“A jack of all trades and a master of none” is the famous saying. From early on in school we get trained to specialize. Being a jack of all trades is something bad, so you don’t want to be that person. You should be a master in one field, they say.
I like to flip this and say: “A jack of all trades and a master of some”.
I believe in personal growth by doing something I haven’t done before. By creating a personal lifestyle that constantly motivates me to create something new, I automatically gain new experiences and knowledge in many different fields, which I then apply not only to my professional projects, but also to how I live my life in general.
While specialization has its own benefits and has long been seen as the ultimate path to success, there is a new unique wave of generalists who challenge the status quo.
For me diversity means strength. Gaining new perspectives sharpens my mind rather than narrowing it with only focusing on one field.
Being a Jack Of All Trades broadens my horizon and allows me to stay fresh and flexible. The theory behind serves me as some sort of life insurance, always ready to do something new. And besides that, it’s just a ton of fun.
Of course, there are a few fields I do like to focus on more than others. But mastering a field does not require your entire life time as some might think.
We often believe that to become a true master in one field we have to know 100% of it. Often these 100% are so overwhelming that we don’t even try. In reality, you will never know 100% anyway (unless its memorizing history).
I like to approach it with the famous Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. The Pareto principle states that for most events, roughly 80% of the desired effect comes from 20% of the causes.
The italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered this principle by observing that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.
Or when Pareto reported that 80% of the wealth is posessed by 20% of the population. The principle itself can be found in many fields, not just economics and is often even more out of proportion and closer to 90/10.
But lets talk about how I can apply this to learning. I can either completely demoralize myself by looking at the 1000 things I need to learn. Or I look at the 20% that will power 80% of the desired outcome, which will get me fairly close for being a master.
Tim Ferris highlights an interesting example in his book “The 4 Hour Body” which I like to interpret here.
Lets assume we like to learn a new language, Spanish.
The Spanish language has an estimated 100,000 words. That’s a lot and it will take you many years to learn them all.
But to have a fluent conversation in Spanish, you only need a vocabulary of approximately 2500 words. This will allow you to observe and take part in more than 95% of all conversations.
Which means, 2.5% in this case will power 95% of the result.
The closer you will get to the full 100% the more time it will take, and the less return on investment you will experience.
Often the last percent are the hardest, and sometimes the most rewarding. But on top if it all we have to know that these last percent are not required, unless your goal is to know 100%. (and there is nothing wrong with that)
Looking at this through the lens of the Pareto principle. I’m certain that “A jack of all trades and master of some” is a realistic statement.
It’s proof for me that “specialization” as we know it today does not exist anymore. Especially knowing that we have every bit of information at our fingertips, everywhere, at any time we want.
I love learning new things, and I hope it will never stop.