How To Be A Jack Of Many Trades – And Why It Can Make You Succeed More Often!

Not many people have the ability to competently carry out multiple tasks simultaneously, and deliver satisfactory results on each task – consistently. Fewer still are comfortable with continually learning to do many things at the same time. Yet, in every society we find there are always a select few who seem to thrive doing just that.Expressions in daily conversation coined to describe such persons include “man-of-many-parts”, “one-who-wears-many-hats”, “multi-talented”, “multi-skilled”, “versatile” etc. This article describes an unusual – but well established – practice in which certain individuals intelligently combine their(sometimes self-taught) skills in a variety of related fields to successfully – and repeatedly – deliver desired results( to employers), or products and services(to clients/ customers).Below, I describe my personal experiences as a Multipreneurial Employee in Guinness between 1995 and 2001.———————————————-I recall vividly that as a fresh Graduate Management Trainee in the large corporate multinational(Guinness Nigeria Plc) where I worked, my keen interest in computers initially attracted plenty of criticism from some of my peers and senior colleagues.On numerous occasions, they seized the opportunity of little shortcomings I displayed in doing my job as a Shift Brewer, to insinuate that the time I spent working on the computer (something not at that time in widespread use) prevented me from mastering the essential practical requirements to successfully function as a brewer.In time, I was of course able to demonstrate beyond any shred of doubt that their assumptions were wrong. Not only did I mature into a competent brewer/Packaging shift manager (one who got repeated secondments to other departments to fill sudden vacancies while replacements were sought), I also went on to use my spreadsheet programming skills to develop over five customised spreadsheet applications – which were formally adopted for use.My abilities got me noticed early by senior management, so that within two years of joining the company, I was already actively involved, and even responsible for collation/preparation of brewery-level reports. These were activities which required a good understanding of key manufacturing performance parameters, as well as sound knowledge of various calculations used to estimate monetary gains/losses in brewing, for decision-making. In the process, I got to know/work closely with senior managers in my function, well ahead of my peers.All of that would go a long way to prepare me for later achievements like challenging existing brewing performance parameters calculations; proposing modifications to some, and even developing my own formula for – what I considered – better estimation of brewing performances, which I called “% Brewhouse Efficiency” formula. This formula was given consideration by the company’s senior management for 6 months, with brewery tests being done using it. (You can learn more about how I was able to record these achievements in my article titled Achieve Recognition and Attract Career Advancement Opportunities By Being A Change Agent).Yet I did all this while still doing my regular job as a brewer. I was so proficient in doing them, that I felt no strain combining them with my normal job. Looking back, and even considering the sources from which criticism for my multidisciplinary approach came, I have come to the conclusion that many times people assess the “workability” of what another person is trying to achieve from their own mind frame.If they think it be difficult for them to do, then they believe it would be so for the other person. What they forget is that we are not all alike. In fact there are certain people who cannot stay doing just one single thing for long. They would actually become demotivated, inefficient, and even bored. As one Multipreneur – Gary Havener – put it, “I guess I just have a short attention span”.———————————————-Multipreneurs Are Everywhere – Even YOU Could Be One(& Not Know It)!1. Multipreneurs In Sports: We cannot all be the same. It is true that when you chase two rats at the same time, you could end up losing both. But in life, the fact is that there will be some people who can learn how to chase and catch both rats:-).An event like the Decathlon(and the Heptathlon!) gives the few amongst us who fail to fit into the “normal” profile expected, a place to belong. As I said previously, not everyone will like to stick with just one sport. Some people get their greatest satisfaction – and are even at their productive best – when they are able to switch from one activity to another, uninhibited.Daley Thompson was Decathlon champion for more than a decade, but he was not a Jack of all trades. He was instead what I call a Jack of Many Trades(TM) or an Intelligent Multipreneur. Young Daley had an aptitude for combining many activities – and tended not to really be fully engaged if he had to focus on just one. His teachers in school thought this meant he had ADD(Attention Deficit Disorder), but the parents(thankfully) refused to accept that and challenged the school to engage the young child’s energies appropriately. The rest is history.2. YOU as an Involuntary Multipreneur: Now, what about you? Did