How Deep is Your Love (for What You Do)?
Photo courtesy of Jaro Larnos.

How Deep is Your Love (for What You Do)?

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Confidence

In March 2016 there was a flurry of news about the ancient Eastern board game, Go. For years Go had been the Holy Grail for programmers writing game-playing Artificial Intelligence, and Google claimed to have finally created a program capable of beating the best human players in the world.

Despite my utter lack of knowledge about Go, I started watching the match coverage, as Google’s new AI took on human champion Lee Sedol. To my surprise, each game was about five hours long (!). Worse, despite the game being so simple – just black stones and white stones – the commentary was nearly incomprehensible to me.

To my untrained eye, all moves appeared to be virtually random. But, somehow, after each move the commentator explained how this new piece was ‘clearly’ a genius setup for some complex sequence. And he was nearly always right!

The sheer depth of his knowledge meant he could look at a Go board and where I saw a bunch of scattered black and white stones, he saw the complete state of the game along with the possible permutations of moves to come.

For a couple of weeks, I was mildly obsessed with Go. And this got me thinking about depth versus breadth.

We Treat Depth and Breadth as Opposites

When it comes to our abilities, it feels as if we have two options. We can either spend our time developing depth in one particular skill or interest – perhaps becoming a 9-dan player of Go, a master musician, the best software developer. Or we can spend our time becoming quite good – but presumably less good – across many diverse activities.

Unless we discover a way to be in two places at once (or a Time-Turner!), we can only put so many hours into each passion. In a quasi-mathematical sense, we get a set number of “PassionHours” in our lifetime. How do we choose to spend them?

Whenever I think about questions like this one, I like to check that I’m actually thinking and not simply repeating things I’ve heard before. So, let me check my assumptions.

First, is it even true?

Well, short of a cure for mortality, it seems undeniable that we get a limited amount of time to live, and that the more time we spend on something, the better we get at it. It’s hard to argue with either of those.

Next, does it matter?

This is a little more debatable. It depends entirely on our personal goals. If I want to be a 9-dan Go player, I probably don’t also have time to represent England at cricket, write the definitive textbook on computer science, while also becoming a leading neurosurgeon. There just aren’t enough PassionHours in a lifetime.

However, if I dial down my ambitions in each sphere – perhaps I’d like to have a passing knowing of Go, occasionally play cricket, code the odd website, and… well, probably not take up brain surgery as a hobby, let’s be honest… this seems totally possible. This sort of allocation of my time is, at least, plausible.

But there’s a final question to explore: is there another way to look at it?

And this is where it gets interesting.

Measurement Depends on Perspective

This is a little subtle, but how we describe our depth in any given activity depends on where we draw the boundary to define that activity in the first place.

Let me explain. We look at every activity and sort it into pre-defined categories: this one is farming, that one is whistling, while that other one is making paper airplanes.

But those activities aren’t facts of nature. They’re arbitrary. Whistling-while-making-paper-airplanes is a perfectly legitimate category of its own. It doesn’t arrive pre-defined in our culture, but it is a plausible mental category for an activity.

And once a category exists in our minds, we can start developing depth in this new category. Perhaps the best paper-airplane-maker in the world sucks at doing it while whistling. They put all their PassionHours into only the paper part of it, the fools!

I realize that this is a silly and contrived example. But when we think about depth, we automatically measure ourselves in pre-defined categories – usually those that we picked up from the education system or the standard narrative of what’s “important.”

We don’t all have the desire to go deeply into a pre-defined category. But we may have the desire to create our own category – a broader category – and to find depth in there.

If we measure ourselves only by pre-defined categories then we might appear shallower than we are. This is a trap I see multipods fall into all the time: judging ourselves harshly for a perceived lack of depth, but not stopping to consider whether the categories in which we’re measuring ourselves have any meaning in the context of our lives.

Redrawing the boundaries of measurement around the exact same life experience might reveal real depth in a category we’ve not considered:

Depth Blocks

Measuring our abilities only in separate categories might make it look like they don’t reach very high. But stacking them up to find the SUM of our abilities reveals real depth in the combined category.

This isn’t a trick or illusion. Perhaps it seems silly to combine things that are separate, but if nobody combined categories then books about the links between maths and music would never exist.

And what other combinations are still untouched by human imagination?

Nobody – not even the world’s greatest obsessive – puts 100% of their PassionHours into any one thing.

So, if we use “maximum depth in a pre-defined category” as our measuring stick, we’re always going to fall short of having as much depth as we “should.”

But if our measuring stick is the sum of all our passions, we might find that we are very deep in an interesting new category we are creating for ourselves.

