This is a guest post by Michelle Nickolaisen.
Most people treat being a multipotentialite at best, as a cute personality quirk, and at worst, as a defect that will ruin your career, any possibility of being taken seriously by anyone ever, and of course, your social life in its entirety.
(Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But not by much.)
However, we do have a growing number of champions, and the other day I came across yet another one to add to the list – unwitting though he may be. I was reading A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink, which is a book that uses the right/left brain dichotomy* as a metaphor for the skills that are unable to be outsourced or replicated by computers and thus will be increasingly valued as time marches on.
In the chapter on Symphony (seeing the big picture & the relationships between its parts), Pink says:
“What’s the most prevalent, and perhaps most important, prefix of our times? Multi. Our jobs require multitasking. Our communities are multicultural. Our entertainment is multimedia. While detailed knowledge of a single area once guaranteed success, today the top rewards go to those who can operate with equal aplomb in starkly different realms. I call these people “boundary crossers”.
(bolded emphasis mine)
Hmm. Does that sound familiar? He’s talking about Scanners. He’s talking about us. And so are these other people:
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the University of Chicago psychologist who wrote the classic book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience as well as Creativity: Flow and Psychology of Discovery and Invention, has studied the lives of creative people and found that: “creativity generally involves crossing the boundaries of domains“.
Designer Clement Mok says, “The next 10 years will require people to think and work across boundaries into new zones that are totally different from their areas of expertise. They will not only have to cross those boundaries, but they will also have to identify opportunities and make connections between them.”
“Many engineering deadlocks have been broken by people who are not engineers at all,” says Nicholas Negroponte of MIT. “This is because perspective is more important than IQ. The ability to make big leaps of thought is a common denominator among the originators of breakthrough ideas. Usually this ability resides in people with very wide backgrounds, multidisciplinary minds, and a broad spectrum of experiences.”
Scanners are Difficult to Replace
This is what it comes down to: with the growing number of educated workers in developing countries, someone with a single background or area of expertise is fairly easy to replace. (Especially if that someone isn’t exhibiting any of the other R-directed skills that Pink talks about at length in the rest of the book.)
However, someone with a multidisciplinary background – to draw an example out of thin air, oh, let’s say, a background in web design, music, and screenwriting – is much harder, if not impossible, to replace, because what are the chances of finding someone with that exact skill, knowledge, and talent set?
Now, of course, career trends are usually slow to change. Aside from a few industries (video games, for example), many companies might still hesitate to hire a person with the typical Scanner resume – but that will be changing soon, judging by the way things are heading.
In the Meantime, You Can Start Preparing
Look for opportunities to add your many talents, skills, & interests to your resume, if they’re not currently on there. A few ideas:
- Volunteer. Even if you don’t have as much free time as you’d like, try volunteering at an organization that overlaps with one of your passions. Aside from looking good and showing off a potential area of strength to future employers, it’s just a nice thing to do and you’ll often find it more fun than expected.
- Take a class or a course. Taking a course when you don’t have to shows that you’re willing to learn, which most employers will appreciate.
- Lead a group. This is especially good, because it shows the ability and willingness to take initiative as well as having a varied background. Wish there was a community garden or a bike club in your community, but there’s not? Start one!
And you can also prepare by knowing exactly how having a multifaceted background helps you do your job, better than anyone else, and being not only happy but willing to explain that to employers. Look at the quotes above to get you started.
(Of course, for those among us that lean that way, there’s always entrepreneurship and working for yourself. But that’s another post entirely!)
Remember that Being a Multipotentialite Makes You Awesome
Even if you still find it hard to get employers to accept that your smorgasbord of interests and skills is an asset, never forget that for yourself. It can be hard to remember when everyone tells you that one of your core qualities is in fact, a negative one, but know this: it makes you unique, and beautiful in that uniqueness.
*I usually have…issues with that same dichotomy, to say the least. But the very beginning of the book deals with the actual science involved, complete with admission that the right/left brain issue has been vastly oversimplified, that he’s just using it as an easy-to-grasp metaphor, and that he’s no neuroscientist. So we’re cool.
Can you recall a time when being multipassionate gave you a distinct advantage at work? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Michelle Nickolaisen helps creatives get their best work done & out there at Let’s Radiate. She lives in Austin, TX with her two cats (who are named after Buffy characters, naturally) and her husband. Being the owner of an insatiable curiosity, she’ll read anything & everything she can get her hands on (so long as it’s well written!).