The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades (#19)

1951_Plymouth_Assembly_Line___Little_did_we_realize_in_1951_…___Flickr_-_Photo_Sharing_Specialization isn’t always a good thing. Photo from 1951 assembly line.

Are the days of Da Vinci dead? Is it possible to, at once, be a world-class painter, engineer, scientist, and more?

“No way. Those times are long gone. Nothing was discovered then. Now the best you can do is pick your field and master it.”

The devout specialist is fond of labeling the impetuous learner–Da Vinci and Ben Franklin being just two forgotten examples–“jack of all trades, master of none.” The chorus unites: In the modern world, it is he who specializes who survives and thrives. There is no place for Renaissance men or women. Starry-eyed amateurs.

Is it true? I don’t think so. Here are the top five reasons why being a “jack of all trades,” what I prefer to call a “generalist,” is making a comeback:

[You can find the full transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.]

5) “Jack of all trades, master of none” is an artificial pairing.

It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect”…

Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre?

Not at all. Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.” Hogwash. Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year.

4) 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, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals” are called such.

3) Boredom is failure.

In a first-world economy where we have the physical necessities covered with even low-class income, Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs drives us to need more for any measure of comparative “success.” Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy. Generalizing and experimenting prevents this, while over-specialization guarantees it.

2) Diversity of intellectual playgrounds breeds confidence instead of fear of the unknown.

It also breeds empathy with the broadest range of human conditions and appreciation of the broadest range of human accomplishments. The alternative is the defensive xenophobia and smugness uniquely common to those whose identities are defined by their job title or single skill, which they pursue out of obligation and not enjoyment.

1) It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense.

The jack of all trades maximizes his number of peak experiences in life and learns to enjoy the pursuit of excellence unrelated to material gain, all while finding the few things he is truly uniquely suited to dominate.

The specialist who imprisons himself in self-inflicted one-dimensionality — pursuing and impossible perfection — spends decades stagnant or making imperceptible incremental improvements while the curious generalist consistently measures improvement in quantum leaps. It is only the latter who enjoys the process of pursuing excellence.


Don’t put on experiential blinders in the name of specializing. It’s both unnecessary and crippling. Those who label you a “jack of all trades, master of none” are seldom satisfied with themselves.

Why take their advice?

Here is a description of the incredible Alfred Lee Loomis, a generalist of the highest order who changed the course of World War II with his private science experiments, here taken from the incredible portrait of his life, Tuxedo Park:

Loomis did not conform to the conventional measure of a great scientist. He was too complex to categorize — financier, philanthropist, society figure, physicist, inventor, amateur, dilettante — a contradiction in terms.

Be too complex to categorize.

Look far and wide.  There are worlds to conquer.

###

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with over 400 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

396 Replies to “The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades (#19)”

    1. Great link stiff thanks.

      And an awesome post Tim. I consider myself a jack of all trades. I have an eBay business, I blog, I sell info products, I do SEO and even a little bit of web dev and coding…

      It’s great fun because it means I understand how everything works together. Having lots of little income streams adds up and its far more fun than spending all of my time focussing on one thing.

      And you’re absolutely right, the person at the top of the company is rarely the best at the little tasks, they’re just the one who can put it all together!

    2. I sure like the idea of being a jack of all trades. However, based on research done in the field of expertise, one year to become world-class in almost any skill is highly unlikely.

      1. I started learning about alcohol a year ago. I don’t even drink much. But I work in a liquor store now, and I know more about general spirits than most of my supervisors and all of my coworkers. I’ve written a book, I have the material for more books, and I’m starting a website on the topic. It doesn’t take long, with focus, to learn an insane amount about a given topic.

        Being a jack of all trades doesn’t mean you have to learn them simultaneously!

      2. Keep in mind, he is likely referring to appearing world class or ranking world class by the specifics judged. His point is one does not need to be an expert to be “world class”. Personally, I find the one year mark to be much too far out.

  1. Allegedly the Jack of all trades saying is always taken out of context. The full saying is apparently:

    Jack of all trades, master of none, though oft times better than master of one!

  2. Broad ranging interests and knowledge are the keys to innovation. There was an article in the New York Times a while back that talked about the home libraries of some of the world’s biggest CEOs. Steve Jobs was one of the profiles. What were they reading? Try classics. Steve Jobs doesn’t read all of the management and programming stuff you think he does. He reads stuff about life and effective principles for living. Learning “fundamental truths” and applying them to your business will help you succeed. The broader the range of skills and knowledge, the more interconnectedness of ideas, the more innovation, the more success!

  3. Excellent post.

    After hearing the “…master of none” retort from unctous specialists far too often it is refreshing to hear you champion the cause of jacks of all trades.

    Here is one retention tip, a variant of the 80/20 principle, that works well when having to consume large pieces of information:

    Take any string of information; a set of numbers; a lecture; a book; a skill; and invariably one finds that the average person retains the first and last pieces of information most.

    Try it on 3 friends:

    Read off the following string of numbers quickly and ask the listener to repeat back as many numbers as he or she remembers hearing: 79683841762438173 (obviously, any long string will do).

    The vast majority of people are most likely to remember the first three digits and the last three digits, forgetting most of the ones in between.

    Simple solution: Break any string of new information into many smaller bits to maximize “beginnings” and “endings.”

    1. I’ve noticed higher retention when breaking up my reading every 5-10 minutes and doing something like working out in between.

  4. Tim, great post! Yet ANOTHER reason not to go to college. If you ask me, college gets in the way of education. With the amout of information available at the click of a button, we don’t need to pay $60,000 or more to go to a university. I’ve learned more on my own since I fired my teachers than I had in all the years prior!

    1. Disagree with the anti college bit. Community College is a great way to get an introduction to many fields. Where else am I going to find a machine shop, pottery studio, 3d printing lab, robotics lab, and more, all in one place, where I don’t have to have previous experience to get my hands on the equipment?

      Also, we’ll always need specialists, but we’ll always need generalists to connect them.

    2. hii graham..its true dat u may learn online…n not go to college…but d various amt of experiences which u will get at ur college campus…u wont b able to experience those by just sitting online..rite??

      1. You can get 80% of the “campus experience” by just hanging out on campus. *No one* will know you are not enrolled unless you tell them.

        And if you are even smarter, you can get 80% of the benefit with only 20% of the experience. (hint: drunken parties don’t benefit anyone but DUI lawyers and alcohol sellers.)

  5. Tim

    I enjoy your blog and as an”old guy” it’s never too late to learn. Great post and the quote:

    “Be too complex to categorize”

    resonates.

    PS While it’s difficult for a senior Naval officer to work only 4 hours a week, I sure have been able to incorporate many of your techniques and recommendations into my life. Thanks.

  6. I don’t think you can learn a skill that requires muscle memory and be world class within one year. Specifically I am thinking of playing a musical instrument.

    1. As an experienced jack of all trades i can tell you that if you were to take up guitar for example, and devoted at least 1 hour per day for 365 days, you’d be surprised how good you will actually become.

      1. I like this post because I struggle with focus, not in that I get off track of goals for bad things, it’s because I want to do so many other things and I’m able to. I’m a jack of all trades, fast learner, easily bored and also a perfectionist. I’m good at a lot of things, but I only love 1 thing and like 1 thing a lot. Those things are basketball and drawing. I have a terrible dilemma that I’m trying to embrace here haha!

  7. Being a jack of all trades has always scared me. I have so many varying ideas and so many unrelated hobbies that I often think something is wrong with me. But at the same time, the thought of doing one thing for the rest of my life is terrifying. It’s relieving to know that it can be a strength.

    You’re absolutely right that it’s the generalists who run the show. A memorable quote from the “Millionaire Mind” says that the reason incredibly smart and highly talented people often stay relatively unsuccessful is that they “know more and more about less and less.” It’s one of those things I’m trying to come to terms with: getting amazingly good at one thing won’t guarantee me outstanding success or fulfillment.

    1. reading this comment reminds me of myself…made me laugh because my mind life yours struggles to focus on one topic. I have so many random creative ideas, infact the older I get the worse it gets.

    2. Jusy wondering how u did with this attitude the last nearly 10 years. I’m just reading your comment and its like my soul is speaking out of me. [Moderator: # removed]

      Also feeling pumped that I’ll just found so much value in an old article, for internet life reaaally old. In 25 years or so the internet will be so crazy, where u can just reply to a comment by ur grandma ha-ha.

  8. Hello, I would like to introduce myself. I’m a professional organizer. My name is Jacki of All Trades.

    I can hang a shelf, write a set of standard operating procedures, re-arrange your childrens’ toys, build a peg board from scratch, manage your household hazardous waste and recycling and translate it all from English to French and back again.

    I don’t think ONE DARN THING I learned about this business came from sitting on my behind in a lecture theatre. The only thing that my M.Sc. taught me was that I was perfectly capable of learning what I wanted to learn and from whom to learn it. Which I am sure that I could have figured out without spending $$$$ and many, many months.

  9. What do you do when you know a lot of things well enough to work in them, but have no certifications, and not enough experience (the 2-5 yrs required) so that an employer will look at you? Do you have to rely on sweettalk and boundless self-promotion? Not trolling, I really want to know (I’ve read the book).

    1. That’s me, as well, except I do have the required time experience in fashion blogging and related things (web design, as well, but I’m far from as mastery as most working professionally in it), but I am having trouble getting a response even when that specific blogging job in the fashion niche comes up, for which I FEEL I am overly impressive, if not over-qualified (is that still a bad thing these days?).

      This was back in 2007, when I was doing fantastically. I write now from the recession in 2011. Clearly, it should be worse for most on this comment thread. Le sigh!

    2. Find a problem that someone is desperate to solve, and help them solve it.

      When people are in pain, they don’t care about credentials. If you demonstrate that you can help them *by actually helping them* they will trust you to help them more, and you will gain goodwill and reputation that a degree will never give you.

  10. Actually, I rather enjoyed my post-high school education, mostly because I took a less common approach of switching majors several times and ultimately going “trackless” during grad school. I experienced both broad and deep exposure to business, design, music, psychology, biology, religion, math — a true “univers”ity education. Learning from a wide range of brilliant specialists is an effective path to becoming a well-rounded generalist.

    This is of course separate from the individual choice each person should make with regards to financial return on investment, and I realize many people have college experiences drastically different than mine. 🙂

  11. I couldn’t agree more. I consider myself very well-rounded, and I find it frustrating to talk to people who have only studied, lived and experienced a one-track profession. The law, finance and engineering students I went to school with were extremely frustrating to talk to, simply because they only saw the world in one way, and it was better than yours. I was lucky enough to go to a university that offered “interdisciplinary studies,” and allowed me to study through multiple schools toward one goal.

    To the commenters who have come before me, though… I completely disagree with the notion that higher learning is a waste of time. Not everyone needs a PhD., or even a degree, but well-rounded learning that actually makes you think, exposes you to ideas you wouldn’t be exposed to, and ways of looking at the world are never a waste of time. The list of things that I actually learned in university is fairly short (but includes the social history of the dildo) but it was that experience that broadened my horizons and ability to learn so that I could master things on my own.

    I’d love to hear Tim’s thoughts on the role of higher education.

    1. As a person who has gone from the hospitality industry (college dropout – my parents were so disappointed) to working as CPA advising multinationals on taxes to valuing & appraising businesses to coaching & consulting with business owners & now at 50 teaching both undergraduate & graduate level courses in accounting, project management and quantitative methods of analysis I am a “Renaissance man” and not a jack of all trades but an experienced professional who has a very different background and education. I love helping my clients succeed and make more more while having a better quality of life. I tell my students Higher education is to teach them to learn how to THINK. The exercises only teach a subject matter.. in which one can become expert, nothing to do with thinking to solve problems or envisioning something ne.

      1. As a younger version of yourself, I would love to contact you to find out more information about your life path. How can I reach you?

  12. There was a recent article from an economic institute that overlapped with this great post from Tim. It mentioned Micah Stanley – 19 years old, college graduate and lawyer (http://micahstanley.com/). I think the conclusion was that there would be a lot more genius if gov’t schooling never existed. Gov’t bureaucrats don’t seem to have the same incentives as caring parents when it comes to education and success.

    “A teenage lawyer/budding author, however, wouldn’t surprise John Taylor Gatto, an outspoken critic of compulsory education laws and a former New York State Teacher of the Year. Writing in Harper’s Magazine, Gatto forthrightly argued that ‘genius is as common as dirt.'”

    http://www.mises.org/story/2682

  13. but well-rounded learning that actually makes you think, exposes you to ideas you wouldn’t be exposed to, and ways of looking at the world are never a waste of time

    Ryan – I agree that it is not a waste of time, but I do believe that it is a waste of money becuase it such learning can happen without spending thousands of dollars.

  14. “Be too complex to categorize.” Gotta love it. I’d much rather be a Thomas Jefferson or an Isaac Newton than a [insert any job title here]. Here’s my favorite quote on this topic:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    -Robert A. Heinlein

  15. Thank you for the validation!

    No matter how much I’ve wanted to become an ‘expert’ in any number of fields, I still find myself jumping into different projects and coming away with knowing a little something about a lot of things.

    This certainly makes for a rich life . . . .

  16. I agree that post-secondary education is NOT a waste of time. It is only a waste if that person believes that post-secondary education is the ONLY education worth getting.

    I was exposed to SO much while at university that I would not have been exposed to otherwise (and for that, I will always be grateful). However, I certainly learned as much from staying sober on the weekends as I did from advanced calculus and I definitely REMEMBER my weekends which is more than I can say of advanced calculus 🙂

  17. Tim,

    I really enjoyed your book, and I applaud your enthusiasm for living life. But what’s up with:

    “Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year.[?]”

    Is there a special definition of “world-class” I’m missing out on?

    Although I agree with your premise that generalists get a bad rap these days, making a statement like that is just as bad, because it is an insult to people who truly are at a world-class level in their discipline. Take any pro athlete for example: Not one of them got to their level of play in just one year–not only that–but not all *pro* athletes are even considered “world-class.”

    By the way, I do agree with you that a world-class talent can still be a generalist. However, it’s exceedingly rare to find someone at the very *top* of more than one discipline. More commonly you find a top-performer in one field who happens to be “pretty darn good” in another field–competent–but not “world-class.”

    Not trying to start a flame war, but some clarification would be appreciated. Thanks, and keep up the interesting posts.

    1. I agree with this. If Tim Farris cab for example fight in the UFC as an MMA fighter and beat top guys on consistent basis I will fully support that statement, but I find it actually quote pretentious and misleading. I have no doubt there a disciplines you can achieve world class performance in one year but I doubt it’s in pro level sports or many of as competitive disciplines. And the second thing that I believe Tim overlooks is that getting to top is relatively easy compared to staying at the top and being hungry to keep innovating and competing.

      So one year is often simply not enough time for such a statement to be true. For example to be a champion in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts and to stay on top for number of years is what separates the top guys from the rest. You can’t accomplish that in one year simply not enough time even if you could somehow get to that level. That is why that statement I think its misleading and I would imagine that its highly context sensitive.

      Also “jack of all trades, master of none” is not the same thing as a polymath or a Renaissance man. There is a different implication so the title and the text in the article don’t really match. I hope the author can double check on that and correct it.

      1. I would have to concur with the above two comments. I would like to see someone learn chess and become world class within one year.

  18. Ryan … good thoughts. I agree 100%

    And Tim – you hit the nail on the head and have caused a lot of my stagnant brain juice to stir around up in that unused area.

    I get discouraged when people classify me because of my degree or ‘job’ … if I am an engineer I can’t be creative – if I am a great salesman I can’t be good at technology – if I am a good inventor then I can’t be very good with ‘people skills – … and the list goes on.

    What is this? … “the law of conservation of talent”?

    I don’t believe in it!

    This type of thinking is deeply rooted in almost everyone you meet – that you automatically are ‘watered down’ in every other area if you have more than one talent.

    b-sh*#T

    Tim – Thanks for reinforing a new way of thinking that goes against the grain.

    1. Its already been proven that people are either left or right brain dominant. Which means, when you are working on either portion of the brain for extensive period of time, the other portion will be weaken. You can only use 10-15% of the brain at a time, so the brain maximize it usage on certain part to solve a mathematical problem or create a masterpiece drawing. Altogether, if you doing computer coding for 8 hours a days, don’t expect to do any excellent creative work, not until you practice working on the creative part of the brain. A well-rounded person (Jack of all trade) will practice on all part of the brain and not just focus on one. When a problem occur, it uses all part of the brain to solve it with efficiency. There are many solution to one problem, the more knowledge you have, the faster you will solve it and see all aspect of the solution. People don’t realize the many skills they already using because they have too, like driving a car everyday. Everything you do is a skill, searching for this post, reading it, and replying is a skill in itself. If you want to be successful at ANYTHING, just don’t be LAZY.

  19. Pingback: Moments of Clarity
  20. I believe that it is entirely possible to be both a specialist and a jack of all trades. I am a software engineer and have developed software in many different platforms and environments. In this sense I could be considered a jack of all trades… whatever the situation I can adapt and get the job done. However, I also have a few areas that I feel I am somewhat specialized in. In those areas I will always be more comfortable and productive and I always strive to push the boundaries of that knowledge and skillset.

  21. Tim,

    This is your best post so far, and really would make an excellent addition to The 4-Hour Workweek (even though you obviously go over these points in the book)

    This was really a moving post, to be honest, and makes me want to strive for so much more out of life.

    Thank you.

  22. Just as I began learning several subjects at a time in grade school, I continued to study many subjects in the University. Changing my major (5 times) seemed to excite me every time, and make most everyone else start with “what if…(doom)”

    Now out of school, I have had about 13 paid gigs in 4 years. Still enjoying new experiences and “broadening my horizons”. Just left the best paid job yet- salary, benefits, own office, and a window. It wasn’t stressful, it just bored the hell out of me. I’m done with my cell (aka-office).

    “The more bridges you build, the more options you have when the weather changes.”

    -Jake Peters

  23. WIKTIONARY:

    higher education (uncountable)

    1. University education or higher.

    2. Continued education after the point at which attendance of an educational institution is no longer compulsory.

    Isn’t the exploring we do online, or a marketing program from a guru like Mark Joyner, Rich Schefren, Eben Pagan, or Dan Kennedy even higher than that?

    This post is really empowering for me and for my students/clients. I always hated that “jack of all trades” expression!

