Are you familiar with the saying “jack of all trades and master of none?” It really is a derogatory statement. It’s like saying, “Oh, it’s cool you know a few things, but you actually don’t know jack!”

However, in the 17th Century it was actually a term of praise, meaning to be a “man.” Such a “man” was supposed to be a “gentleman” who had multiple talents like speaking several languages, writing poetry, playing a musical instrument and so forth.

Today we call this being a “polymath” or a “Renaissance man“.  Are those ideals outdated, impossible to attain, or useless to an employer?

Research has become easier, faster, and more interesting to conduct with the advent of the internet. Many now have an opportunity to delve into a subject or answer a question that they are curious about clicking a computer mouse or a mobile app.

As mentioned in an earlier post, “The Times They Are a Changin’!” due to the ever-changing workplace dynamics, becoming a “jack of all trades” or a “Renaissance man” may be necessary to survive or adapt to a volatile labor market. The ability to combine and use different skills to solve problems, create new ideas and think out of the box is valuable.  

As I was doing some research for this article I came across a “Goinswriter” podcast entitled “The Rebirth of Renaissance Thinking and Modern Day Polymaths” that I enjoyed. In his podcast, Jeff Goins mentions, “We know that factories are closing down and computers and robots are doing all of these tasks now. And, so, what are humans going to do? We, I think are going to see a resurgence of what is called a polymath, people who have multiple interests, combining them in interesting skill sets in a way that adds value to the world. And I actually think this is the way most human beings are wired, not just to do one thing but to do a few things, to be multifaceted creatures who borrow from different disciplines and combine them in interesting ways.”

In order to develop this ability, we need to recognize our skills and passions. This is the spark that we need to start developing ideas regarding our professional potential. Personality inventories and assessments provide great springboards in arranging possible preferences towards careers and temperaments that provide an outline of our work style. I suggest taking three assessments: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Strong Interest Inventory, and the Five Factor Model.  Consult a certified career developer about these assessments – they are worth the investment! They can provide individuals with ideas for growth in areas they may be neglecting.

You might wonder, “What jobs will be available to these kind of workers? How much will these jobs pay? You’d be interested then in the World Future Society article “Trends at Work: An overview of Tomorrow’s Employment Ecosystem.” Cynthia Wagner’s article “Emerging Careers and How to Create Them” is also a good read, especially the simple example used in the box “Doing What You Love.”

One can’t help but see that the skills needed to flourish in the labor market today, are found in the polymath or Renaissance man. These skills are usually phrased “seeing the big picture” and “connecting the dots.”  The assessments mentioned earlier can help you see if you prefer using intuitive skills more often or are apprehensive using that skill. In “Do we need Rocket Scientist or Marketing Polymaths” writer Nick Spooner also used the common phrases mentioned as well that they “thrive because they can easily adapt and embrace change…and make deeper connections.”

Your next questions probably are “What can we do to prepare? How can we become Renaissance men or women? Read, research, and expand on your knowledge and abilities. Start with the things you’ve always wanted to learn about. Continue with the things you’ve had a passion about. They can be simple as trying out recipes, learning an instrument, learning another language, it starts with what you are really interested in knowing and branching out. I’ll be talking more about this in my next blog.

Some other articles you may read are “How to be a Real Polymath” on the Art of Manliness website, and Reuven Gorsht’s post “New Problems, New Approaches: The Rise of the Generalists.” Just as a polymath was what was expected for a man, the website Feelgooder quoted “Pride and Prejudice” that “a woman must have a thorough knowledge of music…modern languages…” Their article “The Rise of the Renaissance Man: Why People with Multiple Passions Will Lead Tomorrows World” shows polymaths are not just for men. To this point, read Amy Beth O’Brian’s article, “Are You a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman?

What are your skills? What are your passions? Make an itinerary for the job you want in the future. Do you have enough skills to attain it? It will take some navigation, but once you get there and those skills broaden your view and see how the dots connect…the scenery will be satisfying!


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