you not have to study up to ten or twelve different subjects in school before you could finish and move to University? Subjects you did not like, and knew you would not continue after school! Why doesn’t someone ask what the point of having children study subjects they are not likely to use after they leave school is about? If it had been a pleasant one, that experience in school could probably have caused you to develop an interest in multipreneuring.3. How much should YOUR President know?: Would you vote for a Presidential aspirant who demonstrates knowledge of only one or two areas of the economy/government claiming he cannot afford to take active interest in learning about the others because he is a specialist? I doubt it. Citizens of a country rightly expect that their president will be able to answer questions on ANY issue concerning the government or economy of the country. That’s why Presidential debates between aspirants are such a crucial part of the elections process in many societies.Presidents of countries, by the nature of their jobs, need to be multipreneurial in their mental dispositions. This is because they are answerable to an entire nation comprising widely differing groups of people with varying – and constantly changing – levels of unique interests and needs.4. Multipreneurs in Entertainment: John Travolta (as I learnt from watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s show) is a licensed airline pilot. But apart from that, he is proficient at a wide variety of other things. His job as an actor frequently requires him to acquire new knowledge/skills in order to successfully portray a character. Away from acting, those he meets in life will find him adept at doing many things – and consider him quite “cool”, and potentially useful to have/be around!A quick example. Imagine John is on a plane whose pilot suddenly has a coronary, and the co-pilot’s nerves fail him. With John around, there would still be hope for everyone on board! I know actors sometimes have stunt doubles who cover for them, but many times, they have to do it themselves.Steps To Becoming An Intelligent Jack Of Many Trades(TM)(or Multipreneur)But how does one draw the line here. At what point does doing something like this become a case of “Jack of all trades, master of none”?My answer is in two folds i.e. it depends. Firstly, if your objective is not to be a “master”, and only that you wish to achieve reasonably good proficiency in the disciplines you venture into, then the adage just mentioned should not bother you.For instance, when you decide to learn how to type your own letters/use the PC better, it does not mean that you will decide to become better than your secretary. What it could mean is that in the event that your secretary is unexpectedly absent from work, you will not be at a loss as to how to locate (for instance) the important memo she was typing yesterday on her PC, so as to finish it off, and send it out to those concerned on time.Secondly, you should not aim to become a “Jack of all trades”. That would be unwise, as it is not humanly possible to do so, and maintain efficiency in all at the same time. But, you can successfully become a “Jack Of Many Trades(TM)”, and be better of for it.To do the latter(i.e. become a “Jack Of Many Trades(TM)”), the simple steps below can be followed:1. Do some deep thinking/soul-searching about what exactly your personal goal(s) is(are) regarding your job or business interest(s).2. Decide what competencies (knowledge, attitudes and skills) you need to develop to achieve your chosen goal(s).3. Once you’ve done that, you then need to write out (and I do mean write!!) your PLAN to acquire, and productively use, the various competencies that you’ve identified.4. Next, you put the plan to work. Do whatever it is you have decided you need to do, in order to achieve the goal(s) you have chosen to pursue.Note: Since becoming a multipreneur will require you to progressively acquire new knowledge and skills about different activities, you can expect to routinely run through steps 1 to 4 every now and then.How Multipreneuring Can Make You Succeed More Often The following are some specific ways that Multipreneuring can help you.1. You fit more easily into different groups: Think back to many of the social events you have attended. How easily did you fit into a group of people who were as excited as you were about football or politics for instance? Very easily, I’m sure you’ll agree. A sound knowledge of key aspects of a specific area of interest can help you get the respect, admiration, and friendship/cooperation of others. You get instant empathy. People feel they know you.Now, imagine you were able to learn relevant things or acquire skills important to varied groups of people. Once you find yourself among each group, you can put your knowledge/skill to use. Very often, the effect would be instant. People would be drawn to you! How excited would you be if you were in Bulgaria to attend a conference, and met a delegate from France who spoke your language, having spent ten years in your country?Now think about it the other way round. What if YOU could learn to speak, read and write fluent French? What do you think would happen if you ran into an expatriate French couple just arrived in your country having