    DOWN WITH THE “FORMAL HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM”!

    Let the University of Phoenix burn!

    ~V.

  24. I agree. Although some colleges merely relay narrow occupational knowledge, my college “education” in particular developed me to my best potential in a very broad sense. By “education” I mean not only the courses I took but the work experiences I had on breaks and the relationships I formed and learned from while a student.

    For example, I began college as an economics major yet also studied math, journalism, Latin, constitutional law, literature, pop culture, film, and classical history. My first job out of college was as a webmaster although I have never taken an information systems course in my life.

    If you choose a college that not only lets you but encourages you to explore other disciplines (or perhaps even design your own program with faculty help), the rewards are immeasurable. This article affirms rather than condemns the merits of a well-rounded multidiscplinary education.

  25. Preach it, brothah! I have always remembered an incident that happened to me in grade school; a teacher asked the class if we’d rather do one thing perfectly or many things really well. I was the only kid who raised their hand for the latter, because being stuck doing only ONE THING seemed inconceivably boring to me.

    I will have to disagree with the people eschewing going to school–in the past 7 years I’ve taken all manner of courses in various forms of art, dance, organic gardening, alternative building methods, aromatherapy, etc. in addition to all of the English, Philosopy, Anthropology, Biology and the like I’ve been accumulating toward an eventual degree.

    Honestly I’ve found something from each core requirement class that manages to apply to and enrich my life experiences, as well as increasing my flexibilty and ever expanding “comfort zone”, so perhaps I’m in the minority here.

    Don’t get me wrong–I too believe that there is no substitute for experience, but the vast majority of worthwhile experiences involve some degree of learning beforehand in preparation. I like to say I collect skills like other people collect stamps, and I have been accused of being a professional student. Consider me that as well as an artist/sculptor, realtor/bellydance instructor, wannabe permaculturist and alternative builder, among all of my other “weird” Jane-of-all-trades skills. Sign me up for the next class, as well as the next adventure!

  26. In addition to Generals in the army there are also Specialists who are the highest ranking lower enlisted soldiers. There’s a huge difference in rank between those.

    This post also adds to the question on whether an entrepreneur should pursue a niche or a market. Perhaps all the marketers sell people on going after niches so they won’t have to compete with them. Do as they say… not as they do kind of thing.

    Learning lots of different things makes you a more interesting person too. In turn you can relate to more people and accomplish more through those relationships.

  27. Tim,

    I would have to agree. This subject can be seen in so many lights, but I would argue that it is more exciting and memorable to do different things. I own my concrete co., trade stocks online, just started a t-shirt company, and am leaving Texas to move to NYC. Doing a variety of things allows me to expand my mental capacity while at the same time spreading risk over several different ventures. Kind of like mutual funds in a 401K. In any and all industries you have ups and downs. Some of the most diverse and exciting companies do this. Virgin, Google, and even Hulk Hogan have done this.

    It is like you said finding your muse, rather finding your MUSES.

    Moreover, I have noticed that you see this more with individuals whom have traveled. There is a direct correlation with travel and diversity in one’s life. The action of seeing and experiencing multiple events keeps one’s mind moving.

    Have an Outstanding Day,

    Jose

  28. Tim,

    “Be too complex to categorize” – that is now my new motto! Actually I think it has always been my motto – I just never knew it.

    I cannot wait to find out what your idea is to revolutionize education. I have always been fascinated by education and learning, but have always felt that the school systems in this country are inadequate in terms of providing truly practical and useful information for living in this world. In fact, it has always been a dream of mine to start a new type of school or educational system that allows students to learn about real life and living – on a global level.

    I will be emailing Amy the details of my contribution to Amy – I hope you will find it as useful of a contribution as I believe it is!

  29. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for another great post!

    “Be too complex to categorize.” I love it!

    There is another great quote from Dan Kennedy I love…

    He talked about how many Entrepreneurs are guilty of committing “Industry Incest” (I can’t remember the exact term) But…

    It’s basically how too many people get so narrow minded and focused that they ONLY associate with people, read books and publications etc. from their own industry.

    It would serve us all to broaden our range and open our minds to new possibilties, ways of doing things and other points of view.

    I’m all about freedom and limitless options. When we focus soley on one area of life we cut off other oportunites and experience for growth.

    At the same time however it is Very important to “stick to our guns” when it comes to making money. spend the most time on what we know we do best and outsource the rest.

    While many commentators are talking about higher education I’ll throw in my 2 cents…

    Education is KEY for any level of success in anything. Period. How you go about that education just depends on what you really want. (I’d never go to a Dr. who didn’t finish school) Yet most Entrepreneurs I know don’t attribute their success to what they learned in school. Although I’d have to agree to the benefits like Ryan Anderson mentioned in his comment…

    “but well-rounded learning that actually makes you think, exposes you to ideas you wouldn’t be exposed to, and ways of looking at the world are never a waste of time… but it was that experience that broadened my horizons and ability to learn so that I could master things on my own.”

    May we all continually grow in all aspects of life…

    -Travis Tolman

    P.S. Tim- I’d be interested in learning any more tips on getting great deals on flights. (I don’t know If I’d dare book an important flight 24 hrs before when I’ve got a set appointment I’ve gotta make.)

    Thanks for everything 😉

  30. You’re not being fully honest, Tim — either that, or you haven’t thought this thing out completely. You’ve given us the advantages of generalization, but what are the disadvantages? Every path in life has both, and we need to recognize both to make wise decisions and aim for proper balance.

    I’m a generalist myself, in the way you describe, but I’ve lived with it long enough to know some of the prices I pay.

    Aaron

  31. Tim, you said:

    “Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year.”

    I’m 47 and am interested in learning how to play tennis. Based on your experience, I should reach the Wimbledon finals next year, right?

    ###

    LOL… precisely. Federer’s days are numbered! I’ll be posting a comment to explain “world-class” in a few hours 🙂

    Tim

  32. It’s so refreshing to see a post about this. I’ve considered myself a jack-of-all-trades for a long time. I try to embrace each challenge as a learning experience.

    I do agree with a previous commentator. What ARE some of the disadvantages? When you look at highly paid SAP consultants or neurosurgeons, it’s hard to argue against be specialists. They may have a narrow world view, but I wouldn’t mind having their paycheck. Basically, what I am trying to say is that for the majority of society, it doesn’t pay to be a generalist but it does pay to be a specialist. Having said that, I personally don’t agree with that philosophy which is why I am what I am.

    I do have a belief that people who are specialists are ill suited to be entrepreneurs. They are too limited in their world view and cannot function with the aid of others because they cannot or will not embrace all the other necessary roles that are required when having your own company.

  33. Thank you for this. I’ve always felt that I didn’t have the ‘hacker’ expertise to be involved in programming. This feeling of inadequacy has kept me back for several years.

    Eventually I just decided to go with it regardless, and it turns out that, though I might be slower, I’m not terribly bad and I have some good ideas.

    These are the first reasons I’ve seen for wanting to know some in a lot of different areas instead of all in one area.

  34. I’ve always considered myself a Jill of all trades. 😉 I want to learn everything there is to learn (or die trying).

    My philosophy is that the more you learn about, the more you can appreciate. Career-wise, there are disadvantages of not specializing in something, but there are no disadvantages to learning new things. Period.

  35. I love the blog and the book just out of curiosity how much was outsourced? I have started to go down you path and its a freedom I have been missing for to many years. Thanks for all the great information!

    ###

    Hi Jeff!

    I do all of the writing because I enjoy it. I sketched the design/architecture of the blog and then had a WordPress expert code it for me. My VAs do some of the moderation, and I pop in once in a while to moderate. I like to interact with my readers but can’t always answer every personal question, which is why I’m so happy to have readers who participate and help each other!

    Hope that helps,

    Tim

  36. Speaking as a contract-sysadmin/photographer/martial artist/blogger/furniture restorer/husband/chef/consultant/entrepreneur, I couldn’t agree more.

    Life’s too short to be bored why what you do.

    For years, I’ve let myself be guided by this Heinlein quote:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

  37. Tim, I’m directing this at you but would love to have everyone else weigh-in as well (..though it might make for an interesting post on it’s own):

    In adopting a completely liberated lifestyle that allows me to simply follow my passions and explore new opportunities, I’ve had one challenge emerge: I quit my job and no longer have the “luxury” of defining myself by my job title. I realize I’m not alone on this. In the US especially, “So what do you do?” is asked far too often, and it’s always been easy to just spew off a flashy “I’m a (job title) at (killer company)..” followed by an inflated one-liner about what that actually means.

    I am decidedly undefined right now and love having no canned answer to that unavoidable conversational question. I’m a traveler, an investor (of time, thought & capital), a serial entrepreneur, designer, etc. The list goes on — and I can truly say I excel in each area. Jack of all trades, master of many. A generalist, as you say.

    At the end of the day, though we all want to be somewhat fluid in our definition of who we are – there is always that moment, in a loud crowded lounge or a 30-second chat with mere acquaintance — where the fully enlightened response just isn’t appropriate.

    In that setting, for those that are truly living the 4HWW — “what do you do?”

    ###

    Hi David,

    Here are four popular choices of the time-liberated:

    -“I’m retired.” Then just let them think on that.

    -“I’m a (travel) writer.” If you write, you’re a writer. Legit answer.

    -“I’m an entrepreneur.” Entrepreneur is further reaching than just income and business creation. It’s just someone who makes things happen.

    -“I’m a consultant/investor.” Both are true of most people on some level.

    Hope that helps!

    Tim

    1. When asked “What do you do?” I almost always reply “Lots of things,” smile, and change the topic to something more interesting than job titles.

  38. Hi All!

    Thanks for the great comments and contributions to the discussion. I love the Robert Heinlein quote.

    A few clarifications:

    1) “World-class” to me is being the top 1-5% most proficient of all people who practice a certain skill.

    2) I stated you could become world-class in almost any skill, not all. There are some limits on sports (powerlifting, etc.) that require massive physical adaptation of connective tissue, but motor skills can be learned quickly. I had never done ballroom or partner dancing of any type before training 5 months to set the world record in tango and also get to the semi-finals of the world championships, for example.

    3. It IS possible to be both a generalist and a specialist. When I did tango, I did it for 6-8 hours a day. Did I specialize? Yes, but I only did so for a total of about 8 months. Thus, I’m a macro-generalist and a micro-specialist.

    4. There are pros and cons to both being a specialist and being a generalist. This post was just a few reasons on the “pro” side of generalists. I’ll let you guys battle out the rest 😉

    5. I believe education, including formal education, can be extremely valuable. I wouldn’t trade my liberal arts education for the world. There are crappy teachers and good teachers both inside and outside of institutions. The prizes go to those who seek out the best teachers.

    Hope that helps, and keep up the comments!

    Tim

  39. There is a wonderful book that explores this topic in both depth AND breadth – check out “Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love”

    by Barbara Sher (Author). She gives great encouragement and practical strategies to us DaVinci types, allowing us to be released from the “dilettante” label forever!

  40. Tim-

    This is obviously this post is powerful noted by the nearly 50 comments in just a few hours.

    I agree that we put too much attention on a single focus in our careers. Having many interests and many skills allows one to adapt to changing circumstances.

    I have worked in many industries, and some people frown on this….trying to discredit the amazing amount of experience a person can get if they work in many fields. I think the more experiences you have (in a career and in life’s journey) the more colorful the tapestry you weave along the way.

    thom

  41. Tim,

    You ask about effective education.

    I am a 37 year old father of two who grew up attending about a dozen educational institutions in 9 countries: public schools with the middle class; boarding schools with wealthy expatriates; 1 on 1 tutoring with a blind man; classes of 3 students in the rainforest and sessions of 40 students in suburbia; and later a state school and Harvard.

    Based on my experiences, what did I decide to do for my own children?

    I decided to combine the hard knocks of public schools with the rigors of boarding school. Combine the attention of 1 on 1 tutoring with the social enrichment of large groups. And combine the breadth of state school course offerings with the depth of an Ivy League education.

    I decided to homeschool.

    There are so many reasons not to send your child through conventional schooling that I will not even attempt to list them here (read “The Well-Trained Mind” for the most authoritative book I’ve found on the subject; and the works of John Taylor Gatto). But I will mention two:

    1) Learning is only possible when the motivation comes from the student, not from the teacher; and

    2) Homeschooled children repeatedly outperform their conventionally-trained peers in conventional, standardized tests. Consider Switzerland, a country with the world’s highest per capita income and yet only 23% of the student population attends high school.

    “But what about socialization?” detractors protest.

    One does not merely sit at home. Like the “Four Hour Workweek,” the objective is not simply to work four hours, but rather to free time to variegate one’s range of experience into other areas.

    So my recommendation for the perfect education is the following 4 step program:

    1) KILL YOUR TV: Yes, remove it from the house. Shakespeare will never compete with Bart.

    2) BUY LOTS OF BOOKS: They’ll take care of the rest. We formally “teach” our kids no more than a couple of hours a day and now they’re already a few years ahead of their peers. The wealthy class of centuries past simply bought books and hired home tutors. Does it take a lot of brains to parrot a teacher’s workbook? Nope.

    3) TRAVEL: Not unfamiliar to the great thinkers of ages past, the refinement that comes with international travel is simply not possible sitting in your hometown. There is something magical about experiencing new cultures, exotic languages, breathtaking sights, and intoxicating smells that is simply not possible sitting in your home country. And by travel I don’t mean getting a 3 week Eurail pass. I mean relocating to a new, preferably poor, country. Why poor? Because the poor usually have more to teach.

    4) VENTURE CAPITAL: Starting from an age when your kids can act responsibly with money, usually 5 or 6, give them a hundred bucks and ask them to double it. Then ask them to give it away (intelligently). Sit back and watch them learn more in a couple of weeks than their peers would have learned in a semester.

    These 4 steps don’t require a lot of money and certainly the 4HWW makes it completely possible. Besides, all the money that you previously wasted on school is now spent traveling with the kids.

    Is it replicable? Easily. Is it cost effective? How many billions of dollars are we going to save by converting decrepit school buildings run by the government into community centers run by families?

    By the way, on a completely different note: is it coincidence that your first name stands for “Time, Income, Mobility” and that your family name resembles one “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” who used brains, wit, and technology, to defy convention and authority?

  42. Thanks for the affirmation. I often describe myself as Jack of All Trades, Master of Some. So, last week, when I was introduced as a Renaissance Man I felt honored.

  43. I think one of the great things about higher education is the exposure to other people who are in the midst of academic pursuits. There are people who know so much about so many different things at a university, and they are all very accessible. Its an environment where people are striving to learn and grow as opposed to the typical work environment which is generally stagnant, and repetitive, and specialized.

    Im so excited to see some positive reinforcement for the jack of all trades 🙂 That definitely describes me. Its always viewed so negatively, but I really wouldnt be happy if I decided to specialize in one area and continue to do that one thing for the rest of my working life. I can’t choose any one degree program, or decide on the type of business I would like to run, etc. Really I want to be doing at least 5 different things at once.

    You are also much more likely to discover things that you have a natural talent for, if you are always learning and trying new things.

  44. Tim,

    I think your article is great and couldn’t agree with you more about the benefits of being a generalist. I am curious, though, about your statement that “what I prefer to call a ‘generalist,’; is making a comeback.” Being a generalist is arguably better, but I believe that it’s far from making a comeback. In the last two years, for example, I’ve seen job postings become increasingly specific about candidates’ past experience and expertise, most probably to help recruiters deal with the effects of the increasingly ubiquitous technology that surrounds a previously manual process (resume databases, people mass-blasting applications, etc.). Also, as companies become larger and larger, experience and skillsets are becoming much more one-dimensional with little room to dabble and showcase a range of skills. In what areas have you seen a growth in either appreciation or practice of generalist mentality?

    One other thing (and this is for the peanut gallery, too), what professions have you found to be particularly well suited to generalists?

    Thanks!

    -i

  45. David,

    I just say I`m a writer and leave it at that. If asked again I say I write and sell my work online.

    The last thing I want to do is impress strangers with my work or lifestyle because when you retire “too young” it really annoys a lot of people or gets the the other reaction – I want to be you best friend because you are successful. Neither of those responses does anything for me.

    Over time, you end up hanging around with other people in the same boat – my best friend works very little, takes the summer off etc. You can go nuts if you don`t find some like minded people to hang around with.

  46. Tim,

    This hasn’t generated the “sh*t storm” I expected, as you might say.

    Mmm. Yes, varied experiences are good. But are you saying it is better to be “average at many things” rather than excellent in one thing.

    Arguably, one could possibly live a more fulfilling life but, in the traditional sense, would one likely achieve greater success…ie. better jobs, promotions, better pay?

    Tim, to be successful in corporate America and to climb the corporate ladder, doesn’t one have to be GREAT at something. A “micro-specialist” as you like to call it, in at least one very narrow field?

    Although you might consider yourself a “jack of all trades” you are VERY, VERY good at many things …among them, creating sh*t storms!! O.K., we can call it marketing.

    Ernst

  47. Ernst,

    The message in Tim’ s blog is success in life. Not just making a lot of money because you can do one thing well at corporate america. Many of today’s society is brainwashed like this and which is why they live unfulfilled lives. There must be a clear purpose at to why, reasons come first. Greater success in what sense? More hours, because usually a promotion in corporate america means more hours with maybe a 10% increase.

    And not to mention 90% more stress of which wears on your body and mind, this tears down your body.

    Its not about the corporate ladder of a company, its about the ladder of life. The experiences are what count. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Chill out on the language and realize this is all self expression and ideas that can be applied. Try it first and then leave a comment

    BEst

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

  48. Tim,

    You eloquently state what I’ve been trying to explain to others about myself for many years. It is my broad knowledge of topics from sociology to electrical engineering, from theatre to mathematics, that has enabled me to hold conversations with PhD’s in Physics as well as PhD’s in Comparative Religion. I enjoy that about my life and have always found repetitive activity of a specialization to be a prison.

    I must disagree with some, above, who have argued that college is a waste. A liberal arts college gives a person opportunities to be exposed to new ideas and sample dozens of subjects in one place. With that base of knowledge, then is the time to go out into the world and expand and experience the world first hand.

    Thanks Tim.

  49. … gotta love this guy. Well said Tim.

    Agree on all points; especially “the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something ‘takes a lifetime to learn.'”

    The term “renaissance man” needs to become an honor again.

