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May 10th, 2021
Would you rather be a master of one thing, or really very good at two things? The traditional answer to this is the axiom: Jack of all trades, master of none. The judgement is clear, no one wants to be just a ‘Jack’ and a master is far more esteemed. But this is a bruised spot on the fruit of common sense - it just doesn’t hold true. What the Jack of all trades can do which is totally unavailable to the master is combine disciplines.
Being an excellent coder likely just means a person is highly employable. But being an excellent coder and also being good at something else, say painting and drawing, means that a person can cross-pollinate these skills and create for themselves a dirt cheap online store that looks fantastic and works with a droppshipping company that does canvas prints so there’s virtually no overhead. Such a thing would also be totally automated meaning the artist can now spend more time painting and drawing instead of working as a coder for some company they don’t actually care about.
This example is an individual capitalizing off of the synergy created between a combination of skills. Imagine now if a third skill was present. Say for instance this coder also has an unusual amount of knowledge and know-how regarding an industry that has been untouched by digitization. Gardening for example. Our hypothetical coder/artist/gardener could build a gardening app, and this build would be driven by the fact that our individual knows what a gardener wants or needs, and this person would also be their own graphic designer. Everything can be done “in house” literally.
The fact is, mastery is not as important as it once was. We think of celebrated composers or mathematicians as having some kind of magical focus that enabled them to become successful, and that’s where our imagination about what’s possible stops. Frankly, being a master composer in today’s day and age certainly wouldn’t elevate a person the way it would have two hundred years ago. But a composer who could reinvent musical notation by building a digital app which simplified the entire world of music and made it more accessible to people who haven’t learned musical notation? Now that could go somewhere, because everyone yearns to be musical in some degree at least: it’s our original language and socialization - who wouldn’t want to express themselves in such a new and primordial way?
The hard part to striking a spark of synergy is in the ability to strip away narratives. Often our skills are siloed in a narrative about who we are while using that skill, and as a result we are blind to it’s potential use in a totally different area of our own life. Our thoughts fail to cross-pollenate because the narratives that generate them are incompatible. But if a person can ease up on their own sense of identity and relax the grip of that narrative, ideas start leaking out and mixing with new areas, and this is where synergy can occur. Magic is no longer cloistered in the determined drive to master one thing, it’s now in the soup, like a witch’s cauldron that requires just the right amount of different things in order to work.
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