Are Multipotentialites the Innovators of the Future?
Photo courtesy of Azian DuPree.

Are Multipotentialites the Innovators of the Future?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Employment

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.)

Multipotentialite Supporters

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.

***

Your Turn

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!).

15 Comments

  1. Michelle- Great job on the post. I second your recommendation to lead a group. I’ve found the best way to learn something new is to gain a little knowledge, and then begin to teach others as soon as you can. There’s no better way to improve and integrate new skills.

    • Michelle says:

      Definitely, Ethan. You might think you know something or how to do something, but explaining it to another person is the REAL test of your knowledge. Leading a group might be difficult for those with shyness issues, but it’s definitely worth it for the knowledge and leadership skills!

  2. Shannyn says:

    I totally agree that multipoteniality is where it’s at! It’s essential to diversify your skill sets, never stop learning, and draw from a multitude of experiences and support centers to do your best work. Reflecting on my own experience as a blogger, that in and of itself requires not only personal or professional experience/interest (depending on topic) but also requires you to dabble in a bunch of stuff that you may/may not have been familiar with- website editing, photography, networking, merchandising, and of course, overall artistic talent, research skills and writing ability that needs to be cultivated and explored.

    Michelle, I look forward to reading your blog since I enjoyed this post so much!

    • Michelle says:

      Thank you Shannyn! I’m glad you liked this post so much :) And yes, blogging is definitely a scanner-y pastime/gig/job – you have to be at least proficient at several different things to do it well!

  3. Delisa says:

    In the past I found my seemingly random knowledge and skill set not useful at all when it came to work/job related things. It was one of the many factors that has helped push me toward my own biz.

    I have only recently discovered that I am a scanner. I was an odd ball or that weird flaky kid. That didn’t bother me though because I knew that if someone had a problem I was going to be able to suggest a possible solution. Sure they may not have always worked but they did get us thinking in different ways.

    I used to think it was bad to think of these ‘what if’ ideas. I’m glad I got over that and I’m glad to be learning I’m not the only one that does this and there is a value to it.

    • Michelle says:

      I think that scanners make great brainstorming and creative solutions people, because we have a wider background than many do. If you’re seeing things from a different angle, it can give others a fresh perspective, too!

  4. shanimarissa says:

    What a wonderfully written post Michelle! I can “feel” a change coming in the traditional work place. Traditionally, I’m an Engineer and so you’d think that people would value my technical abilities, problem solving skills, etc in the workplace – but the truth is I rarely get praise for that stuff! It’s the stuff that most stereotypical engineers suck at that I get rewarded for – things like being social, outgoing (comparatively), creative and engaging.

    What’s funny is that even though the company values those aspects, they don’t quite realize it yet as new hires are always chosen for their technical ability and they only see the other skills as a perk. Slowly though, as you said, I think that they will realize that mulitpotentialities are REALLY what they are looking for. It’s “the whole package” that makes a person great at their job – not the parts.

    • Michelle says:

      Thank you for commenting, Shani! I’m glad you liked the post and shared your experience – it’s interesting that you noted you were praised for the things that stereotypical engineers suck at.

      “It’s “the whole package” that makes a person great at their job – not the parts.” YES! Definitely, definitely true.

  5. Jesse says:

    Michelle,

    Specialists are still available and useful. Mark my word – They are an endangered specie. It isn’t cool anymore (my opinion) to advice people to simply be specialists.

    Many who tout themselves as specialist, can be found to also have other interests too. Confused with the ideology of being a specialist and not knowing how to be productive in pursuing several interests, they give up.

    In a recent post, Mars Dorian still painted the picture that scanners would have a challenge in Branding. My thought on that is, If you’re starting a blog, There is need to focus your blog on a particular audience if you want to build a community. But, you can still have another blog to care for your other interests. See Darren Rowse of Problogger and dpd (for Photography interest). Better still, you can ties your interests into one. Emilie does a good job at helping scanners achieve that. It is not possible with you does not mean it can’t be done.

    Thanks for the insightful post ;-)

    Emilie, Thanks for inviting her as a guest. (Sorry for the long comment ;-))

    • Michelle says:

      I don’t think there’s any argument that specialists are available and useful. I think that some people work and function differently than others do, and that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the way any of us work and function – which is why I think that multipotentialites have plenty to offer society and the workforce. I do agree with you that there are probably “closet scanners” out there who have learned to squash their other interests and talents as time goes on, which I imagine isn’t a very fulfilling way to live!