  50. Well said, and glad you said it! This has been my philosophy and chosen path for many years, but it’s easy to start second-guessing yourself when your belief goes against the current of popular thought (even though that’s usually the surest sign of being on the right track).

    I’m reminded of a some favorite quotes from my favorite book series, Dune:

    “Any path that narrows future possibilities may become a lethal trap. Humans are not threading their way through a maze; they scan a vast horizon filled with unique opportunities. The narrowing viewpoint of the maze should appeal only to creatures with their noses buried in the sand.”

    and especially:

    “Above all else, the mentat must be a generalist, not a specialist. It is wise to have decisions of great moment monitored by generalists. Experts and specialists lead you quickly into chaos. They are a source of useless nit-picking, the ferocious quibble over a comma. The mentat-generalist, on the other hand, should bring to decision-making a healthy common sense. He must not cut himself off from the broad sweep of what is happening in his universe. He must remain capable of saying: ‘There’s no real mystery about this at the moment. This is what we want now. It may prove wrong later, but we’ll correct that when we come to it.’ The mentat-generalist must understand that anything which we can identify as our universe is merely part of a larger phenomena. But the expert looks backward; he looks into the narrow standards of his own specialty. The generalist looks outward; he looks for living principles, knowing full well that such principles change, that they develop. It is to the characteristics of change itself that the mentat-generalist must look. There can be no permanent catalogue of such change, no handbook of manual. you must look at it with as few preconceptions as possible, asking yourself: ‘Now what is this thing doing?'”

    – The Mentat Handbook

  51. To Anne Brown…thanks for the tip! I will check out Barbara Sher’s book as I remain skeptical about being able to earn “good money” while not being very good at anything. Does she recommend not mastering anything?

    Although I own a small business and consider myself a “jack of all trades”, I am scared stiff I might one day have to get a real job from corporate America. I wear many hats which makes the work interesting, but I am not particular good, honestly, at anything. Where need be, I hire experts (ie. accountants) to help me from going bankrupt.

    Frankly, I don’t think I have the specific, proven skills/resume required to get a decent job in a field I would like (ie. marketing) that pays $70,000-80,000 a year (ie. flipping fries at McDonalds is always an option but won’t pay for college for my 2 kids).

    How about a jack of all trades and a master of (at least) ONE? And the ONE should, ideally, be something you enjoy.

    Ernst

  52. Tim – You are an inspiration! I just finished your book and I am very excited about the whole concept. Thank you so much for the work you have done, and the courage you have show us.

    Cal Banyan

    Author, Trainer, Blogger, Podcaster

  53. Awesome. Just awesome. I have been saying this for the past 10 years of my life. For a while it seemed unattainable, and certainly not very conducive to the rat race… Not for one moment though would I give up the path of the renaissance man, no matter how broke I am. It’s all relative.

  54. Tim,

    You are one of the best arguments for a liberal arts education that I’ve come across in some time. 4HWW seems like a pragmatic tutorial on not doing what you’re told but thinking about how you think and coming up with better solutions. Long live the generalist. Thanks Tim.

    -Dane Sanders

  55. Ernst, if you haven’t yet, i suggest you read the 4 hour work week. being an expert in an area only means that you know more than some one else. We then apply the 80/20 rule, in this case, 80% of the mastery of a skill comes from 20% of the work, then you start hitting diminishing returns and the next 80% of work slowly fills in the last 20% of the skill. most people get cought up in the last 20% of the skill, when that time could arguably be used to get to 80% in 4 other areas. hes not advocating to be average at every thing, simply not to spend all your time trying to perfect at one thing, but poor at most else. this philosophy is why Tim excels in several areas of life, and not necessarily the master of just one.

    As an example, I’m training for IT, I could spend all my life becoming the master IT guru and getting a CCIE (an expert level certification that is limited to about 100,000 people world wide). In return i would never have the time to realize my dreams such as traveling the world, learning martial arts such as Judo, speaking other languages, becoming a better cook, play the guitar like a rock star, and so on.

    To Tim, great article, I’ve always been more of the jack of all trades type. constantly trying new things out, reading about a range of how things work and so on. I’m a huge fan of the “how it works” shows common on History channel and discovery channel.

    I’ve finished your book, and have been trying to brainstorm ideas for the start up business, but i cant seem to come up with a niche idea that meets the requirements yet. I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not looking at the bigger picture enough yet. Any other suggestions for resources to help with the muses?

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  57. One of my teenage role models was Buckminster Fuller.

    He said Two things I well remember today and have guided me well.

    1) There are two ways to get a good general education: Naval Officer training, and Architecture School. Naval Officers before radio had to represent their country and its interests all over the world by dint of their own abilities and knowledge. Similarly architects in history had to carry out the diverse wishes of the King from war machines to tombs (more recently Albert Speer for Hitler).

    Given we now have radio – I went for Architecture, a diverse mix of social, artistic and mechanical knowledge and abilities.

    2) You don’t have to work for a living (or more accurately – for someone else). Bucky threw in his job writing for a science magazine, and with a family to feed, went out inventing on his own. Never patented anything and knew money would follow if he did his ‘job’ well. Wrote a bit of poetry on the side too!

    Consequently I have never had a job, but always managed to make a living, and have a wide range of abilities and interests. The best of those you learn through learning – the ability to self-educate.

    There are a lot of ways to learn quickly including some excellent accelerated learning skills, but the best way is through mentoring – apprenticeships.

    I have heard the approximation that to master a skill or technique takes 10 000 hours. So if its your job/goal and you do 100 hours a week, two years might cut it out!

    Then there is the TV show where people get a couple of weeks to learn a skill and fool the ‘experts’.

    Regarding the Competition, I think most schooling is ‘baby sitting’ and treading water until most teenagers get maturity. In that way it serves a social role rather than an intellectual one.

    The other thing we have got going for us is that most of those old generalists were dead before 50 – we get a bigger bite of the cherry if we can keep learning alive.

  58. Absolutely! I just realized this in the last two years moving from computer geek (20 years) to self-employed consultant in a totally unrelated field. It’s also better for our brains: From Change or Die (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/94/open_change-or-die.html):

    Dr. Michael Merzenich, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco, say that the brain’s ability to change — its “plasticity” — is lifelong…

    the key is keeping up the brain’s machinery for learning… Unless you work on it, brain fitness often begins declining at around age 30 for men, a bit later for women. “People mistake being active for continuous learning,” Merzenich says. “The machinery is only activated by learning. People think they’re leading an interesting life when they haven’t learned anything in 20 or 30 years. My suggestion is learn Spanish or the oboe.”

  59. Being a Jack Of All Trades, or a Renaissance soul, as I like to call it is a concept I have been working on for the past few years. Inspired by a book called Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstein (http://www.renaissancesouls.com/)

    I could not agree more, I to want to do so many things and people have actually been generally mean to me about how many things I do, talking behind my back “I do not by she can do all those things.”. But hey what do people know? Unfortunately, the specialty mentality is abundant. I have never claimed to be the best at anything but I want to experience as many things that appeal to be as possible, writing, photography, philanthropy, and the list goes on. How do you explain a girl that has worked in a funeral home, a teacher as a photographer, as head of the under cover agents, a poet, and for the Associated Press. Yes this is me and proud of it.

    One of the hard parts though is managing and deciding everything you want to do. The possibilities are endless. The HOW of it and organization of it is what Tim’s book and Margaret Lobenstein’s book have helped me get to.

    I think I may be writing a new entry of this very subject on my own blog. http:www.rosaleelaws.com.

  60. I am so glad that I cam upon this book and blog. I have always thought it was a problem that I know about so many different things but I am never the expert in anything. I have always known that it was going to pay off. Now how do I apply it to becoming better, and becoming a location independent person?

  61. Jose & Mike, thanks for the comments and suggestions! It sounds like you are both living the 4HWW lifestyle already. Thanks also to Rosalee for providing the links. Although it might not be obvious from my posts, I have read the book 4HWW and loved it! It is taking me awhile to break down forty plus years of living & working in my, shall I say, somewhat boring, unadventurous cocoon. I’m making changes (as fast as I can) to lead a more exciting and fulfilling lifestyle. This will be fun…

  62. I’m thankful that there are people like you who speak my language! There is an interconnectedness of skills you would not think relate to each other, but they do.

    Rock it brotha’!

  63. Ernst, While I’m flattered, I’m not quite living the 4HWW just yet, but I defiantly have the mind set for it. I’ve always been one to question why things are the way there are. I’m still young, so its easier for me to accept these views. As I’ve gone through college the last 3 years, and learned what i can expect in my chosen field, and it keeps sounding less and less appealing. I was thinking there had to be a better way to get through life, and thats when i came across Tim’s blog, and decided to pick up his book. As i stated in my last post, I’m currently playing with ideas for my first start up. I’m a tech guy, not a buissness one, so its a change of pace, but i don’t mind.

  64. Great posts !

    I must admit that at times I envy my friends who specialize, but the jack of all trades has a far greater ability to adapt. I would have been the 5th generation of lawyer in my family. I just could not bring myself to live in a daily adversarial enviornment.

    Thanks again for a great book!

    PS.

    Tim, I emailed our company’s donation to your contest.

  65. People have asked what the downside is to being a Jack of All Trades. The downside is that you are responsible for your own success / advancement in life, the “system” is not designed to reward people like you.

    A specialist can (and usually does) rely on an employer or society (in the form of government opportunities) to keep him/her working and content.

    The upside is limited – specialists are rarely (if ever) CEOs or heads of anything beyond a “department” – but then their downside is also limited. There’s always a generalist out there looking for a specialist to do work for him 😉

    It is quite possible for a generalist to find himself with no employment opportunities and no “handouts” waiting for him. In those times the Jacks of All Trades either make their own opportunities or perish.

    The upward potential for a generalist is unlimited, but there’s one hell of a downward spiral if you aren’t up to the taking responsibility at all times.

  66. Certainly this is the case in therapy, where having a generalist, a doc who has experience in all disorders, specializes in none (too boring) is a plus.

    But the real geniuses, the family practitioners who diagnose everything for an HMO penny and have to refer (often) to the SPECIALIST at the patient’s insistence, really get the shaft.

  67. In the academic world this used to be called interdisciplinary studies. Those were the days when someone was really allowed to think and get a degree for it.

  68. Yeah that was me, my degree was a huge mixture. Counselors nowadays try to talk everyone out of an interdisciplinary education because they say you will never get a job, which I feel is not true, unless you know you want to do something so specialized doctor, lawyer, etc.

  69. Last month I penned a little post on my women-focussed blog that examined being a “Jill of All Trades”.

    The reality is that employers these days are looking for people who are practical, flexible, responsive and in possession of enterprise or “soft” skills (ANTA study 2001).

    In the scheme of things, the capable generalist who can meet a business’ various needs in a timely manner is often more valuable than the one-eyed specialist with his truck-load of degrees…

  70. I totally agree. Specialists usually ending up working for generalists.

    Richard Branson is one of the most amazing generalists I know of – and he loves learning about new businesses and launching them. It’s far more interesting than doing the same old thing day in day out.

  71. Really relevant post. I agree with Jeremiah Reid who posted a comment on the 14th of September. I am such a generalist that until actually reading this post I thought their was something wrong with me.

    I’ve got to go now but will continue this comment later.

    Thanks!

  72. Good article. I think becoming a master has it’s merits, but generalizing gives you a higher probability of being successful. EX. How many tennis masters can make enough money for a living…the top world 1000? Say the same to whatever sport you can think of. Generalizing allows you to try many different things, and go to the one you can do best.

    I would not call it master of none, but jack of all trades, master of a few. The master of none probably would not be doing too good if everything he knows is half baked(jack of all trade). You’d still want to master something, just don’t be clueless in other subjects.

  73. Author/speaker Barbara Sher uses the term “scanner” for the Jack of all trades type. She wrote an excellent book, Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love, that describes Scanners and how to gain the maximum benefit from this lifestyle. Great book!

  74. There is an excellent book called The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine that talks about this and why some of us are meant to focus on more than just one thing. I highly recommend it.

    Nice to see a post on this issue in an age that pressures us to find our “one true passion” and focus only on developing a single skill. Many of us have broad skills and interests and need the intellectual stimulation of multiple pursuits to keep us going.

  75. I’ve often applied the ‘master of none’ tag to myself, usually in a negative fashion. Recently, however, I began re-evaluating this line of thinking. Your article was most timely for me!

  76. Can it be that I opened a friend’s email today and ended up surfing to this article which I have never found before? I have been in a quandary about how to best market my “jill of all trades” talent. While I’m a writer and editor, I really am best at project development and organizing which widely uses my writing and editing talent. All four give me a unique and wide range of what I can do, but it is this article which I really needed to tell me that it’s okay I can’t seem to find one niche. Thank you! Now, what to call myself; I’ve never figured that one out!

  77. I heard the saying that you can do whatever you want and at any different level mastery as long as you good in that skill that pays the bills.

    How does a generalist demand specialist wages?

    BD

  78. Tim,

    As a 46 year old former corporate manager, I have seen a trend taking place in recent years in corporate America that seems to indicate specialization is the key. The generalist seems to be unable to penetrate the job market effectively for lack of a label that HR can understand. I myself have struggled in promoting myself within the corporate structure for this reason.

    I now have my own business and my general knowledge is more of an advantage.

    After reading your book, I have decided to put into practice your methods of automating a business and freeing myself and family for greater things. My problem is, As a generalist, I am having trouble defining a market and product to build my business around. I NEED MY MUSE! Can you give some methods on narrowing down the possibilities?

    Thanks Brother,

    Cole

  79. Being a jack of all trades has helped me make connections which weren’t previously seen, and helps me improve my work/life balance no end.

    As a full-time technical writer and part-time web designer, I’m interested in software UI design, Information architecture and all the tools of my full-time trade as well (typography, illustration, information design and writing). There is so much crossover between all these areas that being a specialist in one would leave me, essentially, professionally crippled.

    There are other aspects which have led me to “embrace Jack” but I’ll write them up on my blog once I’ve given them a little thought.

    Great post.

  80. As a Jack of All Trades, I’ve learned that I have one particular distinct advantage that no specialist can match. Some creative specialists can be out-of-the-box thinkers in the sense that the cliche is currently used. They can be ingenious, and they can break rules. What they absolutely can not do that I can is get the refined solutions that our found in other people’s boxes!

    What my co-workers have called “brilliant” in a number of different settings isn’t brilliance at all. I have often taken a technique or tool from one world where it has crystallized into absolute uselessness and plopped it unchanged into a different context where it is just what the doctor failed to order.

  81. Hi Timothy,

    I just got your book on audio (iTunes)… I just wanted to say thanks for putting it together… what an eye opener.

    Sincerely,

    JF Grissom

    San Diego, CA.

  82. I believe the ability to master many things and quickly is a function of IQ.

    I believe what you say holds true for those with high IQ but not those with lesser IQ’s.

    I have seen that fact reported and as a holder of a high IQ have seen it in daily practice.

    I used to believe everyone could do anything because I can but after years of encouraging others beyond their limits I sadly realize it simply isn’t true for most people.

    With a higher IQ comes an almost insatiable NEED to explore many topics. I often wonder if those with lesser IQ’s and needs aren’t happier and more content with their mastery of a small part of the universe.

  83. Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre.Thanks again for a great book!

  84. I think a false dichotomy has developed in this conversation: a true specialist (such as the PhD scientist) is not what generalists get pushed to become. Generalists are typically urged to “pick something” at a MUCH lower level of skill and accomplishment than that. A perfect example is the way that smart, verbal people are pushed into law school. Often, we are told, “You can use that law degree in anything.” The real message isn’t “become a specialist.” It is “put yourself in a box that can be labeled.

  85. A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, write a sooet, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, solve equations, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight effciently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. Robert A. Heinleim

  86. Echoes my own thoughts exactly.

    When people ask me what I do, I counter their question with what did Leonardo da Vinci do? Was he a painter? Was he a sculptor? Was he an inventor?

    Leonardo wasn’t pigeonholed, so what’s with the modern preoccupation with defining us all by a single occupation?

  87. Hi Tim,

    I think I’m a “jack of all trades” myself. My interests and activities range from writing, singing, playing the guitar, martial arts (Aikido, Jujitus, Kali, Kendo, etc.), technology , business, travel, psychology, languages, among other things. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a “master of none” since I’m doing some of these activities at a world-class level, too.

    Just like what you wrote, it is excitement and fun that motivates me to pursue my interests. I get bored easily and my different activities make me feel alive.

    One thing I’m working on right now is becoming an entrepreneur. Your book has provided me some great ideas.

    Vielen Dank und viel Erfolg!

    Ton

  88. Dear Tim,

    Really looking forward to your blog on the explanation of “world-class” as you mentioned in one of your replies. (below)

    ———–

    ###

    LOL… precisely. Federer’s days are numbered! I’ll be posting a comment to explain “world-class” in a few hours 🙂 Tim

    ————

    Thanks

    Hi Manan,

    I think I gave my thoughts in one of the comments to this post? If not, my apologies, but this will be something I’ll explore more in future posts regardless.

    All the best,

    Tim

    Manan

  89. I love this! I was once told that saying “jack of all trades, master of none” in high school after telling the teacher I could fix the computer he was using. I was also a black belt at the Tae Kwon Do martial art, wrote poems in english class, did well in physics and loved to create digital artwork. After spending 5 years in University specializing the boredom out of me, I am finally ready to get back to my roots. I know that I was really a more amazing person back then, I had dimensions, I had passions and ideas. These days the best I can do is answer programming questions.

    Now it’s time to be the entrepreneur that has been simmering inside of me! Thanks for the insightful post.

  90. Tim,

    Because the product I support is *SO* f’ing complex, I feel that becoming an expert in it is the only way to be successful in my position.

    But then I read your blog from time to time and find posts like this. You are one seriously sharp knife. You cut through the b.s. and go to the heart of the matter. This sentence struck me severely, and I had to stop and internalize it for awhile:

    ====

    Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy. Generalizing and experimenting prevents this, while over-specialization guarantees it.

    ====

    You made my confront my main issue: while the product I support is complex, it is no longer intellectually stimulating or fun. I do it because it brings in a paycheck.

    I suffer from medical depression and I think the position I am in goes a long way towards keeping me ‘down’. We’re a single income family of 6. I make enough money to support my family and we’re comfortable, but I hate my job and my lack of zest for life that I used to have several years ago.

