Do you believe in Jack of all trades or Master of one?

over 7 years ago from , Founder @neue.world

Throughout my uni I've been good at pretty much everything and I was pretty proud of it. And that did fetch me a job as a Creative Head to a 50 year old company. So now I wonder, if it's worth being a jack or should I become a master at something(which I am not too sure about, yet)

What do you think?


  • Cristian TincuCristian Tincu, over 7 years ago

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    45 points
  • Tristam GochTristam Goch, over 7 years ago

    It's such a subjective thing really, depending a lot on how zoomed-in the person making that judgement is. In a community of designers knowing enough code, layout, branding, typography etc might make you a jack of all trades. It's conceivable that to a client those skills might combine to make you a master of one trade, Design.

    22 points
  • Daniel Alcorn, over 7 years ago

    I actually believe you can be master of some, not just one.

    I had this conversation with a friend who disagreed and said you need to specialise in one thing, spreading yourself too thin means you will never be a master of anything.

    There's a balance. I believe it's vital as a designer to learn the things you are creating for, to an extent. Web development, animation, printing techniques. The finished results improve greatly when you understand the medium - its limitations and its potential. It means you can talk with the team you're working with on a technical level, rather than pass the design over and be done with it.

    Learn to code to a decent level, learn animation to a decent level, learn 3D rendering to a decent level etc. All these things will help inform that design. And also, you know what, it's just really cool to learn new things. I love it, I learn as much as I can as often as I can and I find it immensely rewarding. If that means that I am not a 'master' then so be it...however I don't believe that to be the case.

    I'm pretty happy with the trajectory in my learning about graphic design. I'm not a master yet (how do you define that) but I think I am moving along the right path to make the most of my ability. I've also learnt to code html, css and Wordpress. I've learnt after effects and cinema 4D. I'll learn app development at some point.

    In terms of design, I'm confident I can be the right person for any job. For animation, i will do a good job, but there are people who will do it faster and better than me. Same for web design. Because they specialise in it. But that's okay, because often it's okay for me to do these things because there's not the budget to employ someone else to take that on and I think working end to end on something can achieve some great results and consistency.

    Also it's great for personal projects. I can work on my website and add new functionality or styling myself, I don't need to rely on square space or buy Wordpress themes, I can do it myself as I please. My talks are improved because I am able to add some custom animation and visual effects myself etc.

    TLDR: learn learn learn, as much as you can to a point where you're not shifting vital things you need to know about your main discipline. It's immensely fun and rewarding.

    5 points
  • Stephen Tomlinson, over 7 years ago

    There are 7 billion people in the world. Plenty of scope for a mix of generalists and specialists and the range in between.

    Tim Brown of IDEO tried to break away from the concept of this as a linear scale with T-shaped employees: http://quibb.com/links/ideo-ceo-tim-brown-t-shaped-stars-the-backbone-of-ideo-s-collaborative-culture/view

    2 points
  • Taj Rahman, over 7 years ago

    I think most people are capable of doing multiple things well, but there's at least one thing that the person is really good at doing.

    I personally love to design websites and I also enjoy a bit of coding (HTML, CSS, JS), but I wouldn't call myself a front-end developer since I've got a lot more things to learn.

    2 points
  • John PJohn P, over 7 years ago

    Never heard "master of none" uttered by anyone I had the slightest amount of respect for.

    1 point
  • Heath ShowalterHeath Showalter, over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

    I've been a jack of all trades, from programming, design, construction, wood working, auto repair, electronics repair, etc. I was inspired by my grandfather who came from a time when it was necessary to be a generalist, to repair your home/farm yourself and be self taught in many things. He built his own house, repaired his own cars, and happened to be an electrician that worked on super computers in the 80's and got me hooked on computers at an early age.

    Being in multimedia with budget constraints I am expected to do the impossible, make $50k projects for under $2k. Corners get cut and products can't be perfected but its where a generalist can shine.


    1 point
  • Ege GörgülüEge Görgülü, over 7 years ago

    There's another version of this saying:

    Jack of all trades, master of none, but ofttimes better than a master of one.

    Go jacks!

    0 points
  • Catalin CimpanuCatalin Cimpanu, over 7 years ago

    My former boss was a jack of all trades. I'd prefer to work for a jack rather than a master of just one thing.

    0 points
  • barry saundersbarry saunders, over 7 years ago

    Either, as long as you recognise that common cognitive bias that makes you undervalue things you find easy and focus on things you find difficult. Don't waste your life becoming mediocre at things you already find hard - become brilliant at things you find easy!

    0 points
  • Adham DannawayAdham Dannaway, over 7 years ago

    All that matters is what you're interested in doing. If you like doing a variety of work and you can handle it then do that. If you want to specialise in a certain area then do that. There are jobs available for either skill set. Best of luck with it :-)

    0 points
  • Wil NicholsWil Nichols, over 7 years ago

    Both are pointless if they're not contributing to a good outcome. If knowing Framer and AE doesn't contribute to stellar animation prototyping, what good is knowledge of both? Likewise, if I land myself in a job or project demanding CSS3 anims, but specialized in AE to an extent where I have to learn from nothing, that's equally abysmal.

