The Society that values perfection
You must have surely heard the adage “Jack of all trades, master of none”. This derogatory remark is used to encourage people to stick to one trade and achieve perfection in that field. The society is a perfectionist fanboy. We praise those who have stuck to a particular field and have pursued it through their lives and have become a master in it. They are masters in their craft, push the boundaries of their fields and are the pinnacles of perfection. They are showered with fame and money and people look up to them as their role models.
Contrarily, the Generalists or the “Jack of all Trades” as they are usually referred to as are not well received. They are considered as good for none and failures in life. They are generally kept devoid of well paying jobs and live their lives switching from one job to another. We teach our children not to be like them.
What We Often Forget about the Jack of All Trades?
In judging the Generalists through the stereotypical lense we overlook the advantages that accompany from being a Generalist. Let us have a look at what benefits we get from being a generalist:
- Learning new skills quickly: These Generalists have spent years learning different trades and often have very diverse set of knowledge from quite unrelated background. They can be good at programming and at the same time may be a good chef too. They are usually curious sapiens and don’t hesitate to try their hands at a new skills. All this ensures that they are quick learner than most of the people out their.
- They are inventors who have potential to change the course of mankind: They have shallow knowledge of various fields. They know their basics and are standing on crossroads of various fields. This peculiar position gives them the ability to combine their diverse knowledge from these fields to create something which is remarkable. As Carter Phipps in his book Evolutionaries pointed out that “There are truths that can only be revealed by a generalist who can weave these ideas in the broader fabric of understanding”. This result in them being inventors of inventions that have potential to change the course of mankind. Breadth of knowledge is most important if you want to be an innovator.
- Leadership Qualities: The leaders are expected to manage their troops. They are not expected to be the best but are more often the person with broad range of skills and interconnectedness. Using their diverse knowledge they are in a better position to take decisions considering multitudes of factors and therefore have better chances of success. As Tim Ferris explains “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.”
- Survival in time of Crisis: Think of the Great Depression that plague the Global economy from time to time. All the financial experts, “the specialists in their fields” are wiped out. The Specialists are trained to perform to their best in a particular set of environment. Change one variable and they lose their ability to perform. On the contrary, in such turbulent times, the Generalists survives and thrives. They use their diverse skillsets to secure different jobs and are able to tide over such period.
- Lead interesting Lives: The Generalists are not the people sitting in a cubicle five days a week, cussing their jobs. If they find something monotonous and uninteresting, they switch easily. Their skillsets allow them to work as they like, from wherever they and therefore, they lead a very interesting life.
The World Created by Generalists
Historically, Generalists are some of the greatest inventors. Kepler tried to understand how the planets moved around the sun, based on his understanding of light and magnetism. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin, Picasso and Leonardo Da Vinci are other famous Generalists whose works are recognized centuries after they left for heavenly abode. Charlie Munger, the partner of legendary investor Warren Buffett used his vast breadth of knowledge to make investment decisions that outperform the markets (According to Bill Gates, he has the widest breadth of knowledge he has ever encountered). Simultaneously, Elon Musk is using his diverse knowledge across varied domain to achieve breakthrough in various scientific arenas.
All these arguments points unilaterally to a conclusion that being a jack of all trades in this world is equally great and you can achieve phenomenal success if you apply all your skills wisely.
Also published on Medium.