Today it is the specialist who is sought after. This is particularly true of the professions, and in those trades that ought to be called professions, where a high degree of skill and technical knowledge are required. It is well known that no man “knows it all,” though it is quite possible that a man may know all that is known about one branch of trade or profession, if he follows it closely.
Every day, as it closes, leaves the world richer in knowledge, and the aggregation of many days produces a store of learning which vastly increases the quantity which the beginner must master ere he approaches proficiency. A couple of centuries ago all the world knew of the healing art was within easy grasp of any average intelligent person. Now there is no living physician, however eminent, who pretends to have mastered, or even to be moderately versed in all the details of medicine and surgery. So it is with science, with law, with mechanics, and, of course, and particularly so in the building trades.
The lawyers say that the man most to be dreaded as an adversary is “he of one book.” The individual who knows only one thing, but that root and branch, is most unquestionably abler and wiser than another who has dabbled in this, that and the other thing, until his mind is but a jumble of ill assorted ideas, superficial at the best.
If a mechanic, for example, finds that there is any one operation for which he has a special liking and can accomplish it just a little better than anything else, that is the thing for him to stick to. He should make up his mind to cling to it through thick and thin, to try to improve certain parts until a uniform perfection is attained.
The carpenter who has a taste for stair building and handrailing, and who directs his efforts in that direction will, no doubt, become an expert and, of course, command more pay than the man who can do a little of everything but nothing expertly. It does not take the world very long to discover who is the best man for this or that purpose; and when it finds out that man who has made a specialty of one operation, and unquestionably does it better than any one else, the world must avail itself of his labor, and in so doing must pay him his own terms.
We do not mean to argue that a man should be like a horse —capable of entertaining but one idea at a time—for that would be to advocate narrow mindedness; but we do mean to say that no man should be without one essential and prevailing object, in the prosecution of which he is determined to excel, and it does not make any difference what that is, whether it is digging a post hole, jointing a board or laying out a roof, or saving souls.
We should liken this uttermost purpose in man’s brain to an elaborate treatise on one subject alone in a library of general encyclopedias. The last indicate the expansion and grasp of one’s views on all things, the first their concentration on a life’s work.
The simile is all the more apt, for, after all, when we come to examine everything, we know outside of our calling, we find we are only in possession of a more or less copious index, and we are led to the certain conclusion that the very best we can ever hope to do in the attainment of knowledge is to learn where this fact or that theory is to be found most readily when we wish to inform ourselves as to its signification. The wider a man’s education the larger his index, and the more capable he is of instantly selecting that information which will give him an insight into the proper method of doing any one thing.
The National Builder – (Chicago) January, 1903