    Learn whatever you need to produce the best possible end product; both approaches are pointless if you take more pride in craft than in accomplishment.

    0 points
  • Chris Howard, over 7 years ago

    Have a look at the employment ads for roles that interest you. I'd be surprised if they'd want a "master of one".

    You can and will become very proficient in some things, but the only think we need to be a master of is learning.

    0 points
  • Dean HaydenDean Hayden, over 7 years ago

    If it comes down to just tools then why not learn everything you can (if you're interested and have the time). There are universal design principles that tie them all together. If, from learning new tools, you get to understand the medium then you're in a better position than many.

    0 points
  • John Jackson, over 7 years ago

    I think that it is good to have something that you really excel in, but many things that you are sufficient in. This can actually make you even better at the thing you're really great at. For example: if you are a designer by trade and you're damn awesome at it, having a basic understanding of development will help you to make more informed design decisions.

    0 points
  • JJ VerhineJJ Verhine, over 7 years ago

    Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. We are moving into a winner-take-all world and to win, you need to differentiate.

    Most people (including my ten-year-ago self) improved by focusing on their faults. People who focus on their faults can eventually improve them to a point where they are no longer obstacles, but doing so will not propel them to success. A better strategy is to focus on one or two of the things at which you excel and hone those skills or talents to the point of excellence. Working on your faults might help you make a living, but honing your talents may help you change the world.

    The impulse to focus on your weaknesses is a vestigial remain of an outmoded era in our evolution. I'm writing this in January (2015) so it is a good time to review your New Year's Resolutions. My resolutions from 2005 were mostly about working on my flaws. And like many determined people, I did make improvement. But that improvement came at the expense of what could-have-been if I had worked on going from good-to-great on my strengths.

    Suppose you are really good at developing computer algorithms and really bad at showing up on time. It might take an X amount of effort to become really great at computer algorithms and let’s say it takes X/4 effort to become average at showing up on time. Both are improvements that increase your value, but being great at computer algorithms will pay exponential dividends (even though it is harder to achieve). And even better for you, since you are already good at computer algorithms, it means you probably enjoy it and so that time improving will be really fun too.

    Or let’s say you’re ugly but hilarious enough that strangers pay you to make them laugh. Working on your comedic skills will go a lot further than losing some weight. Being the funniest person in town is going to make you stand out.

    Have you ever noticed that all the most successful people have massive, glaring weaknesses? Think of Bill Clinton’s well-known faults. But he has one or two traits in which he is world class. That’s all you need to be a superstar. Same thing goes for Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Steve Jobs, and any other person that has changed the world. What does Tiger Woods do great? He hits golf balls long and accurately . . . and that’s what he will be remembered for. People -- all people -- have very obvious flaws. Instead of spending massive amounts of energy on those flaws, spend it on making yourself great.

    Taken from here: https://www.quora.com/What-advice-would-you-give-yourself-10-years-ago/answer/Auren-Hoffman

    0 points
  • Josh LeeJosh Lee, over 7 years ago

    I came here for Jack Dorsey trolling, was pleasantly surprised with how thoughtful everyone is being.

    0 points
  • Ian WilliamsIan Williams, over 7 years ago

    Both are useful in different contexts.

    0 points
  • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

    It's give and take to me. Being a "master" equals more money but you're restricted to one type of work/project. Being a jack of all trades brings great variety, but working as one of these could lead to being undervalued by whatever company you are working for because they typically don't want to hire more people to do the same job you can do. In the end, it's up to if you'd rather be really good at one thing and be valued more for it or work on a variety of projects and possibly feeling more fulfilled.

    0 points
  • Timothy Kempf, over 7 years ago

    Jack of many trades, master of a few.

    0 points
  • Adrian HowardAdrian Howard, over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

    Yes and no ;-)

    Nobody can be truly excellent at every single discipline. I know nobody who is world class at visual design and type design and IA and IxD and interviewing and user testing and .

    Let along all the other things you need to know once you get into more leadership / strategic / management roles in organisations.

    That doesn't mean folk who aren't expert at a named discipline are ineffective. Quite the opposite.

    Firstly, because folk who cross disciplinary divides are enormously effective at bridging those divides. They can be the glue that pulls different folk together. They can work past the communication problems. They can spot the synergies between practices that folk on once side or another can't see.

    Secondly, because in smaller teams and organisations you just can't afford to have a separate expert for each discipline. You need to have folk who can wear multiple hats.

    Finally, because "trades" aren't real things. We made them up. They are (one of my favourite words) reifications. So just because a particular combination of skills doesn't have a commonly accepted "trade" name doesn't mean it isn't a massively useful combination. Communities of practice change and evolve over time. Twenty-ish years back the "front-end dev" role didn't really exist in the way it does now. This weird combination of visual design, coding, HTML, CSS & interaction design was a jack-of-all-trades — because we hadn't invented the "trade" yet.

    This doesn't mean that there aren't folk with randomly acquired bunches of skills that don't really work well together.

    This doesn't mean that there being really, really expert at something isn't worthwhile and valuable.

    It just means there are other routes that provide huge value.

    0 points
  • Lev MiseriLev Miseri, over 7 years ago

    Related podcast: http://seanwes.com/podcast/105-what-if-im-jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none/

    0 points