Your Turn

Do you ever worry about the depth of your knowledge? In which combined categories do you have a real depth of knowledge?

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

44 Comments

  1. Ivan says:

    MIND BLOWN. Thanks so much!

  2. Albert L. says:

    I learned how to play Go in college after the anime Hikaru no Go aired, and this is my mindset on the game: instead of Chess where it is the power of each piece, from pawn to King and Queen, Go is a game where every piece has equal power: each white or black stone are not above one another in terms of skill, or considered worse or better pieces.

    The game is played with the mind of gaining territory, surrounding the opposition who forgot one corner, or diverting your opponent into a trap. Think of it as a large scale foot-soldier army, and eveyone has only one sword.

    I compare this to being a multipod; by nature we are not specialists on just one thing, we dabble one one thing and another, and refuse to just identify as one profession. In chess terms, one day you want to be the Rook, another the Knight, then in a month do what the Queen does, then another be as lazy and important as the King.

    Another way to look at Go is to imagine you have a bird’s eye view of the field, and are in charge of the various elements with you using only your wits, versus relying on the strength of others. For many of you instead of finding someone to do a certain task, you would rather try yourself and try as much as you feel to be proficient. A General has knowledge of many subjects and of his troops, but does not necessary excels at one thing. If anything they excel at seeing the whole picture, like in Go you must see the whole field.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I love this, Albert – what a great way to tie Go with the broader point :)

      By the end of the five matches I had a decent understanding of the ‘feel’ of a board, but I could see the amount of effort and dedication required to truly read the game.

      I love your analogy of pieces of equal power, and multipods fufilling many different roles depending on what the situation calls for.

      Thank you so much!

  3. Raphael Azzarone says:

    Thank you for sharing! Great article.

    Food for thought.
    When we discuss depth of a passion or knowledge, too often we view the “start point” as the focal point of a pursuit.

    As a person with many passions I view the “end game” as the beginning, and then think backwards of what needs to be done to get to that level of depth in knowledge. This approach allows a person to eliminate the “noise” in the learning process.

    This is a favorite choice among many masters at high level games including chess. It is also a dividing point among those with higher critical thinking skills.

    My opinion is that more individuals would venture down more rabbit holes of knowledge, if they envision the end goal and work backwards, thus making the process of learning, more productive and less time consuming. This allows us to make quicker connections between subjects, that may seem vast in relation, but not in reality.

    Again great article. I believe that many people posses the “want” to learn more and be creative, but have perhaps been discouraged from the learning process they have been taught. Work backwards!

    Have an awesome learning day!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      “Work backwards!” What an interesting idea.

      Off the top of my head I feel like I do this sometimes, but not very consistently. Just from your description I can already see how useful it is – will think on how I can apply it to my life!

  4. Miriam says:

    I think it’s not just a matter of time. The time we spend doing something is relative when we focus on how important that activity is for our life. The most important question is: “is this activity my priority?”. Even if we do not spend much time on something it could be the focus of our life or of a particular period in our life. For example, I usually have artistic skating training 3 times a week, that means about 6, 7 or 8 hours a week. Surely, as a student, I spend much more time studying. Nevertheless, trainings are my priority: I would never skip a training because of studying for an exam.

  5. Morna says:

    This is something I struggle with a LOT. I’m simply not as knowledgeable as a dedicated Anthropologist, or IT-consultant, or marketeer.
    On all different parts combined, I know quite a lot, but it’s such a tiny niche…

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I think it’s not just about the size of the niche, but bringing things from one area to another. Is there any way your anthropology could be useful in your marketing? Or vice versa? Sometimes combining things is about creating a niche, sometimes it’s about cross-pollination. But I take your point – sometimes we do have to strengthen a particular area too.

  6. Jenn E says:

    I struggle so much with beating myself up for not being able to focus on one particular thing, part of me wants to be THE BEST in a particular area, then the other part of me says ‘do you realize how intensely you will have to focus on the ONE subject?’ and it makes me cringe. (This coming from someone who doesn’t even want to sit through most movies lol) No doubt I give 100% to the task at hand, but this ‘fear’ of being bored, or losing my zeal for something has many times kept me from pursuing things that I know without doubt I would be great at if I actually started and followed through with them.
    I will definitely be making my own drawing today, but what would you say to someone whose mental game tells them ‘don’t even bother, you’ll get bored’?
    Thanks for the great read, and for helping to restore some of my sanity ;)

  7. Ziad Haddara says:

    Good article. It is a small change in perspective, but it can actually help a lot in this continued struggle. Of course as I’m sure many would agree, the struggle is equally defining yourself as having depth in a new category (that combines several) and the value that brings, as it is in convincing or explaining it to others, especially when it comes to work and traditional HR. I would say with the possible exception of the product design industry maybe? very few firms dare define jobs in any non-traditional format- which I think is the main reason Emilie in her blog suggests that multipods create their own businesses! It seems the only way to go at least for now, while others wake up to the value that cross-disciplinary folks can bring to the table.

  8. Gabriela says:

    Hi, I thought about this for a few minutes and here’s my five minute take. While there may be some passions that have no overlap or congruency, most have some.
    As a former financial manager I use my skills of extreme attention to detail and organization learned in that field in many other parts of my life (also deciding when it’s not necessary to be perfectly organized is useful too).
    My English teaching experience (composition and literature) I use constantly when deciding to write a post for my blog or an email. I use managerial skills daily in my current volunteer coordinator job, skills that serve this introvert very well in society or when helping to run a non-profit fairs in my spare time. I also teach evening classes a couple nights a week, using skills gained from my artistic pursuits as well as my teaching experience. I also used to teach online, learning technical skills that are helping me to manage my website.
    Recognizing that these connections exist can only help to grow all of your passions, even if one has to sit on the side for a season, the skills are there. I wonder what brain surgeons do in their spare time??

  9. Cas Yates says:

    I have passion for quite a few subjects but have a skill set in many areas. My juggling act is doing what I have the passion in. Not just doing it because I have the skill set or because someone else wants me to do it because I do it well. Healthy boundaries are the key which I’m getting better at.

  10. Kari says:

    Neil, thank you for a new perspective on a common concern – and for giving me that new perspective in such an entertaining way. This is an EXCELLENT post.

  11. Calin says:

    I am new here, after seeing Emilie’s TED talk.
    Isn’t it the full point ?
    Well I am ALWAYS as good as I want to in what I choose to do, until I get bored (or sometimes just distracted, I have to say that…).
    That is a nice try, stacking colors as a new perspective (don’t get be wrong, this is obviously our real strength- combining boundary knowledge), but if you cut it back to the title, then this is rather true, it should be love and not infatuation for what you do…
    So, yeah, love, let go and then love again…Sounds about right.
    Don’t be mislead, we have the same chance as anybody to love enough something to just be a straight no. 1. We surely are no.1 in a smaller or bigger tribe, but in a few billion people world, you might as well win the lottery.
    However, of course this is what I preach, and not fully do, so, thank you Neil and thanks Emilie for reminding me that I am not alone trying to stick into my head, this: “competitive is BAD…..,competitive is BAD…..,…”

  12. Marie Sheel says:

    Great post! It led me to think of a couple of points:
    – the strength of a multipod is he/her ability to find true connections across categories. So in that category, cross-pollination, we are stars! It seems to me then that multipods are going to excel at innovative thinking
    – this led me to the idea that perhaps we don’t consider categories of topics (like math or marketing) but categories of skills – like innovative thinking, technical communication, marketing analytics- because these skills require being good at blending knowledge of several things at once. An excellent technical architect has to be a coding geek as well as well spoken with strong business sense. A marketing analyst has to love running numbers and creating reports while at the same time love marketing enough to express how to improve marketing efforts based on the numbers.

    Perhaps the mathematical music books person is simply good at creative research.

    Thoughts?

    • Neil Hughes says:

      As a few others have posted below, this is a great idea. I’m going to chew it over for a while and see where it leads me. Thanks for sharing :)

  13. Claire says:

    I love this! Thanks for the post, Neil!

    This is an especially helpful reminder right now, as the fields and skill sets I’m working in seem so far apart and disparate from one another… highlighting them together as a whole new field is more enlightening.

  14. Leonardo di Vinci is my idol. His knowledge and discoveries were revered. Today, he would be a misfit. How in-depth was his knowledge on any particular topic? Who cares . . . what he brought to the world was magnificent! Could his creativity have been so vast if he had stuck to one thing? Could his gifts have been developed in a “box”? He found connections and innovative ways of bringing to the world the connections he made in new ways.

  15. Linzi says:

    I decided this morning to take some slow time, in other words relax into the day. That’s kinda easier for me as I don’t have regular income. Neil I recall watching your TED talk first time round. love the simple illustrations and custard yum especially chocolate. ok so seriously now. thanks for this perspective on judging and categories. Please can you have a word with what ever God rules over all them ‘normal’ folk and get them to embrace us who thrive at having wide knowledge and enthusiasm. Finding a regular enjoyable job and therefore some financial security … now that’s a whole new level of anxiety. Peace with with you all and have fun.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha, glad you liked the talk! I can assure you that if I had any sway with whoever runs the world then things would be very different for multipods :p peace be with you too!

