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Help wanted. Only one track minds need apply.

June 20, 2008

Would you think less of someone who could write excellent software, cook well, write poetry, negotiate mean business contracts, manage his finances and play kick-ass basketball? No I’m not talking about me, ha ha.

Its a question about multitalented people and my question is, why do companies have a disdain for multitalented people joining their ranks, generalizing them as “jack of all trades, master of none” while embracing those who’ll do only one thing well and admit they screwed up everything else in their lives?

If someone wrote to you and applied for a sales job, how would you react if his CV says he had worked as certified accountant for 2 years, a quality manager for 2 years and was a part time tour guide cum musician in between?

These superheroes are not at all rare if you consider how multitalentedness and enteprenuership go together. You see it in hawkers every day. The same person will sell, cook, serve, clean, analyze the market, manage the money, cut deals with suppliers, etc. And yes, some even play terrific basketball.

I may be wrong but I have a theory about the corporate war against multitalentedness. I think multitalents screw up the corporate religion called Division of Labor. That’s the stuff that shapes corporate hierarchies and holds them together.

The funny thing is, hierarchies only work if everyone has a one track mind. You do your thing, I do my thing, let’s not tell each other what to do, that kind of stuff. You must think outside your box. Just don’t step into my box. So boundaries are watched and a good priest / taikor / manager is always ready to beat up anyone who dares cross the line.

So maybe the fear of multitalentedness is not unfounded. I mean, just how do you ask a multitalented person to be a team player when he / she IS the team? So do multitalents belong in the corporate world? What do you think?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2008 9:04 am

    Interesting post. Multi-talents can do well in the Corporate world but maybe only in smaller or a medium company. However, the multi-talent must have a common thread. For instance, writing poetry and negotiating business contracts are too far apart.

    However, if you can show your boss that you can manage his finanaces (as an accountant), negotiate business contracts (as a lawyer), have great presentation skills to impress the bankers and investors – you can bet he’ll be interested. You may not shine in really large MNCs though, since they have specialized people to do each of these tasks. I’m sure those people won’t be grateful for you trying to grab their ricebowl πŸ™‚

  2. June 20, 2008 10:01 am

    big companies normally don like to hire multi-talented people. they have specific needs to be filled in….so they will only look at people to fill up those loopholes. if you are better than that, GOOD…….you’re hired. but u will only be hired to do THAT job.

    but if u r a little bit worse than their requirement but u have other skillset…..they might consider but they would prefer someone more ‘qualified’ since they are not looking for someone with brain……but rather someone who can work as he is told.

    One of the marketing gurus once said that our world needs to take a different perspective when hiring people. rather than finding people to fill up a specific roles, they should try to find people who are really talented and who can contribute ‘strategically’ to the company.

  3. Damien permalink*
    June 20, 2008 9:02 pm

    @wonderwealthwisdom, yeah I think you’re right about smaller companies. I see ceo’s of 20-man companies washing cups at the pantry, tidying the lobby and promoting their products at the fair. Large MNCs have got tea ladies and salesmen to do of all that. The ceo rather play golf.

    @alvin, I know what u mean. Multitalents try at first but usually end up suppressing their other skills and just do the thing they’re hired to do. It is a waste. I knew a Finance guy who was a brilliant Brand strategist in a company that had clueless people running Brand comms. But everytime he made a suggestion, the ceo will tell him to shut up and not butt into other dept’s business. After a while, he just shut off his gifts and stuck to finance. That’s the beauty of division of labor.

  4. tinytapir permalink
    June 21, 2008 11:03 am

    I would totally hire someone like that for a sales position – he would know such wide circles of people and how to deal with them he would be ideal.

  5. June 22, 2008 12:39 am

    Replying to Damien’s comments.

    Here’s an actual case, Company X is increasing their sales force and were looking for a two leaders to lead their newly form teams. They decided to hire Person A which has years of experience and a proven sales track record and Person B who has no experience in the industry but is a “Jack of all trades”.

    Six month review was up. Person A performs up to their expectation, manage to pull of sales target for every month and basically he is in a very safe zone. Person B surprisingly did not fair that well at first, he cut corners, he revamps the sales training for his team members, develop alternative strategies and although Person B did not achieve his sales target for the first 3 months he ended the 6 month period on par with Person A.

    You’re the boss and you have to decide to promote one of them to the Sales Manager role, who will you choose?

  6. Damien permalink*
    June 22, 2008 1:53 am

    @tinytapir, yup the more things one understands, the easier it is to connect to people.

    @MJ, that’s easy. I would choose B. Anyone can sell if the price or packaging is right but to ‘build the plane as you fly it’ and still reach the target, now that takes an extraordinary person.

  7. June 22, 2008 12:23 pm

    Multitalent guy, when hired to do a specific job, he always can do it easily.

    In fact, it is a matter of motivation that going to push this fellow to do something on his own eventually.

  8. Damien permalink*
    June 23, 2008 8:57 am

    Hey Mun, if he has the ability I’m sure he’ll do a good job. What’s pitiful is the other talents he could be asked to suppress. Imagine the furore when a multitalented engineer points out a mistake in an accountant’s financial report and it turns out that the engineer is actually right.

  9. June 25, 2008 10:03 am

    I agree with the comment that multi-talented is good for a lone ranger or a smaller co but not so useful in a drone environment.

    Damien, you might be correct with the engineer, but he’ll sure piss off the accountant. πŸ™‚

  10. Damien permalink*
    June 26, 2008 8:00 am

    Yeah, many corporate types are afflicted with the “don’t tell me how to do my work” disease. There’s nothing wrong in taking pride in one’s work. The real problem is the boundary watching and face saving nature of the overly territorial.


  1. CEO is easy job. Just talk cock, play golf and earn big salary « Damien Tan

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