We’ve all heard the old aphorism, ” jack of all trades, master of none”. This has been one that has bothered me for a long time. It comes from the belief that any time spent learning new skills is time that could have been better spent honing one skill to the maximum. I agree with the theory of that, but not necessarily with the reality of it. Yes, someone could hone and hone their craft in order to get closer and closer to perfection, but in reality, people usually just work until they reach good enough and stop. Perfection is difficult to achieve and the difference between being 95% of the way to perfection and being perfect is not much when it comes down to your return on it.
A post on Quora by David Cole, “The Myth of the Myth of the Unicorn Designer“, really got me thinking about this line of thinking that everyone should be a specialist. Unlike the arguments that I usually see in support of that belief, David Cole argues that learning outside of one area allows for the knowledge necessary to create something with a more holistic view in mind. Having that holistic view, he says, helps to build a superior product. I’m inclined to agree with that thought since it echoes my own personal experiences. I’ve always done my best teamwork when I understood at least a little bit of the areas of all my teammates; not so that I could correct their work, but so that I understood how my work interconnected with theirs and how our work impacted each others.
I’ve also found that while I could spend 100 hours becoming slightly better at one of my areas of strength, the same amount of time could bring me from zero skill to a decent basic level that allowed me to do some simple work with that new skill. While that didn’t make me good enough at that skill to base a career around it, it did make me good enough to prototype ideas, make mockups and generally flesh out an idea to see if it was good enough to bring someone onboard to work on the idea. That is a great thing for a small business or an entrepreneur and I don’t think that value should be ignored. Frankly, that old aphorism sound like one of two things; someone trying to keep others from stealing work from them, or someone who is too lazy to learn new things and wants to justify that laziness to themselves and others.