    HEEEEEELP!!!!

    p.s. I live in Austin but couldn’t afford to get an Interactive badge for SXSW. I truly wish I could have come. All the best.

    DL

  91. Response to geo’s comment about IQ: I think you have a good hypothesis there, one that reminds me of an observation that’s always irked me. As the responses to this post illustrate, some number of people (though we may be a minority) do, in fact, function this way.

    Set aside the issue of whether “IQ=smart” and consider that THIS “syndrome” is a normal one for some portion of people who score high on IQ tests — that compared to others in the population, this group includes folks who a) can learn a broader spectrum of things than average, b) enjoy learning and feel driven to it, c) learn rapidly, and d) have learning achievements that may be less than focused specialists but are much greater than average. Why demonize it!

    Why not just accept it as one in the array of human possibilities, and provide kids who display these traits with appropriate career direction FOR THEM. Barbara Sher has said that “dumb” companies fire such people while “smart” companies let them move around the company tinkering with and solving the problems no one else can solve!

  92. Tim – kick ass post and I couldn’t agree more, as a proclaimed renaissance man by friends and family. I relish the challenges, enjoyment and fulfillment that comes out of taking up new hobbies and interests. I agree you can become world class at anything. My challenge is mostly from taking up too many hobbies at once and pacing myself a bit in order to become masters of them. I think the balance of left brain/right brain activities makes you much more capable of anything you set out to do. Loved your talk at SXSW and look forward to keeping up with your blog and tweets. Just remember, Maslow Forgot about Beer (the title of my blog ;)). Keep it up!

  93. Dear Tim,

    My apologies.

    Yes, you had posted your thoughts on being “world-class” earlier as a comment. I missed it as I was searching for your replies only through Ctrl + F and “###”.

    Loved your thoughts on the same.

    Thanks.

  94. Is it possbile for a 14 year old to become jack of all trades? Cause I’m trying to excel in tennis, video production, graphics, algebra II, and dance. I have to balance school work and my hobbies, but I want to know your suggestion. Should I put all my efforts into school so I can go to good college and master those skills later, or should I find a balance? Please reply ASAP!

  95. Junus,

    Hey how are? I would definitely suggest balance. Academics are always good but I can tell you from personal experience that you want to have fun while you are in HS. Don’t miss out on doing all the fun things there are to do. I for example started martial arts in hs and am glad I did, otherwise if you wait till you are older it may be more difficult for you to start new hobbies/sports.

    I hope this helps. I noticed your comment and felt compelled to throw in my thoughts.

    Cheers

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

  96. Interesting. Gave me a new look into the wisdom behind Catholic medieval and rennaisance philosophy and culture, of being universal…

  97. This is so true. I always believe practical experience is far more than theory, sitting in a lecture theatre etc. Its also very handy when your stuck in situations to be able to wing it and work it out. Most people lack these skills and are too scared to have a shot at something. How else are you going to learn except by trying anyway! Thanks Tim. keep up the good work.

  98. Amazing article! Very thought provoking-and I am specifically thinking how this is applied to character development as well. Dynamic, engaging, and fun people pursue a multitude of interests and curiosities, often employing extensive and articulate vocabularies, and attend to both themselves and their social networks in genuine and authentic ways. They are the beautiful, smart, funny people we all want to get to know and when friendship is established we enjoy “being” with. And the wonderful part is none of this is developed by specialization. Afterall the beautiful woman who flawlessly paints her face and gracefully glides through the room in a beaded gown but has nothing to say becomes a hollow ornament. The geek that can speak fluent German AND Klingon effortlessly with his friends but finds himself utterly tongue-tied around ALL females of the species is really cuttin down his chances of gettin laid. These are cliche and extreme examples of course but even the more subtle forms of cultural inhibition are dangerous and can be just as miserable. Such as the struggling art student that takes herself and her emotions way too seriously to let go and get some groove on at the local dance club. Or the father that has expertly planned for his family to arrive at the same cabin in the same woods with the same great fishing down to the minute. These are not the people we want to hang out with much. What we would like to to engage with the folks that have something new to say. Wear something unique and intriguing and colorful. Or look like they are enjoying all sorts of hilarious inside jokes. What are these people thinking? Feeling? Doing? Where are they going? How did they get there? How do they look so good?

    Generalization. The All you can eat buffet of Life.

    On a positive end-being dynamic, curious, cultured, and multifaceted is very attractive and affords you the opportunity to “play” with others. Banter. Explore. Surprise. Inspire. And most treasured experience of all is the exchange of insight and experience and inspired creativity-dealing in the multiplication of value rather than merely addition. Afterall-any animal added to another animal can make an additional animal.

    But what animal can throw a really great party?

    I didn’t read all the commenting posts to this-I had to generalize-even though I’m sure I missed some awesome one. But the spirit of each one of them is largely the same grand feeling.

    Here’s a quote I was reminded of, from Robert A. Heinlin’s Time Enough for Love:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

  99. Hello Tim,

    My name is Braden Loader. I’m currently a commerce student at the University of Manitoba, and to be frank, I’m tired of being 21 and not sailing my own boat off the coast of Costa Rica!

    I have a prospective business idea in the form of a self-guided adventure travel company, yet feel my business plan and concept are loose and undeveloped. I believe some serious strategic aid is to be sought if I’m not to be one of the several thousand internet sites that bite the dirt immediately. Realizing this may be an atypical request, I can only hope you’d humour me, as a newcomer such as myself could learn a lot from your business savvy. Where and when may we meet?

    As urgency is a matter of opinion, I’ll leave it up to you!

    Regards (I just can’t do the “cheers” thing),

    Braden Loader

    P.S. Apologies to those with intellectually stimulating comments, all I can do is try!

  100. I love the Heinlein quote, it sums life up for me!

    As someone who’s been called a Renaissance Man more than once, I feel like I’ve just found a second home!

    I’ve only just started the book and I’m loving it.

    As a kid, I thought I’d like to be James Bond, able to draw on whatever skill is required to handle any situation. I wanted to be McGyver, to solve problems logically and instead of shooting them or blowing them up. Leonardo Da Vinci became my idol. Learn the art of science and the science of art. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on since the age of four in pretty much every field imaginable. Martial arts, basic military training (I’m Irish so no danger of going to war!), playing the guitar, singing, working as a potter, a stint in McDonalds, an IT Diploma and 9 years and counting living in Paris, France married to the love of my life.

    Yet something’s missing.

    And I’m still trying to find it. How do you tie it all together? How can you use that generalist non-specialist mindset to get ahead?

    Too complex to categorise…….I love that. And I’d rather be familiar to competent in a dozen fields than a world leader in one single area with little or no knowledge in any other.

  101. Specialization does make sense for branding.

    When your aim is to establish a unique position in the minds of your audience, being “the ONLY _____ that _____” (read ‘ZAG’ by by Marty Neumeier) gives you a distinct competitive advantage. “Being the best in the world is seriously underrated” (Seth Godin), because your message cuts through clutter and gets noticed quickly.

    But there two primary functions of business: innovation and marketing.

    Being *perceived* as a specialist makes sense for marketing.

    Being a generalist is crucial for innovation.

    Specialists who only know how to market fail to innovate.

  102. One other thing to note. I can’t recall the exact references (though I am sure there are many beyond a couple), but there has been more than a few inventions and cunning edge discoveries discovered simply because of knowledge in another field. The one I am thinking of is a discovery made in a field of science due to the founder drawing something from the knowledge of violin playing. Great post! It is very inspiring.

  103. I checked out Alfred Loomis on Wikipedia. According that source, he was the original inspiration for Bruce Wayne and Batman!

    Do you think that someone will soon base a comic book character on your lifestyle and persona?

    What’s your own personal opinion on wearing your underwear outside of your pants?

    Seriously though, your achievements are amazing, inspiring and very possible for those willing to adopt them. I’ve done intensive training and gotten excellent results in such a short time that you get the inevitable, “You’re so lucky” or “You’re so gifted” comments. All nonsense of course, it’s just dedication, a few street smarts and effective leverage of time and resources that does it. I have to say that you do all of this with a great amount of style. Hats off to you!

  104. Interesting to find this article. as I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not I’m over extending myself by trying to learn and accomplish too much.

    The point about knowing 20% of a language and being able to communicate with 80% of the people is really true.. not just figuratively speaking of language.

    I follow all sports just enough to have an intelligent conversation about them, same with politics, stocks, and music.

    I’m not a fanatic of any of these… and wouldn’t miss them if you took them away.. but by taking a half hour every day to read up on these 4 topics, I can talk to just about anyone.

  105. I think generalist-specialist may be a false dichotomy anyway. My suspicion is that most talented and highly successful people are or end up being particularly capable at accomplishing some particular thing or cluster of things. The trick is that “things and clusters of things” as they exist in the real world are necessarily interdisciplinary because disciplines are arbitrary constructs. The most valuable person in most situations is the person who has the abilities and sensitivities of a specialist in the randomly combined handful of areas that are pertinent to that situation. That person is always going to look like a generalist – at least in that narrow job history.

  106. Hey Tim

    Great post

    I’m writing a book on this subject, advice for people juggling many talents and passions. Can I get an interview with you? Or cite part of this post? Thanks! enjoying following you on Twitter

    Lisa

    P.S. I have an apartment in Paris you could use

  107. @Lisa,

    No problem if you want to cite a few quotations from this post, as long as you attribute it to me and provide the blog URL (www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog). I’m taking some time off of interviews, I’m afraid.

    Best of luck and perhaps we’ll bump into each other in Paris 🙂

    Pura vida,

    Tim

  108. Thanks for posting this, Tim. I couldn’t agree more. I happen to have en endless well of curiosity, it seems, and I’ve spent most of my life trying out the many different things I want to know how to do. For years, I was mediocre at most of them. I’m still mediocre at some. And others, I’m just getting started.

    At the same time, a teenage passion for cars now has me able to lube points, change water pumps, and do all sorts of things under the hood I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. The same for computers. I was a geek then, but now I get to be the hero who can fix most people’s tech problems.

    I wrote for fun. Now I do it for a living (and a good one). I paint, first not so well but now not so badly. I draw (always have) and had a published weekly cartoon strip for a couple of years.

    I cook, sometimes pretty well and sometimes badly. I play the guitar. I juggle. I’m learning right now about photography. I’ve learned how to travel and now live overseas (Paris) a good part of the year. My French is coming along. Next, my wife and I plan to tackle Spanish.

    I say this not to brag (well, maybe a little… because I’m proud of how these skills piled up) but because I never would have imagined, when I had few or none of these skills under my belt, that I’d get this far. Nor did I realize how much each newly mastered and divergent skill would give me both the energy and the zeal to tackle the next thing on the list.

    For instance, I’m learning WordPress. For years, I couldn’t get anyone to create a site for me that was quite right. Mostly because I didn’t know the possibilities myself, and couldn’t direct them. Finally I just decided, I have to learn to do this… and it’s coming together. Not perfect. But a year from now, I’m guessing I’ll be pretty good at it.

    Anyway… great post.

    You’ve got a quick wit and you’re clearly a clever thinker.

    Good stuff.

    P.S. And no, at this point I haven’t read your book yet. But what I’ve seen on this site convinces me. I’m going to go check it out right now.

  109. I learned the value of being a Jack; when up against an economist I would pull upon my IT background and knowledge of systems (something the economist may not be as familiar), but when up against an IT expert I would use my economics background or business (which they may not be as familiar with)…in other words, you can exploit the expert’s limitations.

  110. This post describes me to a tee! At the tender age of 25, I’m already an author, journalist, business owner, and candidate for state-level office. I have already been mocked by many people for being a “jack of all trades” and for “doing everything and nothing” with my life. But the funny thing is, is that I know many of these people aren’t happy with their lives and one-track careers. On the contrary, I’m very content with my life and work.

    Thanks for this post Tim!

  111. Being able to delegate tasks to people smarter than yourself is an important skill for the generalist. I personally think creating a list of 3-5 areas you would like to become knowledgeable in and then continually learning in those areas will improve your ability and make you become a ‘specialist’ in each field but a ‘generalist’ overall. This is even more important as an employee who does not have their own business running part-time. Being able to move from one occupation to another and having transferable skills is critical to surviving in the Information Age.

  112. this may already of been said but

    how does one know what 20%

    of the information they will need

    (example when learning guitar there are

    dozens of cords but for the sake of

    idea lets say there are 10 which 2

    are most used? do you really need to know

    that augmented F sharp cord? but what of the g cord?)

    so how does one go about finding the 20%?

  113. I would define a generalist not as a person who knows “a little of this; a little of that” but as a person who has achieved about “mid-level” specialist abilities in more than one area and who has derived insights from the connections others (including specialists) don’t see in order to solve new and complex problems and to innovate.

  114. questions:

    What if everyone was a generalist? If everyone was a generalist, we would still have people who mastered some occupations better than others. How would one generalist give up his skills to another?

  115. I bought the book two days ago. I’ve been reading this blog most of the day. this post especially rings with me. I’ve always wondered why we never strive to be like the great polymaths like Leonardo, Michelangelo, etc.

    Why the obsession with specialising.

    As such I’ve thrown myself into learning more and more. Some of my personal goals include ju jutsu & iai jutsu, poetry, philosophy, break dancing, yoga, Spanish and Japanese.

    Since expanding my horizons like this the world and my life has become 1000 times more fulfilling. I’m re-discovering lost hobbies and interests. I love it. I love the fact I’ve found someone who so successfully displays this too. One hell of an inspiration.

  116. Reason Number 6: Cross Procedure.

    If you have a discovery in your main field of expertise, other fields can be improved with the same type of thinking or similar concepts. Many developments in a wide range of fields can achieved by using “cross procedure.” Here is an example. Computers! They have been integrated into every facet of our lives however they certainly did not start out that way.

  117. As Robert A. Heinlein wrote, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    I’ve always believed this, though my personal reasoning is most in line with the boredom argument. As soon as I understand something with any depth, I’m ready to move on. It’s not the destination of knowledge but the journey of learning that I enjoy.

    Seth Godin has tried to make me question that, but it’s one of the few places he is short-sighted. As he writes, [paraphrased, badly] if you are looking to hire somebody, you hire the absolute best your money can afford. My retort: who then does that hiring?

  118. Just a quick thought.

    I recently switched to Google Chrome as my web browser and all of your blog postings come out with a black background and gray text, barely readable. I don’t know much about web design to offer specific suggestions, but you may want to look into it. Thanks.

  119. Tim,

    After reading your post I have to admit, i did recognize myself deeply, many thanks.

    But lately, i do not know, i have read your book with shiploads of interest and inspiration, i found it hard to outsource duties to third parties. Maybe due lack of trust to others & feeling too important to my own duties. I feel a bit awkard to my own lifestyle.

    My activities are with creative skills; I am a graphic designer, powerpointpimper, making animations, helping people out with visualizing their dreams and goals in life, i create paintings, storyboards, sell & design T-shirts & rebuilt furniture, organize events for people to share their passions, goals in life & inspirations along a bonfire, i do vj-ing at dance-parties i.e. all very nice to meet nice people and do my thing along the way.

    I go on holiday three times a year and learn a lot and see interesting people and their cultures. I follow courses in kitesurfing,

    The ‘generalist’-thing is making me a bit chaotic and i have noticed in the years that friends of the second circle are changing rapidly, it is all dynamic. But sometimes it really is making me tired. Questions as; should i move on like this, why is there not more money coming into the pocket from all the things i undertake? I eventually would like to buy a house, at least a place for myself. ( i am living for 4 years in properties of friends or people i met along the way).

    My request for your advise is; how can i outsource some of the duties within my ‘jack-of-all’-trades so i ‘work’ less and not feeling tired of ‘having a loads to do’-voice in my head & how can i make more of a living out of it (maybe more business-like, a side i have to develope probably) by doing so?

    And beyond that, i have the feeling of having a lifestyle to make some jealous with but why is there not the consiousness within me that says it is all ok like it is?

    My greetings from Holland

    Armand

  120. I find that most personalities who do well in their respective niche actually have something to bring to the table from outside of the subject. They are not experts in one field. They are experts in many areas and choose one area to focus on. It’s proven that great ideas are the combination of several preexisting ideas.

    Take Tim for example, who’s knowledge of how many different aspects of life work makes his lifestyle approach work.

    This is far more interesting and effective that the standard self-help folk who churn out the same material again and again.

  121. Further, the jack-of-all-trades mind is best served in an era where we are spending time online and a myriad of subjects is a click away. The growth in the longtail of divisions of a particular subject proves that breadth is important.

  122. As an avid serial specialist, thanks for the article! Just one thing-any suggestions for one of the 2 day challenges? I went to Whole Foods market and not a single “attractive” male in sight! I am all for asking for numbers (it will be a first; I am the one asked), but what next?

  123. I am little confused – as I am always being told that is it better to focus on one strength or idea first, rather than have 10 ideas all up in the air ( so to speak ).

    ie don’t start a new chapter before you’ve finished the last one.

    But reading your other posts, it seems I am not alone. As self employed graphic designer, I often feel weighted down by the multitude of tasks and responsibilities. Juggling many hats, sales, admin and the design.

    However about six months ago I went to on a workshop run by Wealth Dynamics speaker Roger Hamilton. In his workshop he talked about finding your core dynamic your strength. Any elements of your business that you find difficult or frustrating – means you are not working in your flow. And those are the part you should outsource. I have to say it was an enlightening moment for me. By actually letting go of wanting to be in control and master everything, my business has started to improved.

    Here is Roger explaining his philosophy,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhhADnD3pl8

  124. Completely agree. Being an expert in a narrow field can not only be boring but also dangerous.

    It leads to your back-pain specialist not realizing that there may be something wrong with your stomach. To interdisciplinary academics being shunned from circles of so-called experts -when they’re often the visionaries that can see the connections that others miss.

  125. I can’t imagine a comment on a post this old is likely to get any useful responses, but it’s worth a shot. What do you (anyone) think is the best way to master drawing quickly? Alternatively, and perhaps more usefully, is there a general way to break down any given skill so you can master 80% of it quickly? (I feel almost certain that Tim has posted on the latter topic before, but I couldn’t find it.)

  126. Matt,

    Learning is my passion, and learning what matters most so that I may enjoy the knowledge and teach it effectively quickly is how I spend most of my time. Is there something specific you wish to learn or simply to synthesize the principles of rapid mastery?

