, none of these have ever discounted the idea that you should use your best info when pursuing each interest; that is if you want to be as successful as you can in that particular area. Your comment makes sense in stock trading, but imagine how the cattle breeder would fare if they took your approach? It’s always a good idea to use your best experience/knowledge when approaching a given discipline. However, knowledge of as many areas as interest you will more likely keep people like me, anyway, sharper and more capable/innovative in all of those areas–not to mention the life-is-interesting/engaging factor. Supporting data previously presented.
Tim, this is very refreshing to hear. In always been an admirer of artists with versatile styles eg, Graham Greene wrote books on philosophy, religion, war s well as detective fiction.Ang Lee directed The Hulk, Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi – diverse subjects but wonderful movies . Further home I love cooking, technology, writing detective fiction and being innovative. Gives me hope!
I am so happy that you wrote this article. I actually have been reading the Four Hour Chef, and I love the fact that the book isn’t only about cooking, or “one dimensional”. I absolutely love the way your brain works. People tell me all the time, that me having so many skills and interests it makes me look as if I am all over the place. I dont see it that way though. I absolutely love to learn new things! If something interests me, I will try it. Thanks again Tim Ferriss! You give me HOPE. I will now refer to myself as the Jack of All trades, Master of many.
I’m glad that I’ve learned something from jack of all trades,of which will boost my skills…thanks a lot.
Thanks for this analysis. I’ve always thought of myself as a generalist and hated that phrase “master of none” you mentioned. I’ve fretted that Renaissance men were of a bygone era, and that I was born in the wrong time period. Having spent much of my life trying to fit a square peg (me) into a round hole (career), I’m still trying to figure out how to fit into this world that seems to demand specialization. I recently left my career to start over, and this helps knowing that Renaissance men aren’t a dying breed.
Tim, well done, on this article, and the whole echiladas…….
We are all pieces of this fantastic puzzle (aka multiverse).
Live simply, Be nice to everyone, and Embrace the unknown.
It seems that a major concern of being a specialist in this modern era is the speed with which things change. It doesn’t take much more than a single innovation to render your specialty, or even business, useless.
Pigeon-holing on steroids.
My question is how do I become a “Jack of all Trades, Master of All”? I would love to be this person (I’m sure most people would). I’m the type of guy that wants to learn a programming language and get paid for it, start a YouTube channel, start a band, all at the same time! What ends up happening is I kind of fail at everything. My fear is life isn’t long enough to be good at everything and I’m going to have to pick and choose.
Not so crazy – the key is focus. Take each in turn. To become a generalist you must focus on each area without allowing yourself to be distracted until you have accomplished something. Sometime this means setting smaller targets. Avoid changing targets at random times, but allow yourself to choose widely when the time comes. The successful generalist does not start many projects without finish any. This is a challenge to be overcome.
I am motivated by questions. Often, when working on a project, I will be teased by a curiosity. I can’t focus on what I am doing. So I take five minutes to do some research, but not taking time to read the answers, just finding the material, book marking etc for later. The point is that having an impulse to do many things is normal. Giving in to it is a mistake. Five minutes is my limit. Then I know the idea will not be forgotten. The anxiety over potentially missing something is alleviated and I can continue my current work.
Remember, being a Jack or Master is not about starting diverse projects but finishing them.
Looking back, the times I have been the most miserable were when I forced myself—or was forced—into an overly narrow subject of study, career path, or even blog topic.
I have been blogging about independent language learning (what I call “self-guided immersion”) since 2009, a topic I chose because the “experts” say to “choose a niche”. It’s been a tough truth pill to swallow, but I’ve finally admitted to myself that I am bored with such a narrow blog topic (even though I love languages) because it doesn’t allow me to explore my myriad interests. So a question for you, Tim (or to other commenters):
Would you recommend rebooting my existing blog or just starting a new one? I know that I still something to tie everything together (and I haven’t figured out what that will be yet), but I find great inspiration from those like you and Chris Guillebeau’s “The Art of Non-Conformity” who have managed to pursue diverse interests in a practical, engaging, informative way.
This quote has been a favorite for many years: “Specialization is for insects.”
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
― Robert A. Heinlein
Wow!! This actually puts my life experiences in a different perspective. Great post
This is a good article and since I’m such a variety person, I am okay with being the jack of all trades. One question that I have, though, is how does apply (and how would you apply it) if you’re interested in investing in stocks/companies, investing in real estate and interested in internet marketing?
3 distinct fields so how would would you tackle the 80/20 rule for each field?
Several years ago I was actually pretty upset about not finding the spot where I’m exceptionally good at. That would’ve made some choices easier. Now I’m actually happy about it. After trying many things and becoming pretty good at some it’s really rewarding being able to connect the dots while both observing and acting. Being someone who builds things it’s also really rewarding idea-wise. Just a heads-up for anyone confused by not finding a specialty .
Seriously good stuff. I love the first two.. It just sucks that in order to act on them you must be prepared for judgement by the rest of the population who just marches along with everyone else.
‘Jack of all trades, master of none; oftentimes better than master of one’ – I think that’s the full quote
What a relief. I have been a chef, a fly-fishing guide and instructor, a stylist in photography, a bartender (of course), an esthetician, had an ice-cream shop on the Mediterranean, worked for 2 years in Australia as a consultant in skin care, lived in Belize, Canada…and now, going on 50 years old, I’m in school for Chinese Medicine, on my way to being an acupuncturist. Besides what others have thought, I’ve often been hard on myself occasionally for not staying put and becoming a ‘master’ of something. I have loved every moment, and been pretty damn good at most of it, so thank you for this article – kind of makes me feel better, like I’ve have not missed so much by not being the best at any one thing, just doing them to my satisfaction.
