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Jack (or Jill) of all trades

Brett Meads delivering training
Brett Meads delivering training

By Brett Meads


Like me, you would have grown up hearing the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”.

Almost without exception, this was used in a negative way, to illustrate how poorly you might have performed at a particular chore, with the suggestion that applying yourself to a multitude of tasks would result in you not performing any of those tasks satisfactorily.

This recently became a topic of discussion with a well-respected associate of mine.

Their very important role in a major corporation is both demanding and stressful. This person is a problem solver, a process advocate, a systems expert, and the go-to person when all else fails.

Yet, on a day of reflection, when compared to their colleagues, my associate made the assessment that they were a Jack of all trades and a master of none. And this didn’t sit well with them.

As we chatted it occurred to me that we need to change our thinking on this. In fact, modern enterprise not only rewards the jack of all trades, it demands it. 

The great Jim Rohn taught how, in general terms, we don’t get paid for time. We get paid for the value we put into that time.

His bottom line was simple; if you wish to be better rewarded for your time then you need to become more valuable.

And the best way to become more valuable is to learn a new skill, and then another. 

Every self-made millionaire I have ever met is a Jack of all trades. Every successful farmer I have ever met is a Jack of all trades. Every successful entrepreneur, small business owner, and parent is a Jack of all trades.

The business climate as we now know it favours the multi-skilled. Every successful business has a Jack of all trades, some have two or three. And that is one of the reasons they succeed when others do not. 

A glance through some position vacant adverts reveals some key words. Versatile, agile, flexible, adaptable, to name a few.

These are not characteristics you find in pure specialists, in masters of their domain. These are characteristics of the Jack and Jill folk, and they are needed now more than ever. 

Good staff are multi-skilled, and good employers look for, encourage and develop this attribute.

With few exceptions, the days of doing only one thing and doing it well are gone. It is the Jacks and Jills of all trades that bring value to modern enterprise. 

Being labelled a Jack of all trades should no longer be taken as a cruel assessment of your performance.

It should be a label that is used positively to acknowledge competence across a range of areas that matter.

I believe it is now the benchmark we should be striving for and a highly desirable characteristic of anybody involved in modern enterprise.

Set out to learn a lot of things about a lot of things. It is easier than you think and terribly rewarding.

And while you are at it, keep your eye out for co-workers, employees and employers who truly are Jacks and Jills of all trades – for as we know, efforts that are recognised and rewarded are often repeated.

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