Jack of all trades or master of one?

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The thirst for knowledge is an interesting struggle. It drives us to better ourselves and serves as motivation. However, our quest to learn more about a particular thing can cause us to put blinders on and go down a road that may take us away from our original heading. Where do you draw the line?

It is important to know where your interest lies. Some people want to be jacks of all trades, getting their feet wet just enough to become familiar with every new thing they encounter. Some other people want to dive headlong into a particular area and become immersed in that space. Projects can bring together both kinds of people. The strength of the team lies in its ability to work together towards common goals.



The great divide

  • Specialist  – Someone who is focused in a particular area  and has the depth of knowledge to make a significant contribution in that space. This person often becomes indispensible. It is very important, however, that specialists are team players and can work effectively with other specialists and leaders for project and team success.
  • Jack of all trades – Someone who is able to tackle tasks in multiple disciplines. This person has the breadth of knowledge to understand, appreciate and, perhaps, complete tasks for various aspects of a project. Companies usually expect their project and team leaders to be jacks of all trades so they can build and sustain talented teams.

Is there a middle ground?

Companies will bring in specialists, either as a full-time employees or contractors, to do a lot of the ground work in specific areas, set standards or propose guidelines. Thereafter, the generalists can take over to extend and propagate that. Once the specialist has completed his/her task, their focused contribution may not be needed anymore.

Yes, there is a middle ground. You can specialize in one specific area while being a generalist in all other areas. This allows the ability to contribute more actively in one area while supporting work in all other areas. Alternatively, you could be specialist of all trades. But that  can sometimes take superhuman efforts to sustain.

It is important that leaders create an environment where teams can be nimble, and provide growth and learning opportunities. As indicated earlier in this post, the quest for knowledge can, after all, be the numero uno motivator for some of us.


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