Jack of All Trades!

Jack of all trades and Master of none is a figure of speech that has been very famous for a long time. Since I am not an Etymologist, I had to work hard to understand how this figure of speech came up. 


The shortened version “a jack of all trades” is often a compliment for a person who is good at fixing things, and has a very good broad knowledge. A “Jack of all trades” may be a master of integration, as such an individual who knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring the individual’s disciplines together in a practical manner. This person is a generalist rather than a specialist.  

There is also a longer version “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one” which refers to a person who is not the best at all skills, but is better than someone who is only a master of one.  


The “master of none” element appears to have been added later; which made the statement less flattering to the person receiving. Today, the phrase used in its entirety generally describes a person whose knowledge, while covering a number of areas, is superficial in all of them. When abbreviated as simply “jack of all trades”, it is an ambiguous statement; the user’s intention is then dependent on context. However, when “master of none” is added this is unflattering and sometimes added in jest. 

Over the last fifty years, things are going in the direction of specialization. I am told that in the medical field this specialization is quite deep. General Surgeons, Orthopedic Surgeons was the initial norm. Now we have Surgeons for different Organs. We have Spline Surgeon or maybe a Spleen Surgeon. We have Knee Surgeons and we have Shoulder specialists. In dentistry now we have a Pediatric dentist and Implant Dentist. We have experts for our 7th tooth and so on. What happened was that these experts got themselves trained in specialities and later they became such experts that they continued to work only in their specialized areas. Don’t be surprised if you have an expert surgeon who works only middle finger of the left hand!  

But all this is likely to change over a period. At the same time in the times of super specialities, there have been generalists who have done well. There are certain areas in life which need the human being to have knowledge of many things. Super specialization occurs when humans work with their own hands, or they do research in a very specific area e.g. molecular biology. But there are many general-purpose work areas which need cross-functional knowledge, leadership, understanding of commercial aspects. (I have just mentioned a few disciplines.) A superb knee surgeon may not be able to run a hospital. A nerdy computer expert like Steve Jobs came up with fantastic products. But Apple as an organization was way beyond him, though he was one of the founder members.  It requires deep knowledge of the area in which you are an expert, but you need to get the ideas on paper, converted into reality. The specialist may not be an expert in getting these ideas to become a commercial success or be able to convert it into a publicly usable product.  

A new concept is already on the horizon for knowledge of those like you and me, but it is existence since last 10 to 15. But now it is discussed more openly. It is an idea of making use of Supercomputing power, Data Sciences as powerful tools which will help humans to cross new boundaries. How will this happen? In which area could this happen? What are the views of experts?  

Human biology is one area where the impact could be the maximum. We have had great thinkers, great designers in history but to me, HE is the greatest of them all by miles. Human body is a real complex design made by HIM! We have now started understanding many things about humans, the functioning of the human body, diseases, repairs and so on. Ageing of the human body is one area where a lot of work is being done. Why does a human die other than by diseases, accidents? The main reason is old age. Though ultimately the death could be because of heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure; but generally, the reason for death can be described as multiple organ failure. As we grow in age, things start going wrong.

Let us understand how the word “Age” is used. As a noun, it means “the length of time that a person has lived or a thing has existed.” As a verb, it means “grow old or older.” So, when we Age, as in the verb, our body also ages, its functions slowly start diminishing. One area where humans have always been fascinated is overcoming death. Immortality with aged organs, bent back, poor digestion, joints creaking, not able to see and hear properly will be meaningless. Hence there is a lot of research going on in the area of overcoming death and consequent research in the area of reversing ageing of our organs. We already know that knee joint and hip joint replacements are reasonably common surgeries. Some heart replacements are taking place but are not very common.  

Imagine the new Ashwathama who never dies,  having a weak heart. I am sure that there is research going on somewhere to make an artificial heart at a reasonable price. Will this be made by a heart surgeon? Will this be made by a hydraulics engineer? Will it be designed by an electrical engineer, as heart gets electrical impulses to keep pumping on and on! To me, this person will be a generalist or a jack of many (if not all) trades but may be master of none. That entity has to understand hydraulics for a heart pumping, medical knowledge to understand the concept of what heart does and an electrical engineer to understand impulses. (I have considered only a few areas for the purpose of discussion) This generalist will also need to have good computer programming knowledge required for simulating the concept of an artificial heart. 

Jack of all trades term said in jest can become history. You need a jack of all trades. The knowledge of how the huge collected data can be processed using data science will also be useful! Are we talking of a Superman? Are we talking of a “Super specialist Generalist”? Is it already getting complicated? But to overcome the Yamaraj (the god of death) humans need to work hard, work smarter. It is definitely not a job of a super specialist but a super generalist!  

In the medical field, results of the Jack of All trade concept has become commonly known to us. Knee joints, Hip joints, putting stainless rods in place of bones, words like Stainless Steel and Titanium have become common. This is a language of a mechanical engineer and a metallurgist! Then there are teeth implants! Use of Gold in dentistry is quite common for years! Scattered usage of such combination of expert generalist has been happening for quite some time. 

But AI and supercomputing are going to give a real boost to such efforts as these are powerful tools. AI is self-learning as it can learn from historical data generated, as the project progresses. What will Immortality project involve? To start with, stop ageing of your skin, a 150-year-old person would also like to have young looking skin. Then stop the ageing of joints! Revive heart function, revive brain function and so on. This means the whole-body function will need revival. This will involve more generalists than having super specialists! Combination cross functional knowledge comes into picture. 

So, stop calling “Jack of All Trades” to someone in jest! That is going to be the need of the hour! Do you know who can replace the super specialist? It can be Robot made by Super generalists! Amen!

To me the best example of Jack of All Trades: