CHINA – Media OutReach – 26 June 2020 – If you have ever been called a
“jack-of-all-trades,” you can rest assured the phrase “master of
none” isn’t far behind. At the very least, it is often implied. But how
relevant is this old saying in today’s business world?
Unless you are a jack-of-all-trades
who works in an organisation that values your broader skill sets, you may feel
like your talents are being wasted.
But there is good news! Recent
research into individuals with diverse skill sets found that
jacks-on-all-trades are more likely to start a business and succeed as
entrepreneurs than those who have only a specialised skill. The reason? They
can see more opportunities and are more resourceful when solving problems in an
uncertain situation like setting up a new business. It doesn’t stop there.
Jacks-of-all-trades who are particularly passionate about developing and
nurturing startups are more likely to form highly competent and motivated
The study was conducted by Kevin Au, Associate
Professor at the Department of Management, as well as directors for both the
Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Centre for Family Business at The Chinese
University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School. His collaborators included Anna
Hsu, his PhD student; Prof. Yingzhao Xiao at Tianjin University; and Prof.
Marta Dowejko, Research Assistant Professor of Department of Management at Hong
Kong Baptist University’s School of Business.
The researchers were curious about
what lay beyond the past findings of human capital research. Such research
showed that, as employees, jacks-of-all-trades did not do as good in on-the-job
performance as those who had specialized skills. Past research also showed that
individuals who gained a variety of skills through training were more likely to
start their own business. Yet if a jack-of-all-trades is likely to become an
entrepreneur, he or she should also be good at launching startups.
Delving Deeper Into Startup Development
Wishing to know more how a
jack-of-all-trades does in the initial stage of the startup process, the
researchers designed their study to investigate how having a broad range of
skills contributed to the development of an idea from scratch in an accelerated
The study, entitled Jack-of-all-trades’ with passion: Keener to pursue startup
in a team, was longitudinal and used data
collected from CUHK Business School’s Empowering Young Entrepreneurs Program. The programme’s goal was to awaken the entrepreneurial
spirit of young people in Hong Kong. It provided an opportunity for them to
engage in training and entrepreneurial activities. Jointly organised by Google and CUHK in 2013, a total of 902 students, existing
entrepreneurs and full-time employees enrolled in the programme. Multiple
rounds of questionnaires were sent to the participants during a five-month
period, from December 2013 to April 2014. The final results came from an
analysis of a smaller subset of working adults who continued the program after
the survey. This group was considered the most reliable data set.
The study found evidence that
individuals with a greater range of skills are more inclined to start a
business. Particularly, they are statistically more likely to follow up on
their entrepreneurial intentions and take a more active role of forming a team
in the startup process.
“Having a wide variety of
skills makes it easier for these individuals to explore and exploit
opportunities,” Prof. Au explains. “It’s as if they have more
antennae to detect the problems and find resources that nobody has seen. Seeing
those problems gives them an edge in finding creative solutions. That’s where
the opportunities for new businesses lie.”
The Right Type of Passion
Just as interesting as the variety
of skills, passion is a crucial factor that contributes to entrepreneurial
success. However, the type of passion matters.
Previous studies have identified
three different types of entrepreneurial passion. They are: passion for inventing,
which is linked to the initial recognition of opportunities that make
entrepreneurial activities possible; passion for founding, which is related to
how likely a person is to establish a venture to explore an identified
opportunity; and passion for developing, which is concerned with developing a
venture so the original vision is brought to fruition.
“Any given entrepreneur may
exhibit different levels of passion at different stages of the startup process,”
says Prof. Au. He notes that having the intention to start a business is not
the same as having the emotional capacity to overcome obstacles that may
present themselves in abundance during the startup phase of a business venture.
Specifically, the study found that
when entrepreneurs possess a strong passion for developing a venture, there is
an even stronger positive relationship between skill variety and team
formation. “In other words,” says Prof. Au, “entrepreneurs with a
variety of skills are more likely to put their skills into use to form a team
if they also possess a strong passion for developing.”
How does that actually work? Prof.
Au explains that when multi-talented entrepreneurs exhibit a great sense of
passion to develop a venture, they attract like-minded individuals to form
teams to turn their ideas into reality. And when potential investors witness
solid teamwork and creative synergy within the teams, they are more likely to
inject capital into the startups.
“Like attracts like when
potential team members witness the passion and confidence of the
jack-of-all-trades,” says Prof. Au.
“By contrast, entrepreneurs who
are lacklustre in developing their ventures are likely to be unmotivated to
form teams. This in spite of the fact that they are multi-talented. As such,
jack-of-all-trades must possess a high level of passion for developing their
ventures to succeed in the long run,” says Prof. Au.
Here is a formula for
entrepreneurial success: If you are a jack-of-all-trades, and you possess a
high level of passion for developing a venture, team up with other
jacks-of-all-trades who share the same type of passion. The chance of your
startup becoming a successful, long-term venture will increase.
Yingzhao Xiao, Marta K. Dowejko,
Kevin Au & Anna J. C. Hsu (2019) “Jack-of-all-trades” with
passion: Keener to pursue startup in a team?, Journal of Small Business
Management, DOI: 10.1080/00472778.2019.1672708
This article was first published in the China
Business Knowledge (CBK) website by CUHK Business School: https://bit.ly/30UoT7d.
About CUHK Business School
Business School comprises two schools — Accountancy and Hotel and
Tourism Management — and four departments — Decision Sciences and
Managerial Economics, Finance, Management and Marketing. Established
in Hong Kong in 1963, it is the first business school to offer BBA, MBA and
Executive MBA programmes in the region. Today, the School
offers 11 undergraduate programmes and 20
graduate programmes including MBA, EMBA,
Master, MSc, MPhil and Ph.D.
the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2020,
CUHK MBA is ranked 50th. In FT‘s 2019 EMBA ranking, CUHK EMBA is ranked 24th
in the world. CUHK Business School has the largest number of business alumni (37,000+)
among universities/business schools in Hong Kong — many of whom are key
business leaders. The School currently has about 4,800
undergraduate and postgraduate students and Professor Lin Zhou
is the Dean of CUHK Business School.
More information is
available at http://www.bschool.cuhk.edu.hk or by connecting with CUHK Business School