Last Updated on 25 January 2008

The dusty adage “Jack of all trades, master of none” is defined as… “A person who can do many different types of work but who is not necessarily very competent at any of them.” So we work to be a master.

That sums up our basic evaluation system. Our job performance is based on meeting or exceeding the expertise outlined for our role. Human resource teams look for the perfect fit.

So, we become experts.

Brick by brick we build our tower of knowledge – hoping it stands taller than our competition (i.e. co-workers, fellow job applicants, others in the RFP process).

If you want to be remarkable, in addition to your tall tower… build bridges. Master your trade and understand others. Be the Jack of all trades, AND the master of ONE. The most advantageous directions to build your bridges are toward: Your Customers, Your Co-Workers, and Beyond Your Industry.

It’s obvious as marketers we need to know who are customers are and whom we’re targeting. Nevertheless, it’s not enough to memorize slide no. 23 in the brand presentation outlining “key segment demographics and psychographics”. You need to understand what candidly motivates their thinking and purchase decisions. What products and services they buy and how they really use them. I suggest picking up a Paco Underhill book. Start with Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. Through empathy you gain true understanding.

Co-Workers / Departments
Sure you have to get along with your co-workers. After all, these are the folks we spend most of our time with day to day. But to really understand them you need to walk a proverbial mile in their proverbial shoes.

You rely on co-workers and members of your cross-functional teams to achieve your own agenda and goals. They’re trying to do the same thing. By understanding what motivates and frustrates the folks you rely on, you will develop a better relationship with them, and gain understanding how their world works. In the end, you’ll work more efficiently together knowing how their cogs and gears mesh with yours.

By the way, your interest and quest for understanding needs to be genuine. This way of working isn’t meant to be a ploy or scheme, but a way of authentically managing yourself.

Beyond Your Industry
Finally, and I think this is the biggest secret, is understanding how the world works around you. The more you understand about seemingly unrelated industries and systems… the better you will be at your own system.

For example, the process of film making has little to do with how marketing works (save the obvious marketing to promote a movie). I can’t imagine all the work it takes to keep track of all the shots, and scenes filmed on different days, and continuity, and who was wearing what, and how many bites did she take out of the pancake in that last scene? Consequently, if I understand the process used to manage the complicated minutia in moviemaking, I’m sure there are techniques we could apply to, say, managing the summer consumer promotion.

Next time you’re at a huge magazine stand, pick up a title with a business topic you know little or nothing about and read it. Or, start filling your mind with interesting facts, pick up a copy of the magazine Mental Floss or the book Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati.

“Jack of All Trades, Master of One” is what Built to Last author Jim Collins would label as the “power of the and.” Being a jack of all trades implies that you can’t also master one. The secret to remarkability is doing both. Build bridges between your tower and others. The result will be a rich network of knowledge.

That’s the fact, Jack.

I originally published this post on the MarketingProfs DailyFix Blog