    Best Wishes,

    Sitara

  127. Hi Tim

    I read your book in about two days – I always thought there was something wrong with me for wanting to master lots of different things. I was born to be a Polymath and I am a Creator according to Roger Hamilton’s Wealth Profile Tests.

    Thanks for this Tim, this has really clarified my path in life and I will pursue different paths with a new zeal.

    As for becoming ‘World Class’ in different fields – I would argue that you only need to better than 80% of those in your field to do that and seeing as so many people give up so easily – I believe that if your consistent then that would be pretty simple.

    I mean look at those people who take the EAS and Body for Life challenges getting incredible model-like bodies in just 3-4 months.

    Anyone could do it – It’s not ‘can you?’ – It’s ‘will you?’

  128. There seems to be a false dichotomy in many responders answers. There is a third option between the “specialist” and the “generalist”. It would have to be a “multi-specialist:”.

    If you work hard and systematically for 30 minutes a day on almost anything you will improve. If you can work regularly at this for 5 – 10 years you will be considered truly gifted.

    Thus – one could chose 5 totally disparate hobies (a musical instrument, a series of foreign languages, a martial art, a unique artistic hobby, distance running…) and by spending 30 minutes a day on each of them you will become “world class” in probably about 5 years AND you can continue to super-specialize in a career if you so choose.

    Thus – The MD/pHD who is also a university level pianist, speaks 5 languages and holds black belts in 2 different martial arts is a very achievable goal if a consistent plan of attack is followed

  129. Finally some support for being a jack of all trades! I do believe however, that we who are the jacks of all trades, owe our success to the specialists who make it possible for us to acquire a particular specialty so quickly by learning from their work, mistakes and products. I’m just glad they are there to allow me the freedom of being a master of none but oft better than a master of one.

  130. This sounds good on paper, but when you have kids and a spouse to support, you had better get a specialty if you want food, clothes, and shelter.

    I can tell that many of you here do not take responsibility seriously. I at one time was a dreamer. But when reality set in, I realized that I was unfocused and was making excuses.

    It is a good thing to generalize if you have no responsibility. But for most of us, being very good at one job is all that we have to depend on. Being average or knowing a little about a lot is a good career path for someone who enjoys making minimum wage. I know plenty of know-it-alls who can barely keep the lights on.

  131. Yadgyu – that depends on the field. In some fields, business men with eclectic backgrounds oversee PhDs who make much, much less than they do.

  132. This is true Barbara. Most CEOs are not the smartest people at the company. But on the other hand, most people will never become CEOs. It is better to seek specialization. There is true job security, but being a specialist can help.

    I think most people want to be the best at a skill. It is obvious because kids want to be great like their idols. Many kids want to be the best athlete or entertainer. That never changes. What does change is that most people lose focus and give up on greatness. They settle for less and pretend as if being great at one thing is bad. But most successful people are great at one thing. They become the people that we idolize because they are great at that one thing!!!

    It is sad to see someone who is great at one thing try something else and look like a fool. Greatness can only be achieved with unrelenting focus and dedication. There will always be some fly-by-night acts who get a short burst of fame. But the greats stand the test of time. Michael Jackson was no Jack of all trades. He was remembered for being a great entertainer. No one cares if he could milk a cow or do an oil change or do some other random skill. Peole just wanted him to sing and dance.

    Greatness = Specialization

  133. Specialization is really only the way to go.

    Those who are great in life are usually great at one thing. It takes focus, dedication, patience, and perseverance to be great in life. Most people are not great at life because they lack these qualities. We don’t remember Michael Jackson for a myriad of skills. We remember him for being a great entertainer.

    I would strongly encourage 99.99999% of you to focus at one skill and try to become great. Otherwise you will be known as the dude who a little about everything, but who really isn’t that good at anything.

    Specialization = Greatness

    1. it is an interesting take on things, but I tend to disagree. I am a jack of all trades and have done many things and have the toys and fame to back it. No I’m not a millionaire, but am usually the one that many call when they need something done right, or need a problem fixed. Having many skills is never a bad thing.

  134. Yadgyu – a couple of things:

    First, you say not everyone can become a CEO, and then you use Michael Jackson as your counterexample. Many more people become CEOs than become anything comparable to Michael Jackson.

    To stick with that example, Michael makes the case for those of us promoting generalism! You can say he was a “specialist” “entertainer”; I think it’s more accurate to see him as an uber-generalist: singer, writer/composer, dancer, recording artist, and video creator/producer are all different specialities. (MJ’s back-up dancers are specialists; he was a generalist.) He was also a philanthropist and, according to news reports, aspired to make feature films.

    Even within the realm of music-making, his unique contribution was breaking the genre barriers between “white” rock ‘n’ roll (e.g., guitar riff elements and such) and “black” R&B and soul.

    So – your example argues against your point.

  135. Michael Jackson was a generalist – singer, dancer, songwriter, video producer, philathropist, aspiring feature film maker – all different specialities. He achieved his breakthrough by combining elements of rock ‘n’ roll with elements of R&B and soul – again, no specialist.

    And as few people will ever be CEOs, many, many, many fewer will be world-famous entertainers in the category of Michael Jackson!

  136. The inherent meaning of expert means you are actually a master of all of the minute parts of that which become the “thing” you are an expert at… thereby making you a generalist…

    Think – a banker is good at math, people skills, forcasting, complex spreadsheets, risk anaylsis, risk avoidance.

    A bartender is good at selling, mixing, tasting, serving.

    No one is a specialist. People who promote specialists are either your boss, or are too scared to take a shot at living.

    Boo crappy examples that don’t prove a point. Hooray – having many talents and outlets.

  137. Wow… I wrote in earlier in full agreement with the “jack of all trades” idea. But this latest run of posts, admittedly, has given me a gut response that’s almost the opposite of what I said earlier.

    That is, for all the reasons to support generalism, it’s a mistake to dismiss specialism entirely. To be a generalist, I believe, is not to someone who takes it easy and absorbs whatever experiences and opportunities that drift by. Rather, it’s to be someone open to voracious curiosity. Someone willing to try a lot and do a lot, even if it’s out of their comfort zone or not clearly applicable to whatever else it is that they happen to be doing.

    Was Michael Jackson a generalist? Is a banker or a bartender? I think those remain open for debate, despite all the evidence for both sides of the argument provided above. What remains undeniable, though, is that those who succeed either work hard, work smart, or some of both.

    Tim, it seems to me, is advocating working smart. But not in a way that cheats any important endeavor of energy (whether your own or someone you’ve put to work on making that happen). What he’s not advocating is being unserious about accomplishment.

    Likewise, specialists often succeed at one thing because they’re passionate enough to specialize and because they dig in deep and learn to do that thing. There are infinite stories of great surgeons who can also play the piano, hike a mountain, or spot a good wine. There are writers who could paint, speak multiple languages, and throw a good punch. And the list goes on.

    Are they generalists? Yes, in the sense that their passion for living is not restrained only to that one thing they’re known for best. But you’d best believe that the one thing they did extremely well, they did often and above all those other things.

    Maybe that all runs against the theories of the four-hour-work week. But I don’t think so… for reasons already mentioned above.

  138. To some degree the argument is semantic. So, I’ll offer my definitions! A good generalist is a multi-specialist who, because of the multiple perspectives, is able to “break rules” intelligently. The person who drifts from thing to thing with no intellectual or social compass is not a generalist. The “true” specialist is limited by his/her rules and stumped when a different approach is the only thing that will work. The generalist is characterized by lack of such limits.

    You want someone to come into your company and conduct a training, you get a specialist. You want someone to tell you whether it’s really training you need or whether it’s really a new recruitment program or to fire the CEO because his affairs with underlings are causing havoc, better get a generalist; you’ll pay the specialist trainer tens or hundreds of thousands, and everyone will still be blind to the problem.

    You do not want to be a specialist when your line of work is, say, selling newspaper advertising. Much, much better to be a newspaper ad specialist who ALSO knows something about, say, social networking and can make the shift when craigslist comes along.

    Back to the Michael Jackson example. As I conceptualize it, there are great entertainers who fall into both categories. Their trajectory tends to be different. I’ll take the low-hanging fruit first, since the two are often compared.

    Elvis – specialist: though he was certainly a genre crosser and a genre creator (even if he did so passively), he was a singer/performer who did some arrangement and writing of songs for himself to sing. Actor? The consensus is no. His philanthropy seems to have been merely personal gifting. He wasn’t a dancer. And so on.

    MJ – multi-specialist really – no specialist songwriter OR singer OR dancer could accomplish those videos that made him famous.

    I’ll make a comparison with another entertainer. Jerry Garcia was a specialist. Designed guitars for himself to play, yet look at the Grateful Dead movie he did some directing for. You can see, it’s a bit “off” as a film because he could not really direct. Neither Elvis nor Jerry Garica – who both made big accomplishments in their specialities – could really get through in the generalist realm.

    (And I say that as a bigger fan of those two than of MJ.)

  139. In addition to semantics, there’s another meta issue to be tackled. Is being a generalist or a specialist really a choice? I think the whole “jack of all trades” epithet arose because there are people who simply aren’t happy or successful as generalists, whose minds don’t work that way! There are others who cannot function as generalists; if they don’t choose to focus, they do end up simply wandering rather than pioneering.

  140. “”Jack of all trades, master of none, though ofttimes better than master of one.”

    Hey Tim,

    By not focusing on only one thing, you constantly stimulate your creativity and increase the potential to come up with something great.

    When your passion spawns many things, you are likely to combine them into something great. Just like artists who were great at one medium brought in elements from other things they were passionate about (The Beatles), or businesses who fused 2 disparate elements to create something remarkable (Apple fusing art and devices).

    It’s actually easier to learn the 20% (of the 20/80) of things you’re passionate about and be able to combine them into something unique and great than focus exclusively on becoming the best at one thing (unlikely).

    Scott Adams of Dilbert on how you have 2 options in life:

    1. Become the best at one specific thing.

    2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

    “The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.”

    By combining multiple things you’re pretty great at–but not the best–you can create remarkable things that are uniquely you.

    Awesome list Tim, inspiring to hear this, especially in this day and age. So true how we should be more like Da Vinci than a NBA star,

    Oleg

  141. That was absolutely beautiful and brilliant to me, and much needed to be shared with the world. Thank you so much Tim, that really touched my heart. I’ve always felt similar, and my personal vision is strongly involved with creativity and the Generalist concept.

    Like Lisa, I’d also love to cite a line or two from this post in a book I’m writing, and if you prefer me not to, I totally respect that.

    Maximize peak experiences 🙂

    Awesome.

  142. Thanks Tim,

    In investment, Warren Buffett dislikes diversification because you are choosing to add second rate stocks to your portfolio instead of more first rate stocks.

    A skill can’t be added to linearly, so developing another skill is time well spent – assuming it will be used.

    General Practitioners (Family Doctors in the USA?) are being valued more now than in the past, as the specialist forgets the broad basics of medicine in the quest to delve further down into being a jack of only one.

  143. Great article, even though it appears to be over two years old.

    But as a JOAT myself, and seeking work right now, I’m not finding any opportunities for the generalist, even as I agree with the points made here. It seems jobs out there fall into one of two categories:

    * Extreme specialization. Some specific job that the applicant has spent years training and studying for, and several years’ experience doing.

    * Extreme dummies. Basic labor, for people who are neither specialists or generalists. They don’t know anything about anything.

  144. @Don:

    I propose that while the jobs to be had out there are often for ‘Extreme specialists’ or ‘Extreme dummies’, it seems likely to me that the ‘People Doing The HIring’ are Jack-Of-All-Trade’s, running their own business and creating their own careers.

    I’m one of them 😉

  145. @Jason,

    I accept that, although, I’ll theorize that JOAT isn’t really what makes for your success. It seems to me that most successful business owners have a knack for working with people: finding good employees and business associates; inspiring the team to produce good work, and to do a lot of it; solving problems that come along; finding good deals from outside sources; “selling” yourself, your ideas, your products/services, etc.. I suppose it helps to be a JOAT to accomplish those things (don’t want to be perceived as naive or a dummy about anything, or be taken advantage of due to your naivete…) but JOAT isn’t what makes it “happen”. It’s those other “people skills” that are of greatest importance. A JOAT without that can’t run a business, unless it’s a one-man (or “mom and pop”) operation.

    So how about this: Be a JOAT, but only if you think you can be a successful people-person leader, too. Otherwise, be a specialist.

  146. According to Michael Gerber (E-Myth), one should be a Jack of at least 3 trades. (But the 3 really encompass many sub-skillsets, including being a “people-person”).

    Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician.

    I’ll buy that a JOAT will do better in this economy… specialization only works in really large companies that have created, (and can afford) positions with idle time.

    From my own experience:

    One could never be an “enterprise level systems integrator” without being a JOAT.

    One could never be an “enterprise level solutions architect” without being JOAT.

    I’ve seen specialist fail at this for years, because they can’t see the entire picture… they only see what they specialized in.

    The ones who only specialize do the work but leave a “mess” behind them when they leave.

    Having a lot of width and depth on key items is what I have be successful. Leadership/”People-Skill” is definitely one to go deep on but certainly not the only skill needed, IMHO.

    I believe the same is true for any Entrepreneur.

    They have to see the entire picture, and be a good leader to boot… it is no wonder leaders are so few compared to the masses… it is pretty demanding stuff!

  147. Mr. Ferris-

    Infinite thanks for such a well-written, fresh perspective. I have been a jack-of-all-trades my entire life and have followed numerous pursuits- softball, vocal jazz, choir, cross country, guitar, painting, writing, photography, piano..(you name it), and have received opposition, discouragement, and disapproval from the majority of the people that I know. How many reading this can relate to being called everything from a “quitter” to “indecisive”? Well, you’re correct, Mr. Ferris, we are NEITHER.

    In fact we are the most qualified sort of people because we bring rich variety to everything that we do. I’ve always known that being a JOAT was the right thing for me, so I followed my heart and have reaped extroardinary benefits. I am considered by myself and others an excellent softball player, vocalist, and writer. Additionally I am a very good runner, guitarist, and volleyball player. I relay this to verify that IT IS POSSIBLE TO SPECIALIZE (I.E EXCEL) AT ONE OR MORE THINGS WHILE STILL BEING A JACK OF ALL TRADES. Ferris is correct in stating that the term “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” is indeed artificial pairing when looking realistically at the 80% 20% rule; it is my guess that fellow JOATs work very hard at a multitude of subjects, thus outperforming the lazy specialist.

    One thing that’s great about JOATs is that we’re fearless- and simply don’t conform. I’d personally prefer to have personal satisfaction with what I do (whatever it is) than become someone else’s robotic-performing-monkey just so that I’m deemed “sufficient”. Haha.

    A million thanks to you, can’t wait to read your book!

    Sincerely,

    Hannah

  148. The modern music industry is a perfect example of how a specialist can sometimes be less valuable. You can have a PhD in music but you will never make as much of an impact as Ke$ha, a drunk blonde who’s screams and moans are fixed with pitch correction software and auto tune. Most pop songs are made of almost the same chord progressions, so to make a hit would require probably a few hours of learning. So how does someone like Ke$ha make tons of money, influence fashion, have the most downloaded song in history, and be an all around bad ass? It definitely was not becoming a specialist in music. I seriously doubt she is a marketing expert. Not a dance expert. I believe behind all of the marketing(drunk slut party hoe) Ke$ha has probably learned how to blend in to many fields of the music industry.

  149. Hey Spencer, cool comment man, and well-timed for me 🙂 Though I may not personally love encouraging others to subscribe to the views Ke$ha presents in her songs, I do agree that she seems to have learned to blend many of her personal gifts, personality traits, and resources to create societal ‘success’ for herself, and I love it. I find many celebrities and entertainers are excellent examples of people who’ve blended a significant number of interests into one successful ‘career’. Which is awesome. Ke$ha is a very poignant example (because she is incredibly hot right now,) and my friend Adam and I banged out an acoustic cover of TikTok just yesterday ( gogo two guys singing Ke$ha 😀 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPNkCWLfmGM )

  150. >> Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill <> Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy. <> It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense. <<

    Exactly. Many people don't understand why we like to invest time in learning things that have no apparent and imminent benefit. And they define benefit only in material means 🙁

    What happened to the motto "learning for the sake of learning"? And, is it not benefit enough to keep the brain cells working and alive? I would wish people could understand the joy when you walk through a group of tourists and can pick up words from different languages, even if only a few 🙂

    I wrote too much … so long.

  151. Oh, bummer .. something happened to my previous post. I think we are not supposed to use angle brackets. Sorry about that !!

    – Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill

    Exactly. For instance all the things we have to learn at school. I think we loose a lot of time with the wide-spread 12 year public school system. How many times do we have to learn the same grammar rules over and over? They don’t change each year for God’s sake. The same with history, geography, etc.

    There are only a few courses that need more time to understand thoroughly, but all the time we have during our school years are not used wisely. They try to teach skills and knowledge in the same way, which is utterly wrong.

    And what about all the the courses they should teach, but for some reason are abandoned from the curricula, such as logic, rhetoric, etc. How many times do we encounter people, grown-ups they believe themselves to be, who speak and ‘reason’, but make no sense at all.

    In the East they had an all-round education system in the past. We had theologists who mastered many of the Islamic studies alongside with mathematics, astronomy, medicine, architecture, … Unfortunately, these days are gone.

    – Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy.

    Exactly. Dostoyevsky described this beautifully in one of his books .. I think it was The House of the Dead. It was about how meaningless work can crush the spirit of a man.

    I think many students and academics can relate to this. How many times during a PhD study are we asking ourselves, what purpose it all has and why we have to work 2-3 years on a very specialized problem to get an incremental improvement that will benefit only a handful of people if any. I wrote about this in my tiny post “bugs in writing”.

    My dream is to see the days when there are going to be platforms where real people state their real problems and others work on solving them.

    – It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense.

    Exactly. Many people don’t understand why we like to invest time in learning things that have no apparent and imminent benefit. And they define benefit only in material means 🙁 What happened to the motto “learning for the sake of learning”? And, is it not benefit enough to keep the brain cells working and alive? I would wish people could understand the joy when you walk through a group of tourists and can pick up words from different languages, even if only a few 🙂

    I wrote too much … so long.

  152. I encourage my children to be jack and jackie of all trades and not just for financial reasons but the intellectual stimulation and always telling them, Never stop learning. It is fun and so rewarding. Learning is like going into a candy store if one enjoys candy, where does one start? Great tips!

