Is it better to be a little bit good at a lot of things, or very good at one thing? Can you have both? Let’s talk about the expression ‘Jack of all trades master of none’. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than I first thought when I started writing this, so I’m going to explain it in detail.
The popular expression ‘Jack of all trades, Master of none’ is a little bit flawed. The expression basically says that if you try and spread yourself too thinly, by learning lots and lots of different skills, you’ll never attain mastery in any one particular thing. Is this true?
Well, not exactly. It turns out that learning isn’t a zero sum game. If you learn one thing, that doesn’t then mean you’re less able to learn another. In fact, it has almost the opposite effect. Sometimes, by learning a variety of different things, you actually improve your ability to master them. Some things compliment each other!
This doesn’t apply to everything, but it has something to do with relativity. Let’s think about this. If you’re trying to learn how to fly a plane, and you’re also trying to learn to take care of a frog, those are totally unrelated activities, and learning either one of them won’t help you attain mastery in the other.
However, lets look at another example.
Lets say you’re learning Karate, and you’re ALSO learning Judo. Those are both martial arts, and they compliment each other. In fact, by practicing one, you’re automatically practicing the other because they’re very similar. They’re both martial arts, and so training one will improve your skills at the other.
There are lots of ‘pairs’ like this, for example –
– Learning to code and learning web design
– Learning magic tricks and improving your confidence
– Learning how to play the guitar and training rock climbing
– Playing hockey and endurance running
Hopefully you can see that by learning these skills, you become a master of some. It’s not the case that you can’t become a master of those skills just because you’re learning more than one thing.
It’s not a zero sum game.
Let’s also think about groups of skills, which when learned together actually compliment each other really well. I’m going to use the example of online business, simply because it’s what I have experience in and it’s easy to show how this works.
You’re trying to learn online business, and in order to do that you decide to learn the following –
- Search Engine Optimisation
- Email Marketing
- Website Design
- Productivity tips
- Psychology of success
They all compliment each other in such a way that you can improve FASTER by learning all of them (being a jack of all trades) than you can just by learning ONE thing. By being a better copywriter, you’re also being a better email marketer, advert writer, and your articles are naturally more search engine friendly.
You’ll also do better at all of those things by being more productive, and as well as that by learning how to optimise your sleep pattern you’ll have more energy.
There are lots of groups of things like this, and I think they can help people to learn things faster. It’s not the case that you HAVE to focus only on ONE thing in order to attain mastery of it.
Jack of all trades master of SOME
I truly believe that even when learning multiple things and taking on more than one project at a time, people can attain mastery in certain areas. There is a debate about whether it’s better to focus on one thing or to spread yourself around and put your ‘eggs’ in various baskets. I think much the same as investment, it’s better to diversify. Not only is it better, it’s more fun!
I love being able to wake up and decide between playing the guitar, writing an article, investing, selling, creating a product or going rock climbing. It gives you more options and you’ll find that lots of things help you improve at lots of other things.
Language learning to improve brain power
Language is a great example of how one thing can improve your ability in another. By learning a second language studies have shown that your brain becomes more adaptable and more likely to improve at other skills. It actually makes you smarter in OTHER areas, not just in language skills. This is huge and means that you can be a jack of all trades and a master of some.
Directing your focus to one thing
There is a common view that by directing your focus on one thing you’ll get there faster. That is true, however I think that certain things like I said go with each other. It’s not going to help you learn to code a website if you’re also learning the best practices for caring for stick insects.
If you’re really passionate about one particular thing, for example website coding, then by all means focus on that one thing. But don’t just focus on it and ignore everything else. It may well be the case that by doing something even completely unrelated, you’ll have an idea as a result. Maybe you’re swimming, and you suddenly have an idea for a new line of code that will improve your website design.
The best thing to do?
I would say the best thing to do is to just do what you enjoy. If you’re a martial artist, and you want to learn how to cook then by all means do it. It won’t slow you down in terms of your martial arts progress, and if anything it makes you smarter to do lots of different things and to introduce your brain to lots of new problems.
How do you learn a language when you’re a child? By being immersed in that language and presenting your brain with a problem. It knows it needs to understand what’s going on, and so it learns pretty quickly how to use words and how to understand the language.
You also learn how to walk and control your body at a rapid rate, AT THE SAME TIME as learning how to understand language. In the same way, by subjecting yourself to lots of various things, you’re forcing your brain to improve and boom more efficient. You really can be a jack of all trades and a master of some.