The Future Looks Good for the Jack of all Trades

Roller in paint tray (CC BY-SA 2.0) by kikmoyoo Who’s more likely to paint their own living room – a ballet dancer or an accountant?

I don’t know the answer – but I think it’s an interesting question.

I watched a great TED Talk video the other day presented by Sir Ken Robinson that asks the question – “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” It started me wondering whether DIYers are more likely to be right or left brain dominant.

Creativity is associated with the “right brain” while the “left brain” is considered to be more analytical. While we all fall into different places along the left-right continuum, how we approach DIY projects and solve the inevitable problems that arise depend on which side of our brain is in control. It could determine whether we even take the project on in the first place.

I may be making a leap of logic here, but I’m guessing that most DIYers are right brainers.

Are you righty or a lefty?

If you’re curious about where you are in the left-brain right-brain spectrum you can take this simple Right Brain Left Brain Creativity Test. It only takes a few minutes and gives you a breakdown of how you score in various sub-categories such as logic, verbal, linear, intuition, etc. It actually gives a pretty accurate assessment.

For the record my result was:
Left Brain     Right Brain
    45%                 55%

Music & routers & bees – oh my!

Even though I hated school and took a pass on college, I’ve invested a lot of my life learning a bit about a whole bunch of stuff, either on a whim or on a mission. I’m naturally curious and an information sponge – soaking up every detail I can when I’m in a new environment. I’ve followed a winding career path, learning and developing all kinds of unrelated skills along the way. If you’ve read my “About” page you know just how hard it is to connect them in a logical way.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool “generalist”. The more common reference to my kind of diverse skill set is “Jack of all Trades” (usually followed by the less flattering “master of none”). But having a wide range of interests and the ability to mesh ideas and skills from different disciplines has it’s advantages when facing challenges – like keeping the wolves at bay while enjoying your work as a freelancer.

Plus, I’m never bored.

Specialists vs generalists

General_Dwight_D._Eisenhower - Wikimedia While specialists like biologists, programmers, and brain surgeons will always be vital to advancing our knowledge on the micro level, experts suggest there’s an increasing need for “generalists” who are somewhat knowledgeable across a wide spectrum of areas. The broader perspective of the generalist enables them to see the potential of how ideas or discoveries developed by specialists focused in one field can be adapted to other applications, spurring innovation in new directions. With the huge amount of information available through globalization and the internet, this “cross pollination” of ideas is more important than ever before.

I think DIYers are also more likely to be “generalists” than specialists.

Besides the fact that I fit both categories, many DIY projects involve learning several new skills with the very real potential that things may not work out as planned. Specialists might be more reluctant to take on tasks that take them out of their comfort zone.

There’s an interesting article at that even suggests generalists are better at predicting events than specialists:

The Secret Power Of The Generalist — And How They’ll Rule The Future

“In other arguments for the rise of the generalist, consider this research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Phillip Tetlock, as referenced in a recent Admiral radio desk (CC BY-SA 2.0) by x-ray delta oneHarvard Business Review blog post. Tetlock studied 248 professional forecasters over 20 years to determine whether experts or non-experts make more accurate predictions in their areas of expertise.

After collecting more than 80,000 forecasts he concluded that when seeking accurate predictions, the non-experts were the best bet. It’s better, he said, to turn to those who “know many things, draw from an eclectic array or traditions and accept ambiguity and contradictions” than so-called experts. Relying on a single perspective, he found, was problematic, even detrimental to predicting an accurate outcome.

Why? Quite simply because a single-minded person can’t predict variables they don’t know anything about.”

I can attest to the fact that there’s some truth to the prediction example above. I’ve been fairly accurate over the years in my initial assessments of how certain policy decisions and trends would play out over time. I’m no savant, and I’m certainly not about to bet the farm on anything – but it is fun to play along at home.

Survival in the “New Economy”

Without a doubt, 2008 was the year our old economy reached a tipping point – it broke utterly and profoundly – devastating millions of healthy, middle-aged people around the world who may be unemployed for the rest of their lives. Many “traditional” middle class jobs have simply evaporated – forever. Others may soon disappear – even some of today’s “skilled” jobs are at risk as technological advances enable robots and computers to do them more efficiently.

We’re going through a painful evolution that requires us to develop more innovative, sustainable and collaborative local economic communities. This is one of the reasons that creative minds and generalists will be in demand in the future. Painting corner of room (CC BY 2.0) by A.Robillard

Employment itself is becoming a DIY project. Out of sheer necessity, a significant  proportion of millennials are likely to create their own jobs as self-employed freelancers – armed with a Smartphone and a tablet computer – working on a contract basis for a variety of clients.

Those who continually seek to broaden their knowledge base, hone their communication, creative and critical thinking skills, and can adapt to change, are well-equipped to survive the challenging decades ahead.

Consider it the ultimate DIY project.


Images: kikmoyoo; Wikimedia; x-ray delta one; A.Robillard

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2 thoughts on “The Future Looks Good for the Jack of all Trades

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  2. It’s not surprising to see the left dominance of the the “engineer” brain.

    That’s interesting when you consider the different aspects of DIY that we consult each other about. You’re a “structural” guy and I’m a “detail”.guy.

    Want to start a contracting business? :-)

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