Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

In the last year of so I have been the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ a lot and it really irritates me how it is used as such an insult So far, this term has not been used to describe me (at least not to my knowledge) but regardless, I do consider myself a bit of a jack of all trades. I think being a product manager is inherently jack of all trades. That’s probably why it bothers me so much. So, in today’s LONG overdue post, I wanted to stand up for all those jack of all trades out there.

First, let’s define the jack of all trades master of none. According to Wikipedia (which we all know holds the absolute truth on every matter) this term is a “reference to a person that is competent with many skills but is not necessarily outstanding in any particular one”. I think that is a fabulous definition. Describing a person as competent (in my mind) is a HUGE compliment; a compliment that I rarely bestow on anyone. To be competent is exceedingly rare.

Outstanding, however, is changeable, I think. For example, a person may be able to brag outstanding performance, understanding, knowledge, expertise, etc. associated with UHF. Who cares? Basically, a person can be outstanding for a little while and then their expertise becomes obsolete. What’s left then? A jack of all trades, however, can turn on a dime to leverage any number of competencies.

What’s best about jack of all trades… they are holistic. With competence in many areas, a jack of all trades can see the bigger picture and pull together a variety of things that are seemingly disconnected in order to build something comprehensive. Let me give an example…I work with many masters of particular trades – programmers, graphic designers, marketing, sales, finance, etc. These people have a single-minded focus on their area of expertise and that is what should be.

But, who pulls the experts' expertise together? To those who questions the value of a jack of all trades, do you really think that a software developer and finance manager are capable of speaking the same language or producing a profitable product? With these two masters, you have product and profit covered, right.... Not quite...Now, the jack of all trades understands enough of all these very different languages to ask the right questions, facilitate communications, and pull disconnected pieces together from a holistic perspective.

I absolutely agree that masters of trade are very valuable in terms of expertise in a particular area. But, it is the jacks of all trades who bring it all together to create a complete picture. 


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