      I don’t have anything against Mars personally but I have to say that I vehemently disagree with him and his assessments of scanners and their capability to be effectively branded. I think there are a lot of ways that scanners can work effectively without having too broad of a niche or an audience:

      -as Emilie has mentioned in the past, the “umbrella” theme – much like Puttylike itself, several different topics are covered under one unifying theme

      -the “overlap” way of doing things – this is sort of what I do. I have several different interests/skills that all overlap, and the area of overlap actually creates a fairly well defined niche in and of itself. With me, I’m working with the overlap between organization, productivity, & creativity, and how they all play off of each other; and my style-blogger background has taught me the importance of aesthetics, which I believe is especially important when we’re talking about organization for people who are usually very visual (creatives). I’m a scanner, yes, but that’s a fairly well defined topic and audience who’s going to want to read it. Not too broad at all.

      -and, as you mentioned, you can focus on *who you’re talking to* instead of *what you’re talking about*, which can help you define a niche without having to limit yourself.

      Obviously this is something I feel strongly about and have many thoughts on ;) I’m glad you liked the post, and thank you for leaving a comment!

  6. Shanna Mann says:

    Yeah. I have to say, being a polymath has been an amazing boost. I started off in academia, but it wasn’t really a place that forced me to grow. It was far too easy to go at my own pace– while i could challenge myself, there was never anything *too* new on the horizon.

    So I got my trucker’s license and did a bunch of trucking, oil&gas, and contracting (carpentry and roofing). I found I moved alot faster because my academic experience meant I was accustomed to finding mentors, accustomed to taking on projects. Within three weeks of starting contracting, I was drafting estimates and work orders because I applied myself to learn how, precisely things were done depending on what you valued: cost-effectiveness, speed, low-environmental impact, or low maintenance. Every time I learned a new processing framework, it made me so much more valuable because I could explain it to the customer or the foreman, and also, because I was in the habit of outlining and presenting proposals, we suddenly went to work with outstandingly thorough and accurate plans and work-orders, so we saved waste and stopped having to renegotiate with customers about scope of work.

    Best of all, now that I’m no longer working with my hands, I have a thorough understanding of blue-collar and white-collar paradigms. I can speak both languages. I think there’s a coming revolution between the doers/makers and the thinkers/planners because there’s been a class distinction for so long. Being able to bridge that gap with experience is a powerful tool.

    Great article Michelle. It gave me a lot of food for thought in terms of positioning myself.

    • Michelle says:

      Thank you, Shanna, for reading and commenting – this is a really interesting and insightful comment. I hadn’t ever really thought of the class distinctions that tend to exist between doers and thinkers, because like you, I can and do switch back and forth between the two. Going to go check out your website, I’m glad you liked the article! :)

  7. In today’s dynamically evolving world and with the advent of technology, it seems it’s better to be multi-inclined and even when you check history you will find people who performed great feats and did so in multiple disciplines.

    My take on it though is that even though as individuals we may be multi-talented, we can not say the specialist is become extinct, a specialist will always command top-dollar, we all are blogging, engaging in social media and commenting across numerous blogs because we are set on being recognized as thought-leaders(specialists) in our fields.

    Media houses go to the experts for their take on issues pertaining to issues that occur in an industry, they don’t go to the person who is involved in music, a star blogger and a medical enthusiast on the new medical procedures, they go to the specialist medical practitioner who has had years of hands-on experience in the field.

    It’s undoubtedly true that people from a different industry can come in with a different perspective and bring about solutions to age-old problems but they have to focus and become “specialists” in the new discipline to be able to then bring to bear past orientations for change.

    Divergence is still the way instead of convergence, that’s just my take

    • I forgot to add that I am a scanner myself with the following skills;

      Graphic Design
      Web Programming
      Business Branding & Development
      Marketing Solutions Development
      Copy writing
      Animation
      Social Media Consulting for SMEs

      This is because I am based in an environment where having one skill will result in you being extinct real fast but I have also realized that it’s important to specialize because then you command the top-dollar and when you now bring more diversity to solution delivery, you then become INDISPENSABLE.

  8. Anna says:

    I would also add that starting a blog is a good way to add an interest to your resume. I work at a non-profit doing grantwriting and marketing (a combination of skills which I now realize from your post makes me harder to replace – thanks!). But I noticed that one of my major interests – craft – was reflected nowhere on my resume. I also have considered freelance writing, but as a grantwriter my portfolio is limited. So I started a blog about the local craft scene. I have no idea where it will lead, but it’s helped me to meet new people, practice photography, and expand my writing experience.

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