Jack of All Trades and Master of One

by Krishna on March 21, 2006

You may have heard of the term “Jack of All Trades and Master of None”. This is used in a derogatory fashion to refer to someone who knows a little bit about everything (or perhaps a wide variety of knowledge areas), but has not mastered any particular field of study. The negative implication is that the person cannot do anything perfectly and is useless.

There is another school of thought that suggests that this situation, in fact, may not be necessarily bad, as opposed to “Master of One Trade and Knows Nothing Else”. The train of thought is that by generalization, we have a greater chance of survival in a changing job environment than by a detailed specialization in any particular area.

Therefore, a combination of the two, i.e., “Jack of All Trades and Master of One” would sound like the best of both worlds: Specialize in one field, become an expert, command honor & high salaries, do meaningful work, while being able to switch over to another area if circumstances demand. In reality, this is not quite as easy as it sounds.

The primary problem with this situation is about resolving two conflicting demands on personal resources. To be a master requires intense focus with huge amounts of time and energy spent in being an expert. To be a “jack of all trades” requires, by its very nature, multi-tasking in different areas and spreading out time and effort. How can we achieve this balance?

One way is to start with focusing on being an expert first — make the necessary commitment and effort to achieve a high degree of knowledge and achievement in an area. This will be a significant investment in every respect, including years of one’s life spent. It is vital to choose wisely. Talk with a good career consultant. Understand your interests and capabilities.

Recognize when you have achieved a satisfactorily high level of excellence and stop exerting the same level of effort. In simple terms, understand when you have reached the level where the “law of diminishing returns” kicks in. At this point, split your focus and spread your efforts. You still would devote some percentage of your time keeping up with developments in your specialty, but it will be much less compared to what you did before.

Finally, start learning about areas unrelated to your current skill set or profession. This may be as wide-ranging as politics, science, history, geography, culture or engineering. Keep the learning at a level of interest. The trick is to use books or media tuned towards the novice audience. The Discovery Channel is a great resource. Read books from authors like Carl Sagan and Simon Singh who bring complex subjects to the public.

Being a “Jack of All Trades and Master of One” makes for a great life. As an expert, you are able to do your job well and bring pleasure to yourself and those who benefit by your work. By gaining general knowledge in other areas, life becomes more enriching and exciting each day.

{ 1 comment }

itsmanoj_k1 March 25, 2006 at 1:48 pm

Hmm... a few well known concepts presented in simple language...!

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