Great at One Thing or Good at Everything?

I’ve often pondered the question, “Is it better be good at a lot of things, or great at one thing?” I’ve long struggled weather to simply diversify my knowledge of a particular array of related subjects, or honker down on one focused area and make that my bread and butter.

I guess their pros and cons to both methods. I remember my dad telling me that my great grandfather was a jack of all trades, meaning, he could do just about anything you needed done. Musician, barber, carpenter, you name it, he probably had some experience doing it. So my question is, by doing so, can you ever really become great at all those things or do you even need to be?

A look at any job posting these days will have a full list of desired experience, most of the time leaving you with the question, “Does anyone have all these things?” An although most of the time those listing are a scatter shot to pull in the most desirable candidate, it does bring up the value of “knowing” a wide range of things.

And then you can look at the value of knowing a wide array of things in another light.

We have long heard the saying, “Do not put all your eggs in one basket.”, or “Keep a diversified portfolio.”

What if you  were an expert on a dying technology and that is all you knew? Or had all your money in one particular stock and it crashed.

Looking at the situation from a less hardened point of view, the best approach would to simply become an expert at one thing, and a quasi-expert of other related topics.

For instance, most programmers focus on a particular programming language as their bread and butter, but keep up with and follow different related languages or platforms.

As a web developer, you may primarily focus on PHP, but from time to time, dip you fingers in .NET. You may be an Windows Phone 7 application developer whom picks up Java just to port your application over to Android.

I guess the bottom line is, the more you know the better. Try not to limit yourself and be willing to divulge into other areas that are related and may benefit you in the long run.

If you love learning new things, this will come naturally.  If not, you will have to work at it a bit, but it will greatly benefit you when it’s all said and done. At the same time, become an expert at your bread and butter, and if by chance you have to transition to something else, it will be less of a u-turn and more of a slight shift in course.