difficulty communicating their intended destination to an Airport taxi driver? Chances are high that they would instantly engage you to help them out, and it is likely to be the beginning of a lasting friendship!I speak, read and write French having learnt it the hard way some years back(read my story in the article titled Achieving YOUR Goals IN SPITE OF Adversity – Two Short But True Stories That Tell HOW to learn how I did it). The benefits accruing to me from acquiring this skill since then convince me that what I have said here is correct.Also, my proficiency in developing automated spreadsheet solutions for use in the various departments I worked as a manager in Guinness, over time made me become close to key members of the brewery’s Information Technology team. This friendship got so good to the point that I often spent my free time in their offices, and at a point, some newcomers to the brewery even assumed I was an IT personnel.To top it, I often successfully secured the cooperation of the IT team to implement many of the spreadsheet solutions I developed. The automated spreadsheet-based Brewery training records database that I developed towards the ISO 9001 certification audits conducted by Standards Organisation of Nigeria – SON (in my capacity as Technical Training and Development Manager) was made accessible across the brewery intranet with the cooperation of my IT department “friends”.2. You are able to understand others in or outside the workplace: Too many instances have occurred in society, where people engaged in conflict simply because they did not understand each other’s points of view. One of the best ways to guard against this problem is by going out of your way to learn about the unique circumstances and challenges surrounding the next person.For instance back in Guinness, because I had a very strong background in Packaging and Brewing operations, having worked many times in both departments, I was frequently able to avert potential confrontations. For one thing, I knew many of the shift managers, shop floor operators and operations fairly well. So, when for instance, beer supply from my end (brewing) was short, I was often able to persuade the packaging operator/manager to send beer from the only remaining bottling tank to both bottling lines, till I and my men were able to solve the supply problem at our end. This helped us avert lost production hours, which often occurred when parties concerned remained intransigent.Incidentally, my understanding of the packaging operations enabled me diplomatically “punch holes” in initial objections to the workability of my proposal. We would all then laughingly agree to implement it, or a modified version. The book “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie provides excellent advice on how to successfully get people to do what you want, and have them feeling good about it in the end. Buy and read it.3. Your perspective and horizon broadens: Your mind opens up. By the time you have successfully become a Multipreneur, your personal beliefs about what is “impossible” will have changed. As I like to joke in my talks, some people at this stage will be like the young boy who had always thought his father’s farm was the biggest there was – until he travelled to other places and discovered otherwise. You will be less willing to discourage others from challenging existing ways of doing things, and more disposed to exploring new possibilities.4. Your usefulness to your organisation(or clients) increases: So long as you have invested your time and energy in acquiring the right mix of knowledge and skills, it’s only a matter of time before your company’s decision makers(or current/prospective clients) begin to notice you. I say this however in the expectation that you will now not go and “hide your lamp under a bushel”.For instance, as a young brewer I (really) hated the various manual calculations (e.g. weighted averages to determine beer blending ratios for sometimes up to four bottling tanks!) so badly, that I developed an automated spreadsheet application to do the same thing. Not only did this solution lead to quicker estimation of needed beer blending volumes by the brewer, but the computer-generated beer parameters also showed significant positive correlation with the laboratory results obtained!As soon as my boss found out about the existence of that application, he promptly announced at a departmental meeting that it was to be formally adopted for use, and instructed that I train others to use it. (Read my article titled How To Turn A Major Blunder At Work Into A Career Advancement Opportunity to learn about the bad first night shift duty experience I had, which forced me to develop that spreadsheet solution).This happened for other solutions I developed for use in the brewery. Many times I actually started out to solve a personal problem I disliked about my job, but in the process, those doing that same job with me, (who had also been struggling with the problem) naturally found the solution I developed useful to themselves too – hence they adopted it readily. And I got acknowledged for it – via good appraisals, and many career advancement opportunities that subsequently followed.How Long Will “Success” Achievement Take? Now, this brings us to a reality that some people