“Jack of all trades, master of none.”
I’m sure we’ve all heard the expression. It’s meant to give value to specialized skills; it’s meant to instill pride in those who dedicate years to doing one thing really, really well.
And I don’t want to take anything away from those specialized “masters.”
But I can still say that the expression is 100% wrong.
For how long can you learn?
It’s true that, generally speaking, the more time you dedicate to a craft, the better you get at it. But there reaches a point where progress plateaus, and the return on investment becomes wasteful.
In our first year learning a trade, every day is a learning experience. The second year, your focus shifts to making it easier, making it faster, making it better.
Most people will spend up to six months getting acclimatized, another six months building confidence. By eighteen months at the absolute most you should be operating at full speed – most people well before that.
And then… you keep operating at full speed? For how long?
By two years you should be doing it with your eyes closed.
By the tenth year, you should probably know it all. Which means, what: you coast for the next twenty or thirty years?
Okay, so you might still learn a bit. But in a 250-working day year, how often can you expect to be surprised? That’s because, for all professions, processes, and investments, you always reach a point where the investment exceeds the payout.
The Pareto Principle suggests that we can expect to receive 80% of our results from 20% of our efforts. You might learn 80% of the skills of a job in the first while, and then take literally decades to learn the next 20%, if ever. The closer you get to 100% – 85%, 90%, 95% – the greater the effort required to get there.
Rather than spending your life chasing a goal that keeps getting further and further away, I say: if you’ve become knowledgeable in an area, set a target for another.
Once you accept that you don’t want to dedicate the years needed to become the 100% master of any one trade, it only becomes natural to dedicate your efforts elsewhere.
If you can keep achieving 80% of the desired results with only 20% of the effort, then that means that you may not become a “master” of a trade in 18 months – but you’ll be pretty darned close.
All the while, you’ll be learning a whole new trade without even knowing it.
The most important trade in the workplace – the one that binds them all together.
And the one that every leader needs.
Evolution of a “trade”
Becoming a “jack of all trades” is a skill, and it’s one that receives precious little attention. It’s a skill that allows you to pull together experience from different faculties, knowledge from different perspectives.
We hear the word “strategic” used a heck of a lot, and most of the time it means being “innovative” or “out of the box” or any other term that sounds generic enough to mean absolutely nothing.
What strategic really means is pulling together everything under the roof and pointing it toward common goals.
If you’re a financial wizard, how can you really know how to deliver operations? If you’ve been a programmer your whole career, how do you transition into leading people?
It’s only by doing many things that we can begin to understand how everything fits together. And it’s only by using that knowledge that we can truly be strategic.
How would you feel about changing jobs – or even careers – every 18 months? What skills do you have that would help? Tell us in the comments below!