In praise of the jack-of-all-trades

swiss army knifeAre you a specialist or a jack-of-all-trades? Are you gifted in one or two highly focused skill sets or can you do a little bit of everything? If you were (or are) a doctor, would you be a family doc, skilled at diagnosing and treating a wide range of simple symptoms, or would you be a specialist, directing all of your faculties toward the curing of one specific human ailment?

Today’s entrepreneurial free market has given unprecedented rise to the specialist, the boutique, and the niche. For some, survival in today’s business climate has required them to focus their efforts on mastering a clearly defined niche of the market rather than trying to accommodate the full ranging needs of the average shopper.

Additionally, our star-stricken, celebrity obsessed culture directs nearly all of our attention toward the rare standout performers. We practically worship the top performers in a given sport or field of achievement, while seldom acknowledging the journeymen/women who faithfully show up and adequately perform a wide range of supportive job duties. Sometimes it’s good for us to pause and remember the journeyman (because most of us probably are the journeyman), and to remember that there is still—and always will be—a place for the jack-of-all-trades.

Can you imagine how frustrating it would be for a Swiss Army Knife to be expected to perform like a solitary screwdriver (or like a pair of scissors—have you seen the flimsy scissors on a Swiss Army knife??)? If you need to screw in a bunch of Phillips-headed screws by hand you don’t want a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman—you want a big screwdriver with a comfy handle. However, if you’re camping or doing small, around-the-house maintenance, the Leatherman/Swiss Army knife can’t be beaten.

So again…which are you? Are you a solitary screwdriver or a Swiss Army knife? Are you a specialist or a generalist? Remember, a world-class generalist is just as excellent and necessary as a world-class specialist even if there isn’t as much recognition or fame attached to that role.

My hope is that we generalists can be at peace with our gift-mix and find a place to serve where only jacks-of-all-trades can truly get the job done.

Peace out.

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