never want to accept. To achieve success, one must be ready to do what is required. In practicing multipreneuring, whether in business or paid employment, the person concerned must decide up front, that s/he will apply the principle of persistence.It would be naive for anyone to expect that as soon as s/he commences learning or doing something, success will immediately follow. If the world worked that way, then EVERY ONE of us would be a millionaire today!So, let’s be honest with ourselves here – it won’t be easy!!The fact is that you must follow the earlier enumerated steps to becoming a successful Jack Of Many Trades(TM). Select the vocations you wish to become proficient in. Study them. Practice what you learn. THEN apply them persistently (constantly reviewing/making needed adjustments), till you get the result(s) you desire.I spent many night shifts as a brewer combining supervision of the brewing plant operations with improving my typing speed using a Typing Tutor, and also working on different spreadsheet solutions on the office computer. One afternoon, the Brewery Manger’s secretary saw me typing and exclaimed: “Solagbade, you type so fast! What is your speed?” Neither she, nor a senior manager who made a habit of calling me “TK Computer” really knew how many hours of hard work I had put in, in my personal time, to become that good at those things.And if you recall, from my story, I made many blunders at work initially that caused others to criticise me for lacking mastery of my primary job because I spent(they felt) too much time on the computer.What they did not know was that even after they had gone home, I would often stay back in the brewery to learn directly from the process operators on duty, the rudiments of successfully managing the brewing process. Many times I would leave the brewery for my house as late as 1.00am in the morning, even though I had actually worked on morning shift, and closed at 2.00pm the previous day. You may not have to do what I did. But, you MUST pay your dues. If you do, you will get to a level of mastery that will make others marvel.Is It Not Better To Be Known For One Particular Thing?Someone once asked me if it would not be better to be known for one particular thing. My answer was that I do actually intend to be known for ONE thing which is my ability to engage in multiple, complementary vocations simultaneously and successfully, so long as I remain effective and efficient in doing them.I was able to do my job as brewer, and later Training and Technical Development Manager, then acting Production Manager, while continuing to utilise my proficiency in spreadsheets solutions development, to develop lasting solutions for data management and reporting problems everywhere I worked.I was so good at it, that I effortlessly implemented solutions to major problems in a way that surprised many others. For me, because I had spent so much of my free time(unknown to many) doing it, it was easy. For others, it looked like a lot of work. So, they were thinking about it from their perspective as people who were not as adept as I was. Of course, it felt like it would be difficult to combine such with a regular job – especially when one did not get to take time off to do it.I once watched an edition of Oprah Winfrey’s show in which Venus Williams was interviewed along with her sister, Serena. Both ladies were questioned about criticisms levelled against them by other Tennis stars for engaging in other vocations while still active in top-flight tennis. Venus owns her own fashion design company, and actually designs her own clothes. Serena had been appearing in some new films/movies playing leading roles.According to Oprah, Martina Navratilova had stated that the sisters were being arrogant by doing that, since it was “expected” that they, as professional tennis players, would concentrate on playing tennis – like all others. In response, Venus said (quite sensibly), that they believed it would be unwise to assume they would continue to do well in tennis indefinitely, and following their parents’ advice, decided to explore other vocations early on.SummarySo long as you are not getting inefficient from doing multiple tasks or acquiring multiple competencies, don’t let people tell you you’re a Jack-of-all-trades.I once read an article on career development, which advised people in paid employment to “Know A Little About Everything”, if they wish to get ahead on their jobs. In fact, most start-up entrepreneurs HAVE TO be that way for a major part of their start-up life, because they cannot afford(due to limited capital) to do otherwise! Companies – and even individuals – will in the future be looking for a one-stop solution to their needs, and will tend to settle for entrepreneurs(or employees) with proven multiple competencies.You can be a successful Jack Of Many Trades(TM), so long as you avoid crossing the not-so-thin line that leads to becoming a “Jack of all trades”. All you need do is intelligently decide on relevant competencies that will help you attain your personal/career advancement goals. Then acquire and put them to use in ways that benefit you, people around you, or the client/organisation you work for. The results you get will excite you perpetually!

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