Deeply disagree Tim. Generalist have no pricing leverage. You become a commodity and you get crushed in the market. You may be conflating people like yourself (big thinkers and innovators) with generalists. They are actually really different. True generalists do one thing and do not iterate. You are a generalist but one that can morph and bring your curiousity to bear against different issues. Very different subtypes.
I’ve struggled a great deal, being a jack of many trades, with ‘the world’ seemingly geared toward narrow specialization. Tim, your post has given me great encouragement, thanks!
I friggin love this article. It is so me. Thanks Tim. I’ll pursue my dreams of being a Renaissance man now!
A friend of mine is a Scientist and an all round inspiring person. She is master of one and jack of many. She has a Phd in understanding how cells process fats but her understanding and specialization makes her the most knowledgeable in the world about this small corner. Meanwhile she is into yoga, learning to kite board, tango, cooking, having genuine relationships with friends, Living greener than most, travel and one of the most well balanced people i have ever met. She is not without fault and being french results in her living up to many positive and annoying stereotypes.
She has inspired me to branch out in all my other skills. I am specialised in Visual Effects for the movies. Since meeting this woman i have taken up many of my interests. I now paraglide, dance tango, am studding improv theater and working on being more of a well balanced person.
So i vote master one skill and be a jack of many, for a more full life. you dont know how the extra skills will help your mastered one but at the same time the other skills could just give you a more full life.
And remember that specialists become more and more generalists as their career progresses
Dear Mr. Ferris,
I know your time is limited. I wanted to let you know that I intend to reference your article on a upcoming Tibetan KungFu Podcast in regards to training through a weaving of styles once a foundation is set.
Your work is unique approach to what we try to teach in our kung fu, put internal skills as a priority over external skills. I don’t know if you will get to see this, but I hope it is okay to reference your post. Thank you 🙂
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
— Robert Heinlein
I love this piece…I feel relieved hearing this from someone I look up to and admire in so many ways. I have a lot of interests and I feel I haven’t fully pursued many of them because of the “master of none” stigma in the back of my mind, with a dab of not following through here and there. I must say the whole desire to want to learn other things of interest is dampened by my own thinking (conditioned I guess) that I won’t be able to do it as well as needed to be considered good or mastered in the specific area of interest. This leads to my internal doubt and questioning of the value it will bring. I will be making it a goal now to master the different things I would like to do or explore. I’ve been called many things…a dreamer and a loser are 2 that I’ve used the most as motivation. The specific business pursuits I’ve endeavored and had the most success with are usually the times I’ve felt like my back was against the wall and ready to collapse in on me, an overwhelming fear of failure, and then somewhere toward the peak…a moment of clarity…followed by a change in overall perception…in these times I can remember the specific moments that I decided to turn the fear into a clear and focused massive amount of action to achieve the specific goals. Articles like this remind me of these times….I’ve failed many times and expect to fail many more but look forward to this journey and the successes from them. Thank you again for this very inspiring article!!! You’ve given me a renewed energy to tackle some of the goals I have. I am perfect at nothing but I know I can be good at many which is what I desire anyways. Sorry for leaving a book…I was very excited and inspired after reading and felt the need to express it and show appreciation!!!
In fact, what you say makes much sense because if you have skills in all kinds of fields (still being a pro in a few), it’s easier to see the big picture and start taking the right decisions.
In my opinion, it’s a lot more fun to be a jack of all trades!
Ticks me off that it’s becoming increasingly impossible, and not just impractical. A specialist has only a tolerable AMOUNT of change to deal with, even if the rate of change is exponential. Specialties are getting smaller and smaller. The eye doctor can certainly do an eye exam – but specializes in retinas! I envy the guy and his staff for being able to just service patients and make a living. Keeping up with you, Tim, is a full time job in and of itself!
Tim! After I read this, I was looking to see if it wasn’t written in 1974, instead of 2014. I’m not sure that a serious generalist (and being one for 40 years) is today actually able to both make even a low-class income and still keep up – until in whatever specific area s/he is going to change the world is ultimately decided. And I do not know anyone who would hire a true generalist today for anything – because the world is completely beyond comprehension of the common employer/manager – leaving them to trust “the expert” (specialist) in everything. Even if it’s someone they have to train like a monkeybot. Eventually the high-potential generalist must stop being a generalist and decide precisely where and how s/he can, should, and ultimately has to “enter” (= ultimately to rule which “dominion”.) Not an easy process today – given the river rapids of change and “flattening” of the world. Even so – this was already an article of reality when Thoreau railed about the poor fellow who persists too long with only potential. I see the reason is that solving problems – even well – is never done, and operations are never entered (Yikes! I am showing my own specialty now.) Operations are by definition specialized – you have said so many times – and it’s why you like to have crossed into a resonance between the two as a “startup advisor” and general blogger – because of your audience outlet. This (btw) is simply axiomatic of sociological quantal structure. Which until I get acknowledged begrudgingly as the #1 world expert on – who the hell cares what I say? (I’m working on that – and you never let me down with some jewel or three.)