  153. Awesome post Tim. I love it!

    🙂 Thanks, it’s really motivated me to just go out there and try out new skills. Venture out of my specialization and experience something (I’m an entrepreneurship student)

    I’m thinking of learning how to cut hair. (hahaha, I’m sounding like a Zohan right now) and maybe learn how to do crafting. There’s many things I’m eager on learning how to do.

    Keep it up Tim! 😉

  154. Dear Tim,

    In the middle of Four Day book right now and love it. Period. Very focus, very informative and motivational.

    My Blog post-specific Comment/Question:

    At first blush, this on-line article tends to be a bit at odds with the section in the book about focusing on current strengths vs. working to improve weaknesses and how the latter just makes you mediocre as it does not serve to leverage ones strongest skills.

    Would be curious to get your thoughts/comments on the balance between these two ideals/maxims/principles for my edification.

    Thank you,

    Darby

    A new blog-follower/book fan

  155. The antidote for being a specialist is to be an entreproducer. This is the most profitable life model and the most exciting.

    First of all what is an entreproducer?

    An entreproducer is similar to a Hollywood producer mixed with a traditional entrepreneur.

    Hollywood producers are a perfect example of why one should strive to be a generalist. Yes, there are thousands of people who can write better scripts, can crunch more numbers on an Excel spreadsheet or animate Shrek’s facial expressions but the producer is the king of the castle. A producer needs to understand both creative and commercial appeal. The producer needs to have the creativity to buy a great story with memorable characters and place the right actors in that story. Secondly, the producer has to be able to understand whether or not a movie will sell prior to raising money from investors.

  156. The ideal person for the 21st century will be a creative type that can grow their own food, do electrical wiring, repair diesel engines, code HTML, speak multiple languages, and have excellent leadership skills. Oh, being able to ride a horse will help too!

  157. Posting this comment excessively late, but…

    I enjoy being a “Jill of All Trades” because when the economy gets crazy like it is right now, I can use some of my other general skills to maintain my business and employment options. I have found that this way of “working” has created a situation where I am less likely to burn out and am always exercising my brain. And unbelievably, I mastered “specializations” and created a consulting business out of all my general knowledge of specialized trades. It CAN be done and be done well and profitably.

    I do appreciate the specialist, however, especially in the sciences. These people do AMAZING work and never get a book deal or end up on Oprah and yet they are researching and discovering things that make our lives better everyday. Major kudos and thanks to these dedicated professionals.

    On a sad note, many of my former friends never understood my need to have such varied interests. (They wanted a good, safe government job and then spent endless nights worrying about retirement and how much money they needed to be comfortable.) Nevertheless, in creating this way of life for myself, I hope I have found some kindred spirits out there! (Hopefully some of you posting on Tim’s fabulous blog.)

    Tim – Keep the dialog going my friend. You are doing more than you could ever know for so many people out there who want a different way of life!

    Hope to see some of you on my travels!

  158. “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert Heinlen”

    Then again … maybe we cannot choose. Maybe each of us just needs to find the path that works!

  159. Early in life I was often asked, ‘How many horses can you ride at one time’?

    My response always was, ‘Very True…time to focus on one thing’.

    Although something inside me always had to come up with new ideas and learn new things. And later I realized those who rode only one horse had all their eggs in one basket and were typically broke.

    Hats off to being a ‘General’ and long live this post!

  160. It’s a relief to see a positive comment about being a generalist. I’m still a teenager, but I notice the the great advantages of being a generalist while doing a gig some time back (Behind scenes tech during School Play). During the gig my instructor had to leave out for about 6 hours before the play and handed all of her duties to her apprentice. Her apprentice was so overwhelmed she had given up. Though I was younger than the apprentice(4 – 6 younger I can’t remember) I was able to completely direct and work for 5 hours until the job was done. Now I hadn’t told the director about how I was multitasking between everything when her apprentice didn’t, but I was okay with that. I wasn’t perfect and couldn’t see the detail in anything, but I could see the big picture of anything with ease. This was purely because of the great amount of exposure I had between the ages of 0-12. It’s the same with my math and science subjects in school. I really only know the basics like (+,-,*,division,squt, exp, derivatives, integrals, inf, and limits) in math and things like (Reactions, Force, drivers, directors, amplifiers, Simplifier, containers, converters, timers and distributors). Which are simple enough for everyone to learn, but I’m always called smart because I can pick up on any concept that would use those principals faster than others who don’t know much about them Even though I know I’m not that smart.

    I recently told my mother and father that I wanted to become a generalist, they both said it was crazy. Then if a teacher were to ask me what I wanted to become when get I older, I would say “A generalist” and they would look at me strange. I say it again it is a serious breather to see the pros of generalistic( I know it’s not a word-yet).

  161. Kevin,

    You aren’t crazy, but you’re wrong. Sorry folks to rain on the parade here, but you’re wrong.

    I’ll prove it: go to Monster.com, and search for “generalist” or “jack of all trades.” Good luck.

    Kevin, your high school play isn’t the world of work. The world of America 2010 is such that you must have education and experience in some field, to earn an income greater than about $15/hr. You could be a successful generalist in a third world country (or America 1920) but not here, not now. Nobody’s going to hire you for that, nor can you open up a business doing it. Not that alone, anyway.

    That’s not to say that having varied interests and skills isn’t a good thing to have, enriches your life, keeps things interesting, makes you wiser, makes it possible for you to do some tasks yourself rather than hiring others, etc. But that’s not how you’ll earn a living. You’ll earn a living by being really good at something in particular. That’s what other people will pay you for, just like you pay other people for their specialized skills (right?).

    It’s been mentioned in this thread that some managers and business owners are generalists, and that’s true, but again, that’s not why they’re business owners and managers. They’ve reached that success because they’re good at running businesses, which includes “people skills” (leadership, discipline, inspiration, etc) money smarts, developing innovative business strategies, and their own discipline to work a whole lot of long hours, at the same job, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. And a lot of them do indeed have education in business, accounting, management, and at least some education in whatever it is they’re managing.

    Bottom line: make sure you’re excellent at doing *something* that others are willing to pay you for. Being somewhat good at a lot of different things won’t cut it, if you want to earn a decent living. People will pay you more, the better you are at providing some particular product or service. If you’re a natural leader, then that’s your specialty (and do what you can to enhance that, such as work experience and education).

    1. Let’s see, Admittedly, your comment “Don” was set in the year 2010. So you are obviously deprived of foresight. It’s just unfortunate you negated a young kids perfectly rational and insightful post–as well as all the rest of us (“you are wrong”.) So, maybe at the time you wrote your post you saw no generalist or cross-functional managers when you searched Monster (not the best job search engine, imho btw) but you failed to read the tea leaves that the rest of us were hinting at. If you merely google “generalist positions” today, you get 5.7M hits. There are a large number of websites that are devoted solely to placing generalists, either that or have divisions that are. Who knows where this will lead, but I humbly suggest you stay out of the business of coaching children about their futures. Please.

  162. I can’t believe I missed this post for so long. A great article, with at least as great comments. This coming from a professional welder/bartender, sales(auto and guns), flagger, internet marketer, competitive shooter, exceedingly competent rock crawl driver as well as general ohv’er, and marine electrical specialist. And I’m reasonably sure I could survive in the wilderness of the northwestern United States for several days if I had to assuming I had a knife and a fire starter.

    I grew up with a father that was a machinist. He had a knack for being able to fix most anything that involved welding or machining, but he could also frame a house, build a deck, or anything else. Because of this, I learned to do lots of things early.

    As someone above mentioned, some of us just get too freakin bored to specialize.

    Thanks for this one Tim.

    P.S. If you ever want to learn to draw and fire a handgun and hit a target from a street holster in under a second. Let me know. I’d be glad to help.

  163. Tim,

    Thank you for reminding me how to tie a full windsor knot in my tie! We’d learned in boot camp (Parris Island) but that was 20 years ago. So, I went on YouTube awhile back and there you were… the author of that cool book I’d just read “The Four Hour Work Week.” Now THAT was a cool surprise.

    Also, I’ve used your recommendations for efficiency in my business (“If you need a response within 24 hours, please call Elisha, my assistant…” is one) and at first ticked off some folks. But, my friend, I don’t care because they are nowhere near as productive as I am and I’ve become more productive thanks to you.

    Aside from the “Tim is great” tone of this post, as a former journalist as well, I wanted to let you know that I appreciate your stance on your copy – “credit the blog if you can” is laudable and I certainly will.

    Count me as an ardent reader and know that any time you want to skydive/swim/run/shoot/learn how to drive a tractor trailer/scuba dive/learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu/ Look into the LEED green building system/ etc… I’d have a blast working with you.

    All the best,

    Chris

  164. The ideal person for the 21st century will be a creative type that can grow their own food, do electrical wiring, repair diesel engines, code HTML, speak multiple languages, and have excellent leadership skills. Oh, being able to ride a horse will help too

  165. apparently in the world we live in, mastering a certain craft is a one way ticket to success. but this notion proves to be true when you are a novice. an employee has to master something or at least be good at something before he gets noticed and be a candidate for promotion. when you rise up the ranks you need to broaden your spectrum by learning other trades to make your own better. =)

  166. Maybe I shouldn’t compare being a polymath to being gay, but in my mind, just as being gay is not a choice, being a polymath is equally not a choice. I mean, I’ve always known I was one, a polymath that is, since I started school.

    I just liked diverse subjects and had way more hobbies than the others. There were though and there still are times when I think I have encountered difficulties because of it and I still often think I should specialize in something.

    We have to admit, that this article is a FEEL GOOD article – that is all, something to reinforce and validate our choices. It is unfair to say that being a generalist is better than being a specialist or vice-versa. I just think if you yearn to be one you shouldn’t settle for the other because you will be unhappy no matter how successful.

  167. hah. i’m glad to hear that you think its hogwash that people think most things take a “lifetime to learn”. Of course, learning will continue as long as the longer is willing to learn but I get your point.

    There are people who just think specializing in something is the way to go. The sad thing is that, they will forget everything else and ignore everything just so that they can focus on specializing in one area.

    But learning is such a multi-dimensional process and if we are ever to become educated men and women, then we must have a basic knowledge of all things important in life.

    Lol that’s why I joined a liberal arts college.

    a lot of these people also tend to get very defensive when you question their knowledge about things outside of their specialty. I guess they live in fear.

  168. I wasn’t sure where to contact you at for asking you about some of the content in your new book, so i’ll give this a shot. I typed in biology in your search box to maybe get an insight about all of the, well, biology involved in your book. I mean I want to know everything about all of the biological processes involved in any one of the topics you cover. I know this can’t be explained in a blog post, but maybe you could direct me to a good book, and not just a everyday biology book would be better.

  169. I cannot believe I’ve only just discovered you Tim … where have you been !! 😉

    The times I have been told to focus and specialise, I can’t tell you … as if my ability to be pretty OK at a lot of different things (and crave to do more) is bad.

    Reading this reaffirms how thankful I am to be me. I do not have the remotest desire to be put in a box or categorised.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  170. Loved this countercultural message! Made me feel OK again to not be so niched out that I’d be out of business when the 6 people who are into that specialty retire or die. Aren’t all good leaders generalists?

  171. I am completely in love with this post – so much so, I’ve bookmarked it for future stalking.

    I’ve always taught my daughters to reach as far as they can possibly go – then reach further still. People who teach and preach “specializing” in one area probably do so because their own reach is limited. Either that or they’re a little lazy.

    It isn’t healthy for the mind or spirit to box yourself in any way. Thanks for such an eloquent and wonderfully written reminder.

  172. Thank you. I am a jack of all trades because I love to learn new things and get bored after I’ve mastered them. I love to do all things and all of them different. The first time I heard “jack of all trades, master of none” I took it as an insult, but your article has reminded me why I love it.

  173. Actually i agree with all of you as i am a jack of all trades myself.

    What i see, understand and experience is jack of all trades will be the one who will be the survivor- out of the survival of the fittest theory.

    Jack of all trades will be master of all in the very best manner as our mindset and soul is open. We love everything, good or bad. We do not judge or prejudice.

  174. I really think that with the way the business world is moving, people who are more adept at seeing the inherent “interconnected” of things will be very valuable. I’m sure they already are, but I think their importance will increase as time. I’m not sure of the relationship (exponential vs. linear), but I think there’s no doubt that a relationship exists.

    With Love and Gratitude,

    Jeremiah

  175. I tend to sympathize with what you said because i am like that myself, but I think there is a fundamental difference between being a jack of all trades and a true master. Yes, diversity of experiences and multiple better-than-average achievements are enjoyable, but there is something special about being at the top of the world in something — a feeling jacks of all trades are unlikely to ever experience. Of course, that said, most people are neither jacks of all trades nor masters of anything, so being a jack is still better than nothing 🙂

  176. Late to the bandwagon but anyhow, this article resonated with me. I guess you could call me a Jack of all trades (or a Jill, seeing as I’m a woman!). I am skilled at various things but not specialised in any one of them. For example, my hobbies include graphic design, web-design, writing, photography, etc. I am good at all, but not outstanding in any of them in particular. It can frustrate me at times because I see someone else’s graphics/website and I think “wow, mine sucks in comparison!” and I feel rather inadequate.

    Funnily enough my University degree encompassed many different fields, including ecology, conservation, biodiversity, sustainability, project management, climate change, geology, geography, natural hazards, remote sensing and geographical information systems (GIS). So when I graduated I had skills and knowledge in all of these areas but was not particularly specialised in any one of them. This has had its advantages and disadvantages.

    An advantage has been employment. I am currently temping in the State Government (of South Australia, which is where I’m from) in a GIS position. I have noticed that Government departments like employees with multiple skills, especially when your skill includes GIS! It means they can move the person to different positions throughout the business with ease. One reason why I got the job I am in now is because I am qualified to use ArcGIS software and it meant they didn’t have to train me to use it.

    A disadvantage is not knowing which direction to take in your career. Sometimes I wish I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I like where I am now but there are other things I wish to engage in (like in the environmental field) but I’m not sure what exactly, I don’t have a ‘job title’ in mind, so-to-speak. But I am only 22-years-old, and it’s likely I might not stay in the one job all my life. Who knows what will happen?

    Your article has given me a boost of confidence about being a ‘Jill of all trades’, Tim 🙂 So thank you!

  177. Peter:

    HAHA. I was Electrician-Jack yesterday, wiring lights in the crawl space under my house, and house seal Jack, sealing my vents to stop summer condensation. Got it done, and did a neat job too, but if I’d have paid me electrician rates, the mortgage would be gone. I must have spent 9 hours in 2 days to crawl around and wire 3 lights, 1 outlet and 1 switch, the latter of which I miswired and had to do again.

  178. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for your encouraging words. I am a young entrepreneur and I have always supported the idea of being a “Jack of All Trades”. I believe that pursuing expertise in multiple skills rather than simply specializing in one makes you a much more flexible person than most, which will allow you to seize many different opportunities as they come your way. From my experience, having a substantial amount of knowledge in many different categories has helped me to adapt to my surroundings more effectively and to live the lifestyle that I desire.

    All the best,

    Justin

  179. Hey Tim

    Awesome post!!! You say above it takes 1 year to become world class at pretty much any skill.

    Given your martial arts background, i would love it if you could do a post on applying Pareto law to becoming a specialist at say kung fu or kick boxing in under a year.

    It could have a plan of action? Detailed analysis of what factors lead to quick improvement (flexibility, stamina etc..) and a list of recommended exercises!!!

    This would be a great read

    Thanks

  180. I am a true believer in learning to do many things well and pride myself in being able to do just about everything in my life myself eg fixing cars, home maintenance, electrical, building, health, diet etc.

    A perfect example of this is one of my idols, Chip Foose, from the TV show Overhaulin. He can design, weld, build, panel beat, spray paint and create amazing art works. Each one a skill that many specialise in yet he is probably better than most specialists at each one.

    Life would be boring if you focused on just the one thing. Try your hand and live a little.

    More power to you Tim.

  181. Hey Tim,

    There is a question I’d really love for you to answer, and one that I think a lot of people would be interested in…

    We very rarely hear about all the times you’ve failed. I can understand why it’s not good PR to publicise your shortcomings, but recently I’ve been reading a guy called Preston Bailey’s blog (he’s an amazing event designer) and regularly, he’ll share his biggest mistakes with readers and retell anecdotes of times when his plans have gone awry. This was the most inspirational thing he could have done as it totally humanised him and made his fans (me included) feel like, ‘he screws up too – heaps! so maybe I have a shot at being as good as him’. It was empowering. I’ll always look up to him for being so humble and putting himself out there (especially as some of his worst mistakes were pretty terrible!).

    I wonder what your top three mistakes of all time are? and how can your fans learn from them?

    Thanks Tim, I really look forward to your response.

    p.s – my question is part of a sort of ‘exercise’ from Ramit Sethi based on smashing assumptions. I hope you can smash mine and respond!

    Cheers! 🙂

    Camilla.

  182. Thank you for this article! As an interdisciplinary artist and schizophrenic crafter, this article describes my process to at T! I love to experiment and make different things and play with different materials. My head has always worked like this for as long as I can remember. Even my library which is quite large has everything from history, feminist theory, animal rights, English literature, science fiction novels, philosophy, sociology and children’s literature etc.How boring only ever do one thing! My life is exciting and I keep things fresh. I hope this article helps others understand that creative, innovative and career people are not one-dimensional and can be good at a lot of different things all at once— AND THAT’S A GOOD THING!

  183. “It’s more fun,…”

    Finally, someone who thinks like me. Most don’t see “fun” as essential for success. It’s the reason why many don’t have passion for their work.

    In reality, it’s more than just about “success”. It ‘s about happiness :).

  184. Great article. I don’t agree with the point about boredom.

    You missed out the reality of meditation and service.

    Boredom is usually a emotion lurking around self service/self

    centredness/selfishness.

    Many tasks which may seem boring (like washing other people’s dishes),

    are actually very good for us, because it humbles us and puts us in a

    frame of mind of serving others. It quietens the crazy mind, and brings the

    mind under control, so that it may be used as a tool for doing good

    things, rather than being the master of a person. (chaos, unhappiness

    and destruction)

    The mind can be your best friend, or your worst enemy.

    I agree with all your other points completely. Amazing article!

