‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ – just one of those things we grow up hearing; one that many people are so scared of being associated with. Also one that many people seem to take out of context at will.
The most common advice people give me is that I need to focus on one thing, they feel like I do too many different things and I might not reach expert level in any. I however believe, in most of the things I claim to be capable of doing, I perform better than 90% of those who do that as their only activity or profession but that is besides the point. Contrary to what people think, I don’t look at myself as being all over the place. I just think people don’t see the connections I see with everything I do. I also believe my success will be predicated on the fact that I have multiple skillsets.
In fact I was worried about my incessant need to continue adding to my skillset. I feel good about acquiring knowledge and skills but sometimes, it gets overwhelming. I catch myself using StudioOne shortcuts on Photoshop and sometimes, my brain just shuts down and I have to take a few days off before I can get back to work. I talked with one of my close friends about this worry and he put me on to some knowledge that basically said I am on track with the skills acquisition thing given my life goals and the feelings of being overwhelmed are normal.
I have written in the past about the need for us to read entire books and not quotes only, because quotes can easily be interpreted out of the context in which they were written. For example, the original quote is actually:- “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” Formerly intended as a compliment, the phrase means that a person is a generalist rather than a specialist, versatile and adept at many things. In the world right now, the greatest problem solvers have to be generalist.
Most of you have probably heard of a Warren Buffet but very little is know of his partner and deputy and Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger, who is also a billionaire. Charlie is the Crème de la crème of generalists out there.
While Munger has certainly worked long and hard to become one of the world’s top investors, the signature of his success is different. According to his own account, rather than focusing on investment theory like a laser, he has studied widely and deeply in many fields, including microeconomics, psychology, law, mathematics, biology, and engineering, and applied insights from them to investing.
Bill Gates has said of Munger, “He is truly the broadest thinker I have ever encountered. From business principles to economic principles to the design of student dormitories to the design of a catamaran he has no equal… Our longest correspondence was a detailed discussion on the mating habits of naked mole rats and what the human species might learn from them.” Munger has, in short, been the ultimate expert-generalist (Forbes).
I have a tech background and I think fundamentally in systems. How things are connected like classes of data in a database. We hear of things like artificial intelligence and how machines with AI will one day surpass human intelligence (you heard about the computers beating some of the world’s best chess players?) Some even fear the machines will become so powerful and go on to take a life of their own – becoming beyond our control.
Being a generalist is almost like human artificial intelligence. When I make decisions, I am usually pooling from a wide pool of information I have gathered learning about different things which means my ideas come with more depth.
It so happens that we live in a time when it has never been easier to have access to information. What one took 5 years to master some 50 years ago can me mastered in 6 months today. So if you feel like you are all over the place, you just need to know you are doing perfectly fine. The challenge is now in channeling all the skills you know towards one goal at a time. For me, my generalist mind is currently fueling what I hope will become a Fortune 500 creative advertising agency. I bet my knowledge of biology will help me create great ads for pharmaceutical companies while all I have learned about business administration will help me hold a conversation with any CEO. My ability to compose music and take great photos means…I’m sure you get it by now.
We are in the knowledge economy. Stay thirsty my friends.
- Norbert Foy
Tags: Opinion, Entrepreneurship, Self Development