I love being a “Jack of All Trades”. To me, it provides affirmation on my journey to becoming a polymath. A polymath is someone that draws from a diverse body of knowledge to take creative approaches to problem-solving. It’s basically applying different theories and concepts in cross-functional and intersectional ways.
i want to be a jack of all trades
— Oluseun Arowolaju (@kidseun) June 1, 2016
As you can see, it’s been embedded in me for a while. Even before this tweet, the concept of multiple intelligences has always appealed to me. In fact, in learning about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences in high school is what confirmed this belief of mine. The theory claims that there are eight different ways one can show intellect. What’s even MORE profound about this theory, is that is established eight correlating ways to acquire intelligence through learning.
This topic often sparks debate on which is better. To me this is a question of one’s own intellectual curiosity, and what their purpose of acquiring information is for. When I have this debate with people, the opposing argument is usually centered around an external motivation. Let’s list out the eight and see if anything connects with you internally.
- Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
- Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
- Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
- Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
- Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
- Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
- Intrapersonal intelligence (“self-smart”)
- Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
Kobe Bryant for example, uses linguistic intelligence to speak three languages fluently, physical intelligence to dominate in the game of basketball, and logical intelligence to launch a $100m VC fund after playing (that’s what’s I’d if I was a millionaire athlete).
Before I sink my teeth into this topic, I want to give some background about what I’ve discovered by having this debate with people, patterns I’ve recognized, and my own reasoning for adopting this theory of multiple intelligences. My view on this theory has grown increasingly complicated, but I’ll try to keep it simple. To make things easier, people that fall into multiple intelligence categories will be called “Jacks”, and people that specialize in one will be called “Masters”.
According to Dr. Gardner, schools and culture focus most of the attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, creating a lot of Masters in this field. They want to create a mote around their core competency because there are so many people with similar skills.
Jacks, on the other hand, take an innovative approach to things. They want to spend more time in learning and discovery, research and development. Their creative advantage is a strategy that nobody can copy, only imitate. This article on Toyota’s Production System explains it really well. This puts them in their own lane.
There are pros and cons to both. Anyone that has this debate must agree with that, or they’re probably thinking subjectively, which is fine. But opinions don’t live as long as facts do.
The fact of the matter is the Masters will be really good at their one thing, but as soon as you face competition, it becomes difficult to defend that thing. And Jacks don’t really have an area of expertise and will dive in head first at practically anything, which can obviously be dangerous as well.
To the outside world, Masters seem very organized, and people wonder how they could possibly crumble. Jacks are kind of all over the place, and people wonder how they could possibly survive.
As a person who identifies with the latter, I’ve come to terms with my many strengths and many weaknesses, but it’s exactly what’s needed in my career path. I couldn’t imagine looking back at life later and saying, “I did exactly what everyone else did and nothing innovative or creative”. When you get a chance, read this article about Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos explaining the Regret Minimization Framework.
When having this debate, and this is me being subjective now, I’ve realized that the Masters are more corporate-centered and Jacks are more entrepreneurial. I’ve never met an entrepreneur that was just good at one thing, especially if they started off alone.
But I know many people that work, that is contributing their specialty, along with others to a larger organization. For this reason is why there needs to be both in the world. I guess that’s what makes this debate so timeless because we will always need both.
Being an entrepreneur forces you into different waters. The most important thing is to be willing to do any and everything possible to execute your plan. The art in innovation is being able to know when something is so out of your range of expertise that you have to go acquire the talent to execute, and how to fill in the gaps until you get there.
If I were working in a larger company, there would be so many people (at least there should be) better than me in these skills, that I would need to specialize in order to make a significant impact. For now, I’ll be the front-end engineer, photographer, product manager and even the janitor at times.
Whether you fall into one of these categories of intelligence or all of them, the goal is to be aware of where you are on the path to self-actualization. Knowing what will fulfill you is an important step in figuring out what steps to take, and in which direction.
How many types of intelligences are in the above photo?