    Peace and thank you for sharing this knowledge!

    Follow your bliss, serve god and do good things!

  185. I’m 18 and I’m not in college like my family and friends tell me I should be. Taking a year off I’ve discovered many more interests and capacities than I thought I possessed. I’ve always had the hunch that the “jack of all trades, master of none” mentality wasn’t quite true, so I’m very grateful for this article, for the identification of the reasons I was looking for.

    I only stand to learn how to orchestrate my band of interests: music, acting, writing, and business.

    What would you say is the best way to learn this, Tim?

    1. Landon, over the past few years I’ve worked on over 400 productions as an actor – something I would never had done at your age, but should have!

      Why? Because by now I would be a union actor and probably have a better idea where acting fits into the bigger picture of my life’s work. After serving in military and switching roles even then, I’ve also been an IT project manager, real estate agent, business broker, notary, commercial field inspector, mystery shopper, author / speaker, online instructor, videographer.

      At 18 you have a lot more room to stumble and learn with a lot more room to learn and try again but also quite a bit of pressure to live up to other’s expectations.

      At 46 you have lot less margin for error and possibly more wisdom (hopefully) that you need to live your life your way, but possibly more pressure to fulfill demands and obligations like family.

      Recently, I connected with Puttytribe – a growing movement of folks who understand that not everyone is meant to be a specialist. In the end it’s important to connect with those who not only “get” you but also high five your successes along the way.

      If you haven’t watched it yet, be sure to check out Steve Jobs’ speech to the graduating Stanford class. It’s a must for renaissance souls – especially because he talks about how taking a calligraphy class in college led to Apple being the first computer company to use fonts, and the rest is history, as they say! Stay hungry, stay foolish,” because “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back!”

  186. I appreciate positive thoughts on being a Jack of All Trades.

    Steve Jobs did innovation and leadership. Innovation is often putting together existing technologies in a new way. I do not see this kind of innovation done by a devout specialist.

    Specialist are highly needed as well. I have met a lot of people who thrive at this and never seem to get bored with this. Steve Jobs would need those people to carry out his ideas. It’s about finding ones strenghts and weaknesses and getting the most of it.

  187. I’ve thought a lot about this subject because is has some definite practical applications about the way to live your life and I think you make some strong arguments.

    I do think, however, that there is a lot to be gained from pursuing ‘mastery’ with at least one skill over years and years. Not perhaps, it terms of improvement in that skill, but the philosophical lessons that walking that ‘path of mastery’ for so long teaches.

    An example, when you stick with something that long, you eventually plateau in your improvement. You’ve done the 20% that’s really effective and now your ROI for your time is a a lot lower. You CAN move on to the next thing, but there’s something to be gained from continuing to practice your craft goallessly, not seeking improvement per se, but practicing for the enjoyment of practicing.

    If you jump around all the time, you never get that.

    So a happy medium, for me at least, has been to find one or two things I really enjoy and want to practice ‘all my life’ (e.g. cooking) and continue to hop around pick up other skills in a more ‘jack of all trades’ way.

    Another lesson though was that you can also pursue mastery with the sort of ‘meta-skill’ of learning new skills. If you consciously practice the…practice…of learning new skills all your life you get the benefits of mastery there and all the benefits of being a jack of all trades that you mentioned above.

  188. I was feeling kind of down thinking I’ll never be better than mediocre and reading this made me feel a little better. ty.

    1. Da Vinci being a master of many is exactly the point, making him the perfect example. It’s still possible to dominate many fields.

      1. Another good example, closer to these days, is Bruce Dickinson: Iron Maiden lead singer and professional airline pilot (to be honest he is even a good author, check out his books)…

  189. I totally vibe with this, I could never see myself pigeoned holed into one thing, even as a dj I am into many different forms of music which keep me excited. I would be so bored with one style of music. A great example is being a film director, a good director has to know a lil of editing, acting, camera operations, lighting, bookings, catering, fashion, make-up, etc to create a masterpiece of a film. A specialist would fail in such an endeavor. Same holds true of a conducter of an orchestra. As in life you will have those that are generalists and some that are specialists, I think finding which one excites you the most is the path one must be aware of. Great book BTW just started reading it!

  190. Joe Lewis (RIP Joe!), an American pioneer in Karate (1974 heavyweight champion), won more titles in his 17 year fighting career than any other Karate fighter. He was chosen in 1983 by his peers as the “Greatest Karate Fighter of All Time”.

    All that started after he received his black belt in seven months. His sidekick was the best in the business and in many tournaments won every single point with only one technique…the side kick.

    Kicking the asses of “specialists” with the times the experience …my kinda guy.

  191. Hi, everyone. On an impulse, I just looked up Jack of all Trades today and it took me to Tim’s blog and consequently all of you. I also am a devout generalist with good work history and credentials. I have proven myself by being a mere Bachelor level educated curiosity –leaving many one-eyed and degreed engineer coworkers in the proverbial dust. Which brings me to a lament about something that was a constant source of annoyance and which I can imagine some of you know and understand. The business jealousy and disrespect from engneers and PhDs (and other certificated “experts’) toward the minimally degreed generalist is so widespread, unproductive, and quite often ad hominem.

    I’m an example of one mid level in a continuum of what we all can reach and surpass if given the opportunity. And, I belielve that all of the generalists commenting here are heroes in their own right. Unfortunately, Our society largely doesn’t integrate folks like us very well. People say, “if they made people lots of money, they would hire them.” Unfortunately, we don’t do what’s best for us as a people more often than not –because of lots of things, but it ends up being about ego and insecurity, usually. So we often suffer from the same thing from others we as individuals have often worked to overcome, fear of risk or the unknown.

    I lucked out and was close to someone who started a company. She hired me almost immediately to lead her Design R and D, which I did for 12 years as one of 3 Directors. I made 6 figures for 9 of those 12 years before the company was bought out. The founder is long gone now and the new company had trouble deciding what to do with me. They seemed to think laying me off was OK, though. I am currently building my 4th private business but now having trouble narrowing down my offerings… because it feels unnatural to me.

    I am so glad to have found this site and read what some of you have written about your experiences. Thanks for making my day.

  192. Great comments on here, I am in good company!

    I’ve always thought the idea of Jack of All Trade’s was the right life path and guess I’ve been a”generalist” my whole life. I love the best that life has to offer and want it all, basically all the time. It seems I am not alone.

    My experience has been that society thinks of the Jack Of All Trades as a poor vagabond. But it’s also been my experience that it is often best to be on the other side of the fence than everyone else.

    Thanks for the encouragement, Tim and everyone.

    -Nick L.

  193. Certainly an interesting perspective on the Specialist – Generalist question and probably one of the few ones that makes some great points for being a generalist.

    Great post over all and makes great points, however I still think it is best to have a wide spread general knowledge and specialise in a few aras that is of most interest to the individual or company.

  194. Needed to hear this. I’ve been facing a lot of judgement of people saying that I should only focus on one thing.

    Would it be possible if I share this post on my blog?

    1. Hello all, despite the generalist dissatisfaction with rampant misunderstanding and lack of serious consideration on many fronts, (for the most part), anyone else out there having problems with the green background of the text? I realize I’m now in a even smaller much maligned subset of generalists– the renaissance colorblind. I was thinking about the likelihood of this being a problem with one of the few web conversation that I really have enjoyed!… I laughed!

      Thanks for never failing to help me feel less hopeless about my chances for getting another job.

      Regards to all.

      (But seriously, any other colorblind folk having a problem here?)

      1. For all ( colorblind ) who has difficulty reading, Do the following :-

        Click Edit Menu then click “select all” or simply use “ctrl+ A”.

  195. Makes a lot of sense. I completely agree.

    I arrived to the same point of view, and applies to every field. Take for instance Mixed Martial Arts, you have to excel in every field, and that doesn’t mean that because you know everything, you do not master the different parts.

    A boxer could be better than a mixed martial artist in fencing, but I doubt it would be better in MMA fight, but the MMA fighter, could go for both fights with better chances of success.

    The same applies for business, and even more, because the generalist can outsource the specialists, but the specialists would have no idea of what to outsource, since they do not see the whole picture.

    That’s the reason why I left finance department after 4 years. I prefer to enjoy working, learning and having different experiences, than a normal, predictable, specialized, linear life.

    Cheers Tim

  196. I agree wholeheartedly that in running a business, breadth of knowledge rather than depth of expertise is most helpful.

    I’m curious though who the Renaissance men and women are in the business world today? I was really impressed by Bryan Goldberg’s piece on this subject in Pando Daily titled, “You don’t want experts. You want jacks-of-all-trades”: http://pandodaily.com/2013/03/22/you-dont-want-experts-you-want-jacks-of-all-trades/

    Worth a read. Other than this guy, who else fits the bill? Steve Case? Jay-Z?

  197. Hey all. Thanks for the link, Ryan.

    something came to mind the other day, and I wondered what the context was for Heinlin’s comments as so appropriately stated by an earlier post….

    stands repeating I think: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. ” Strong and meaningful words it would be nice to know what he was reacting toward or against at the time. Does anyone know the context for this?

  198. Great article.

    I have swung my pendulum both ways in the thought process on this issue. I think being able to understand where another is coming from is one of the most powerful tools someone can have. If you live in your own little universe you can never relate to others thus never bridge the gap between tech and art, sports and culture, product and marketing, sales and development. When you are exposed to the fears and dreams in others areas you can envision so much more, create and blend things that to a balanced well versed person intrinsically blend.

    My favorite book ever was Ben Franklins autobiography but I have also read Malcom Gladwells Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. I found these fascinating. Ben Franklin tried to learn Latin at a young age but failed. He later learned French, Spanish and Italian. He came back to Latin after learning these languages and found it a breeze. The nuances, derivations and other insights he learned from the other languages helped him to come back and master Latin. It was the generalist quests for knowledge of all that led him to become a master of this skill and many.

    I can’t completely buy into the 10,000 hours to mastery theory given by Gladwell and have myself been a huge believer in the 80/20 principal. I played baseball from age 3 until 15 but could start on the JV team. I took up football at 15 and was all county within two years in high school and then started four years in college. I went from never doing shot put to being 2nd in the state in one year at 17. 10,000 hours would not have made a small person better. (I’m 6’3 245) Using slow motion video of my own throws in practice was my first look into the 80/20 effect in my own life. Learing Olympic Lifts, Deadlifts, and Squats were some of the others.

    The mind is the most powerful tool we have. I become obsessed with subjects, sport, bio’s, careers, etc for periods but just like anything else my enthusiasm wanes. You can push yourself to keep doing the same thing for the rest of your life but why. As far as we know for sure we only go around once. People who buck the trend seem to be much happier Richard Branson starts different companies all the time, Arnold went from lifting, to acting, to politics, to author.

    Tim F understands that it’s the ability to reinvent the quench for knowledge that is the secret. When you can reset the quench the passion will follow, with passion comes drive, drive creates intensity and focus, intensity and focus with proper knowledge produce results at an accelerated pace. Results combined with productive choices will lead to a fulfilled existence.

    I love to vary my own sports from skiing to mountain biking to surfing. Even if a routine might not be the best a new and different routine in the gym leads to quick gains because it is a refresher for the mind a welcome change to the body. You had previously flattened your bell curve and need to reset it.

    The people who reach mastery without being well rounded often are lost without a guide and never learn how to transition or refocus. Look at Bobby Fischer, sports hall of famers, workaholics, former olympic athletes. The ending of one sided perfection is not often pretty. The mind recoils in horror due to never pushing in other directions. I think the mind has many pathways. Exploring each one to it’s fullest will lead to balance, invention and the next modern day renaissance man.

    Great article as always

    Walt

  199. I have listened to your book the 4HWW! Great stuff, but you already know that! I’m in the mist of applying the principles learned in your book. Going on a Radio show hosted by Neil Strauss The Inner Circle. E-mailing Magazine editors, opened a blog (that sadly needs help and web traffic). The struggle is I have been doing all this in secret and it makes it so much more challenging. If you can give me any tips on moving foot traffic online or be as kind as to post a comment on my page I would greatly appreciate it!

    Warm Regards,

    Kiki Bee.

  200. Awesome stuff in this article. Thank you so much! Everyone else just writes about the downsides of being a jack-of-all-trades, but this is what people really need. I myself do everything from auto repair, to web development, and everything in between. Keep up the good work!

  201. This was really funny and logical , I loved it . Having said that , it dint require to ridicule the idea of mastering just one thing . Some who have read this are mistaken in thinking that it is ok to not be focused . It is ok to know just enough to master one thing and one thing only , even a generalist cant claim to know everything. also nothing is mastered without touching upon various skill sets. To survive itself you have developed social skills, immunity , communication etc.. So while mastering one thing you are not any less by choosing not to master everything . I totally agree with the capacity of the human mind to master many things.Mastering at least one thing I feel should be a worthwhile endeavor for the limitless human mind . Once that is achieved , sometimes people are rewarded with enough security , financially and enough satisfaction psychologically to undertake a spiritual journey of just understanding the true nature of nature. Some great people in history have never felt the need to prove anything. Also nothing guarantees boredom only the incapacity of the mind to entertain itself with yourself.

  202. I trade Forex for a living, and ever since I switched to playing only one pair (GBPAUD), learning everything about it, inside and out, only focusing on mastering that pair, optimizing my money management and the trading strategy specifically for that pair for 6 months straight, I’m now trading it with 75%+ success rate. And every trade makes me 3-6 times more than what I lose.

    This was the best decision I’ve ever made, play one pair well, rather than 10 pairs poorly. It gives me an edge over 99% of traders out there. I can come with full confidence, put down 200k on a trade, and walk away within a two hours with 100k in my pocket. All this while hanging out at Nikki Beach, Miami. Easy and stress free.

    I’m 101% sure that if I kept playing many pairs like 99% of traders out there due to greed of trade volume over trade quality. I would probably have quit FX very quickly due to the stress, losses and information-overload.

    The fact that you become a master of one pair, is a long term asset that no one can take away from you, EVER.

    1. Daniel, It appears to me one could think that you are adding data in support of the ubiquitous concept that specialization is the best approach. However, in reality you are showing that using your best knowledge of a given field–in this case, realizing that trading one vs. many is a good idea –is the best approach for this particular “science.” So? (I apologize is this wasn’t your point.) No one has said that using your best effort or information in a given area isn’t a good idea and I believe my appreciation of the joat approach comes from all the reasons listed above in the many thoughtful posts. However, none of these have ever discounted the idea that you should use your best info when pursuing each interest; that is if you want to be as successful as you can in that particular area. Your comment makes sense in stock trading, but imagine how the cattle breeder would fare if they took your approach? It’s always a good idea to use your best experience/knowledge when approaching a given discipline. However, knowledge of as many areas as interest you will more likely keep people like me, anyway, sharper and more capable/innovative in all of those areas–not to mention the life-is-interesting/engaging factor. Supporting data previously presented.

  203. Tim, this is very refreshing to hear. In always been an admirer of artists with versatile styles eg, Graham Greene wrote books on philosophy, religion, war s well as detective fiction.Ang Lee directed The Hulk, Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi – diverse subjects but wonderful movies . Further home I love cooking, technology, writing detective fiction and being innovative. Gives me hope!

  204. I am so happy that you wrote this article. I actually have been reading the Four Hour Chef, and I love the fact that the book isn’t only about cooking, or “one dimensional”. I absolutely love the way your brain works. People tell me all the time, that me having so many skills and interests it makes me look as if I am all over the place. I dont see it that way though. I absolutely love to learn new things! If something interests me, I will try it. Thanks again Tim Ferriss! You give me HOPE. I will now refer to myself as the Jack of All trades, Master of many.

  205. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for this analysis. I’ve always thought of myself as a generalist and hated that phrase “master of none” you mentioned. I’ve fretted that Renaissance men were of a bygone era, and that I was born in the wrong time period. Having spent much of my life trying to fit a square peg (me) into a round hole (career), I’m still trying to figure out how to fit into this world that seems to demand specialization. I recently left my career to start over, and this helps knowing that Renaissance men aren’t a dying breed.

  206. Tim, well done, on this article, and the whole echiladas…….

    We are all pieces of this fantastic puzzle (aka multiverse).

    Live simply, Be nice to everyone, and Embrace the unknown.

  207. It seems that a major concern of being a specialist in this modern era is the speed with which things change. It doesn’t take much more than a single innovation to render your specialty, or even business, useless.

    Pigeon-holing on steroids.

  208. My question is how do I become a “Jack of all Trades, Master of All”? I would love to be this person (I’m sure most people would). I’m the type of guy that wants to learn a programming language and get paid for it, start a YouTube channel, start a band, all at the same time! What ends up happening is I kind of fail at everything. My fear is life isn’t long enough to be good at everything and I’m going to have to pick and choose.

    1. Not so crazy – the key is focus. Take each in turn. To become a generalist you must focus on each area without allowing yourself to be distracted until you have accomplished something. Sometime this means setting smaller targets. Avoid changing targets at random times, but allow yourself to choose widely when the time comes. The successful generalist does not start many projects without finish any. This is a challenge to be overcome.

      I am motivated by questions. Often, when working on a project, I will be teased by a curiosity. I can’t focus on what I am doing. So I take five minutes to do some research, but not taking time to read the answers, just finding the material, book marking etc for later. The point is that having an impulse to do many things is normal. Giving in to it is a mistake. Five minutes is my limit. Then I know the idea will not be forgotten. The anxiety over potentially missing something is alleviated and I can continue my current work.

      Remember, being a Jack or Master is not about starting diverse projects but finishing them.

  209. 全く同感だよ!

    Looking back, the times I have been the most miserable were when I forced myself—or was forced—into an overly narrow subject of study, career path, or even blog topic.

    I have been blogging about independent language learning (what I call “self-guided immersion”) since 2009, a topic I chose because the “experts” say to “choose a niche”. It’s been a tough truth pill to swallow, but I’ve finally admitted to myself that I am bored with such a narrow blog topic (even though I love languages) because it doesn’t allow me to explore my myriad interests. So a question for you, Tim (or to other commenters):

    Would you recommend rebooting my existing blog or just starting a new one? I know that I still something to tie everything together (and I haven’t figured out what that will be yet), but I find great inspiration from those like you and Chris Guillebeau’s “The Art of Non-Conformity” who have managed to pursue diverse interests in a practical, engaging, informative way.

