Jack of all trades, master of none

Having finished recently Jonah Lehrer’s book How We Decide, it became clear that too much information often causes you start having decision paralysis. That insight also combined nicely with one my favorite idiomatic quotes:

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

Having worked in marketing and programming, project management and motion design, this may even seem a personal counter sense. In fact, trying to pretend you do or know a lot of things on several disciplines induces mediocrity, by not excelling in any of them.

soshulmeowdia
Relax, my cat wasn’t harmed for the photo shoot

The same reasoning applied last Monday while commenting about “who owns social media“, as i stated that only users own social media. Not PR agencies, not ad agencies, not SEO experts. Everyone and his dog cat is trying to get  a piece of the cake, even if we’re all clueless about it. We’re all learning as we go.

So stop pretending your agency knows all about social media when they just don’t have the skills or human talent. If you try to be jack-of-all-trades, you risk being regarded as master of none. Be a PR agency. Or a Design Studio. And work with the best partners to provide the best social media strategy.
As for the so called Social Media Experts that are becoming more usual nowadays, beware. Ask what they did for the community, what social web tools do they use besides Facebook or Twitter, demand for examples.

This is not the end of it, yet.  Just this morning, as i was thinking about these subjects and the way they relate to my professional experience, i tweeted:

Don't try to be a jack-of-all trades. Evolution is about specialization. Or parasites.

Don’t get offended by the mention of parasites. It’s actually an evidence in nature, stated by the the much wiser author Kevin Kelly on his latest post “Increasing Specialization”, on what was a personal closure on this specialization subject. It’s something that works for nature and i believe it should apply not only for professionals but also for organizations.

We can’t all be a Renaissance Man. We can’t all be as good writer as we are engineers. We can’t all be companies that are both creative and perform six-sigma. You’ll only make a fool of yourself when facing someone who actually knows about the subject.

Digital Marketing will have a hard time being respected if every 15 year old kid proclaims himself as a Social Media Expert. Or worse, if companies actually hire them because they don’t respect the discipline enough or just can’t find the talent to work on it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all be interested about it:

Be absurdly great at one thing. Be curious on all things.

5 thoughts on Jack of all trades, master of none

  1. barbara says:

    O Bill tá lindo!

  2. EH says:

    On an agency or business level, I think it is more do-able to be a jack-of-all-trades within your industry because you have more man and brain power to do so. But as an individual, you are very right; you must specialize if you want to succeed in this world.

  3. Sabe quando você lê algo que precisava ouvir? Então…
    Brigado Armando. :)

  4. C.G. says:

    I tried to be a jack-of-all-trades, by combining Design with Illustration, Web Design and some Marketing tips, while my career goal is to work in the videogame industry. Why? Because they kept teaching me “If you can’t go for career A, you can always do career B”. Something like that.

    And guess what? I’m failing at both A and B.

    In videogame companies, they say my art skills aren’t good enough, despite my education as a designer, while in design agencies, they say my drawings are awesome, but I’m not what they’re looking for.

    Personally, I would invest all I have in the videogame path (in the 2D and even 3D part), but I can’t because of disorganization of schedules, and investment already done with college projects, and in Design, where they care about being able to draw, but never the type I’m used to.
    If I invest more in Design, for the sake of having more stable job opportunities, then I’ll barely have the time to construct a decent portfolio for the video games’ side.

    … Bah. It’s worthless to be multi-talented. Or work like hell for your course degree when they care more about the quality of your portfolio in the video games’ industry, not how high were your grades.

  5. daniel says:

    I am confused. either
    a. your making fun of those who say to only specialize
    or
    2. your actually serious when you say don't try to be a jack-of-all-trades

    I would consider myself a jack of 11 or 12 trades (hope to be all someday)
    I can play piano decently
    program video games
    design websites
    know the basics of Japanese
    have a hobby for vegetable gardening
    own 2 milk goats
    write short story's and poems
    study the Bible
    read fanatically

    I like too say, if you can't get a job, just do a bunch of them.

    on the "decision paralysis"
    i find that having soo many options just a touch away allows me too keep life fresh
    and exciting, i don't have too stick to programming games 8 hours a day, i could just spend an hour on each thing, eventually, ill have.

    a base of high quality games bringing in continual income
    all the goat milk i could ever drink
    a decent vegetable garden
    occasional jobs designing company websites and fansites
    a collection of short poems and storys I can get published
    and a lot more knowledge on other things I would like to learn

    -some 15 year old kid-