  210. This quote has been a favorite for many years: “Specialization is for insects.”

    full quote:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    ― Robert A. Heinlein

  211. This is a good article and since I’m such a variety person, I am okay with being the jack of all trades. One question that I have, though, is how does apply (and how would you apply it) if you’re interested in investing in stocks/companies, investing in real estate and interested in internet marketing?

    3 distinct fields so how would would you tackle the 80/20 rule for each field?

  212. Several years ago I was actually pretty upset about not finding the spot where I’m exceptionally good at. That would’ve made some choices easier. Now I’m actually happy about it. After trying many things and becoming pretty good at some it’s really rewarding being able to connect the dots while both observing and acting. Being someone who builds things it’s also really rewarding idea-wise. Just a heads-up for anyone confused by not finding a specialty .

  213. Seriously good stuff. I love the first two.. It just sucks that in order to act on them you must be prepared for judgement by the rest of the population who just marches along with everyone else.

  214. What a relief. I have been a chef, a fly-fishing guide and instructor, a stylist in photography, a bartender (of course), an esthetician, had an ice-cream shop on the Mediterranean, worked for 2 years in Australia as a consultant in skin care, lived in Belize, Canada…and now, going on 50 years old, I’m in school for Chinese Medicine, on my way to being an acupuncturist. Besides what others have thought, I’ve often been hard on myself occasionally for not staying put and becoming a ‘master’ of something. I have loved every moment, and been pretty damn good at most of it, so thank you for this article – kind of makes me feel better, like I’ve have not missed so much by not being the best at any one thing, just doing them to my satisfaction.

  215. Deeply disagree Tim. Generalist have no pricing leverage. You become a commodity and you get crushed in the market. You may be conflating people like yourself (big thinkers and innovators) with generalists. They are actually really different. True generalists do one thing and do not iterate. You are a generalist but one that can morph and bring your curiousity to bear against different issues. Very different subtypes.

  216. I’ve struggled a great deal, being a jack of many trades, with ‘the world’ seemingly geared toward narrow specialization. Tim, your post has given me great encouragement, thanks!

  217. A friend of mine is a Scientist and an all round inspiring person. She is master of one and jack of many. She has a Phd in understanding how cells process fats but her understanding and specialization makes her the most knowledgeable in the world about this small corner. Meanwhile she is into yoga, learning to kite board, tango, cooking, having genuine relationships with friends, Living greener than most, travel and one of the most well balanced people i have ever met. She is not without fault and being french results in her living up to many positive and annoying stereotypes.

    She has inspired me to branch out in all my other skills. I am specialised in Visual Effects for the movies. Since meeting this woman i have taken up many of my interests. I now paraglide, dance tango, am studding improv theater and working on being more of a well balanced person.

    So i vote master one skill and be a jack of many, for a more full life. you dont know how the extra skills will help your mastered one but at the same time the other skills could just give you a more full life.

  218. Dear Mr. Ferris,

    I know your time is limited. I wanted to let you know that I intend to reference your article on a upcoming Tibetan KungFu Podcast in regards to training through a weaving of styles once a foundation is set.

    Your work is unique approach to what we try to teach in our kung fu, put internal skills as a priority over external skills. I don’t know if you will get to see this, but I hope it is okay to reference your post. Thank you 🙂

  219. “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    — Robert Heinlein

  220. I love this piece…I feel relieved hearing this from someone I look up to and admire in so many ways. I have a lot of interests and I feel I haven’t fully pursued many of them because of the “master of none” stigma in the back of my mind, with a dab of not following through here and there. I must say the whole desire to want to learn other things of interest is dampened by my own thinking (conditioned I guess) that I won’t be able to do it as well as needed to be considered good or mastered in the specific area of interest. This leads to my internal doubt and questioning of the value it will bring. I will be making it a goal now to master the different things I would like to do or explore. I’ve been called many things…a dreamer and a loser are 2 that I’ve used the most as motivation. The specific business pursuits I’ve endeavored and had the most success with are usually the times I’ve felt like my back was against the wall and ready to collapse in on me, an overwhelming fear of failure, and then somewhere toward the peak…a moment of clarity…followed by a change in overall perception…in these times I can remember the specific moments that I decided to turn the fear into a clear and focused massive amount of action to achieve the specific goals. Articles like this remind me of these times….I’ve failed many times and expect to fail many more but look forward to this journey and the successes from them. Thank you again for this very inspiring article!!! You’ve given me a renewed energy to tackle some of the goals I have. I am perfect at nothing but I know I can be good at many which is what I desire anyways. Sorry for leaving a book…I was very excited and inspired after reading and felt the need to express it and show appreciation!!!

  221. In fact, what you say makes much sense because if you have skills in all kinds of fields (still being a pro in a few), it’s easier to see the big picture and start taking the right decisions.

  222. Ticks me off that it’s becoming increasingly impossible, and not just impractical. A specialist has only a tolerable AMOUNT of change to deal with, even if the rate of change is exponential. Specialties are getting smaller and smaller. The eye doctor can certainly do an eye exam – but specializes in retinas! I envy the guy and his staff for being able to just service patients and make a living. Keeping up with you, Tim, is a full time job in and of itself!

  223. Tim! After I read this, I was looking to see if it wasn’t written in 1974, instead of 2014. I’m not sure that a serious generalist (and being one for 40 years) is today actually able to both make even a low-class income and still keep up – until in whatever specific area s/he is going to change the world is ultimately decided. And I do not know anyone who would hire a true generalist today for anything – because the world is completely beyond comprehension of the common employer/manager – leaving them to trust “the expert” (specialist) in everything. Even if it’s someone they have to train like a monkeybot. Eventually the high-potential generalist must stop being a generalist and decide precisely where and how s/he can, should, and ultimately has to “enter” (= ultimately to rule which “dominion”.) Not an easy process today – given the river rapids of change and “flattening” of the world. Even so – this was already an article of reality when Thoreau railed about the poor fellow who persists too long with only potential. I see the reason is that solving problems – even well – is never done, and operations are never entered (Yikes! I am showing my own specialty now.) Operations are by definition specialized – you have said so many times – and it’s why you like to have crossed into a resonance between the two as a “startup advisor” and general blogger – because of your audience outlet. This (btw) is simply axiomatic of sociological quantal structure. Which until I get acknowledged begrudgingly as the #1 world expert on – who the hell cares what I say? (I’m working on that – and you never let me down with some jewel or three.)

  224. Thank you Tim, this article saved me today. I was going mental trying to decide what area to specialise in, but I see now how the 80/20 rule is far more practical and life-giving than going down a wormhole of specialisation to the nth degree especially if it leads to anxiety, fear of loss of opportunities in that one particular area (and therefore left in the lurch without a backup skill) and boredom. I find it very hard; however, to put “Generalist” on a LinkedIn profile even though I agree for sure that it’s the best “title” for me, mainly because society is so obsessed with labels and seem to want to reduce who you are down to a couple words so they can tick the box that they know enough about you by just that title, so I struggle with applying for jobs for that reason as I have a wide & deep variety of life experience (like many people) and trying to choose just one on a LinkedIn profile is pretty challenging … but we can write our own rules! Perhaps it’s time to assemble my own company / jigsaw puzzle.

  225. I absolutely love this article. It is as if someone read my mind and wrote it down! You made my day for days and weeks and years 🙂

    Jack of all trades doesn’t work for everybody but it is the way for a creative mind.

    Thank you.

    Arma

  226. My God I have lived with that stigma all of my life. Ever since in high school a classmate whose position on the basketball team was given to me told me he thought I was good at everything but not exceptional at any one thing, I have doubted myself. I’m now 82. Fortunately I didn’t let that stop me with my varied interests and have enjoyed a rich multidimensional life and I’m still going strong in my art career.

  227. Thanks Tim. I’ve been struggling with the idea of whether my career has been building towards something as it is extremely varied. You are qualifying some of my personal beliefs about my path. I appreciate the post!

  228. I’ve been a jack of all trades for many years and I find that others I meet that are like this are willing to share and never want to quit learning or asking questions , great post Tim

  229. I actually new someone who had a business card that said “Professional JOAT”. {Jack of All Trades}. The real trick is to know when to see the specialist. Steve Jobs hired some kick ass programmers.

  230. 6 or 0, depending: The more new skills you practice, the more your brain develops meta-skills and meta-strategies, things that make you better at learning new skills and solving new problems in general. 2nd order skill learning. Acceleration.

  231. I’ve been a Generalist all my life, getting new skills came easy to me since childhood. I think that to be a really good generalist you first need to be an autodidact. I am a self-instructing generalist, and I don’t there is other way around that. The problem I have today, is I am multitasking with skills in shorter time spans everyday.

  232. I, too, am a generalist, but its not in the time spent in skills, its how I go about them and think deeply about the subject matter I am engaging in. I have two sayings that support and endorse how I engage a new task: “You don’t have to know exactly what you’re doing to know what you’re doing,” and “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

  233. i love that book Tuxedo Park. Loomis introduced ultrasound, radar and sonar and the atomic bomb along with many other projects!

  234. A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

    -Robert A. Heinlein

  235. #6 having many skills and endeavors give a person more perspectives to be closer to finding the unifying essence of excellence

  236. Tim did you write this about me? I sure felt like it, but I guess I’m no Steve Jobs.

    I am a real estate broker, auctioneer, a licensed water well driller, RTK GPS auto guidance specialist, GIS software specialist, I’ve developed a few iOS apps and I’ve been flying airplanes since I was 14. I’m not rich but I don’t think I will have any problem finding work in the next recession.

    Good article – Thanks

  237. Thanks T man. I’ve started thinking I’m a real jack of all trades kind of guy because I’m good at a few things (with a talent at a few ‘soft’ intangible things which I can apply across fields to different skills), and have been thinking…you know what, I like being 25 and taking up skateboarding out of nowhere…and I like starting a business, or the idea of doing that, but I also like art…and I’d like to survive in the wild…and I’d also like to be a kingpin poker player/gambler…and While I’m at it, have mad ‘life hacking’ skills and mma skills so I can live like Jason Bourne. Then randomly one night I think; you know what, I’d like to maybe learn some neuroscience now, you know, now that all those limiting beliefs from school and uni (no tim, you’re good at the humanities, not science or math) have basically been eradicated. Speaking of, I want to be in the top 20 percentile of mathemeticians; so I can go back to school and correct my teachers…hah!

  238. We get advice to the contrary, all the time, from experts. But this post just blows that out of the water. Here’s confirmation that it is actually “good” to spread out, learn more, do more, and be more.

    The best of us (visionaries, legends and heroes) spent time learning how to round out their personas and become more robust individuals, by knowing more about more, not hiding away in the cubicle of specialization.

    “Generalization” is not the same as having a “lack of focus”, I don’t think; which is what experts often tell us it is. The stimulation gained from expanding our horizons as we generalize can only make us more interesting, empathetic people, just as Tim points out in this post.

    I’m starting to wonder if the contrary advice frequently offered by experts is meant to sustain a hierarchical structure that keeps them at the top (as specialists), while the rest of us languish in squalor beneath, aspiring to “one day” be same as them; maintaining the status quo.

    Being a “jack of all trades, master of many”, allows us to even out the playing field; making it more democratized; more equal. I’m all for that.

  239. Hey Man!

    Thanks, this article gave me a better way to sell my lack of desire to be specific in my life.

    I can’t imagine myself being happy, ever! With a career that dose not have diversity and challenges. I can attest to being able to see the connections between skills and using the combination of different skills to create something new or even solve a problem in a diffrently way. I’ve gotten discouraged in the past for who I am, because of your wonderful timing with your articles and pods I have grown personally and have more comfort in doing it my way.

    Thanks gain man, keep it up! Much love.

  240. AWESOME POST! I often classify myself as a Jill of all Skills, Master of Some. However, that said I have found myself at odds with other people who don’t value learning enough about broad number of topics. “Stay in your lane” had seemed to be my admonishment. LOL. Bravo, Mr. Ferris for explaining our position to the world. 🙂

  241. I’m an Army musician. I play trumpet, banjo, laptop DJ, keyboards, pedal steel, and lapsteel. A master of none, but I get the job done at a high enough level that I’m proud of and consistently challenged. It’s a great way to dig deep into music and life! Two thumbs up for the jack of all trades!

  242. AWESOME POST! I often classify myself as a Jill of all Skills, Master of Some. However, that said I have found myself at odds with other people who don’t value learning enough about broad number of topics. “Stay in your lane” has seemed to be my admonishment. LOL. Bravo, Mr. Ferris for explaining our position to the world. 🙂

  243. I consider myself a “Jacqueline of all Trades” (Haha, right?), however I decided to take the route of combining several skill sets and experiences and focus them into one stream of work: Infopreneurship. Mentoring, educating subscribers/clients/visitors, etc.

    As much as I’d like to agree fully, long-term JoaT for most entrepreneurs isn’t viable. Nor wise.

    I’d have more trust in an expert over a dabbler on any given subject. But the life and career stories of the dabbler are far more interesting than that of th expert.

    In my opinion, of course.

  244. It’s refreshing to hear this point of view. However, still important to note that what you choose to learn still matters. If you’re a generalist who knows a smattering of finance, programming, and social science, you’re probably going to do well. A smattering of art, religion, and music… you might have a harder time finding your niche.

  245. I think being a “Jack of all Trades” is part of being a successful “Lebenskünstler,” who crafts and lives life by design (for all the reasons you mention!) Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insights!

  246. Thanks for sharing this article on Twitter again. This is actually how I am trying to define my career, at the moment. As a ‘Jack of All Trades,’ I feel I have the ability to be a well rounded player and someone who can be comfortable in a variety of situations.

  247. I realize that I´m a bit complex to categorize, I´m mechanical engineer with an especialization on Project Management PMP ,Computer Deverloper on Ruby and Rails,and currently Marketer, blogger and Entrepreneur.Totally agree that this path is more fun and that needs to combine a macro generalist and micro specialization approach ,I think more than a choise it´s a need.

  248. I love this post, I tend to be a generalist too, especially when playing videogames, I like to dabble in each genre and get hooked evenly that I’m good at all but no MLG pro, I don’t get a high K/D ratio in FPSs, I don’t win slot in races, but I do get podium, I’m bad at fighters but I can give them a run for their money.

    In real life I’m also one, I cook adequately, I can sing certaon songs well, I’m great at drawing but not so much, I Also shift from one thing to another, and like a quote I love to say ”Life is too short for just one thing.”

  249. I almost commented that the secret is now out of the bag, however, from experience I know this will not change the beliefs of the unbelieving or those who don’t already understand. Well put, sir.

  250. A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an

    invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a

    sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the

    dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an

    equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a

    computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

    Specialization is for insects.

    Robert A. Heinlein

  251. The difference between a specialist and a generalist is in the Conative (Action)(not miss spelled) part of the brain. As apposed to the Affect(emotion) and Cognitive (thinking, And this is where the skill is trained) parts of the brain. Check out Kathy Kolbe’s work on this part of the brain. She has 3 books explaining her ideas. Take the “Kolbe A Index” It will be very liberating for those who are not specialists, stick with one thing type of people.

  252. No one hires generalists. Job descriptions are overtly looking for someone who.has years of the exact work that are seeking to fill. Entrepreneurial spirt is not a trait embraced by HR word filters. But life is more than how you make money. Generalists are hooked on the experience of life long learning. They are ok with learning to eat the cetera out of every cake that captures their fancy. Getting paid to do that is not at the center of a generalists life.

  253. There’s a small typo (reason #3, Maslow) 😉

    It’s ironic how ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ used to describe someone able to undertake many tasks on a ship. However the ship already had a master, so he was master of no ship. But in the years that became master of no trades. Although there is an equivalent in any known language – about people who expand their expertise to many fields, without ‘mastering’ any of them – I don’t think it is necessarily wrong or right to be one. I guess the biggest issue in ‘perception’, as in “do we want to be perceived as jack of all trades?”

  254. I have to disagree with the generalized idea presented in this post, Tim. Yes you can apply the 80/20 rule, but it simplifies when someone is considered an expert. In well established fields where more than a century of competition and development has led to a ridiculous skill ceiling, even 10 years of deliberate practice with guidance from the best mentors may not get you close to that edge between pro and amateur. Conversely a young field may require just a minimal effort to be considered an expert in, with a lack of established, efficient mental structures or serious competition.

    Maybe it would have been more efficient to focus on the idea of figuring out which fields you identify with, and how well developed these fields are. This makes it easier to be a jack of all trades in the sense you describe. It also helps people to better understand how to apply the concepts of the 80/20 rule to truly assess their opportunities vs cost vs efficiency.

    P.S. Check out the work by K.A. Ericsson on deliberate practice, and his book “Peak” (2016). And for more detailed info the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise (2006) is also really something else.

  255. I do think you need both though. Sure, Steve Jobs had the variety of experiences to give Apple a leg up in design and innovation, but he would not have been able to get Apple anywhere without Wozniak to take care of the technical details. Product comes first after all, and you need at least one person willing to put in that extra 5%, because just with diminishing marginal returns, There may be millions of people who have reached 80% mastery, but only a handful who have reached 99.9% mastery, and it is those who have the depth, combined with someone who has breadth, that make all the difference.

  256. Very well articulated. Something I have always intuitively believed . A generalist goes through a much steeper learning curve.

  257. Thanks for sharing Tim, inspiring, as I’m constantly learning about different industries and in different areas of life, I didn’t realize how boring it would be to specialize and not expand. The generalists do seem to be the CEOs.

  258. Finally, vindication for someone who has always struggled with being a jack-of-all-trades by nature. Musician, engineer, programmer, technician,mechanic, wood worker, welder, painter, teacher, leader, speaker.

  259. I would also add a sixth reason: it will make you more secure. We live in a volatile society where things change fast, oftentimes faster than we are able to process them. If you specialize in one thing, you doom yourself to failure and poverty, perhaps worse, in the almost inevitable event that your chosen field goes by the wayside. Trust me. I’ve been there, and I generalize now because I don’t ever want it to happen again.

  260. Great read. I have always considered myself a jack of all trades, and was discouraged by many to thinking that was bad. I enjoy it, i have had jobs in so many fields, work with many different experts, and learned so much. I think after a couple years, I get bored and want to learn something new. I have worked in mortgages to forklift driving,and so many mkre in between. I love it. I believe all these skills is culminating into a big bang of awesomeness for.myself,family, and helping others. Thanks for the article. Have a beautiful week.

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