  16. Maia says:

    I am good on writing, coaching and computers. But I work in logistics. Now I have to decide my career development program with my supervisor. I am 45 years old, did many things that nobody (neither myself) had any idea how to combine and this made me crazy and still for a long time. I always have this feeling that I could had been much more, I could had achieve much more, that I have a great potential I never used. After so many years of frustration, I don’t even know anymore if is true that I love many things or, maybe, on the contrary, I don’t feel entusiastic for anything anymore. I never get to a good position at work or receive a good salary. So, I am still hoping and I am 45…not old, true. But not young either.

    • lucia says:

      I have just passed part time to have more time to try to develop other passions/ maybe skills i have. could you do something similar?

  17. Shane says:

    I like this. I would also like to say that it’s great to think of summation, but there’s a 3rd way of looking at it which is that all activities have crossover in skills.

    I do meditation, writing, self development, work on social skills (heavily), engineering (as a career), and music. The engineering helps me with the technical aspect of music (time signatures and melodic theory). Also, since music is an expression of one’s soul, self development, woking on social skills, and meditation helps me with music. That’s because all 3 of those things are for making my soul more “beautiful.” if i improve my soul, then the expression of my soul is improved, thus my music is improved. Writing is just amazing all around for music since it helps me get creative, write better lyrics, improvise better, and other stuff.

    There’s tons of crossover in areas. Also, using the skill curve, you get better faster at things you suck at then things you are already good at, so you could argue (and i do) that working on many things at the same time (done in a smart way) is actually more efficient than focusing.

    On top of all that, comes the argument of motivation and fun. You have more fun doing tons of different things, so you’ll work harder on them than if you just sit in front of a drum set all day every day and may have more motivation to work on drums every day.

  18. I’ve already read this article three times and will read it again. Good points, Neil, and I especially liked the visual on topics and how to group them together into one vision. I have often wondered how all my studies/degrees (criminal justice, clinical psych, holistic medicine, nutrition, languages, writer, author, hiker, creative/artist) could be brought together to create a CATEGORY OF SKILLS, as Marie Sheel excellently pointed out – LOVE that approach – thanks Marie! Even my LinkedIn page is updated frequently since they don’t make room for Puttypeep skills…and I become bored with the way it presents me to the world…limiting, to say the least (as are all the monochromatic approaches to work/jobs these days). I LOVE to create and am learning more and more how to create a life I want by moving away from ‘workin’ for the man’ J-O-B-S. Blogs like this reinforce my choice to make my own road in this world. Thanks again.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yay, I’m so glad it resonated! Totally agree that Marie’s thoughts are wonderful – good luck building your own road, do keep us informed here on how you’re getting on, and ask the community for support if you need it :)

  19. Chris Ella says:

    I know this will be a short reply, but I worry about putting 110% into a subject then only to lose interest and then I over thinking what is my next chosen path. Sometimes I just stick to a job I am used to/comfortable in so I don’t have to worry about the ‘what if’s’. Who knew I’d have a degree in Industrial Design, then to work in a supermarket (as I didn’t know what I wanted to do) and then go into Computers, and now thinking about scripting.

  20. JJ Biener says:

    There are a lot of good thoughts here, but I want to add a few more from my experience. I believe Emilie made the point in one of her videos that as multipods, we are always learning something new, so learning easily and quickly is one of our prime characteristics. I think there is something more involved. Learning across multiple categories gives you a deeper understanding of each subject. I will give you some examples from my life.

    In high school, I took a year of Latin. I did it for an intellectual exercise, but what it did was give me a deeper understanding of English. It let me see not just the current usage, but how it came to be used as it is now. It helped me understand the subtleties of connotation which are important to good writing.

    I spent my career in IT, starting as a help desk tech. I used my time to learn about how computers work from both a hardware and software level. This lead to a job programming computers at near the hardware level. Understanding how the hardware works gave me a deeper understanding of how to program the hardware more efficiently. Later when I was using higher-level languages, my knowledge of the lower-level languages again help me write better code.

    Being a multipod helped in other ways. Instead of focusing on the just the problem in front of me, I was able to see the same problem across multiple applications or even across an enterprise. This led me to offer solutions to not just my problem, but all similar problems.

    After programming, I went into database design, project management and business analysis. Each time, the knowledge I had gathered from the previous jobs helped me do the subsequent jobs better. Emilie talks about an overarching theme to our lives. In my professional life, that theme was problem solving. It was being able to see the bigger picture quickly and using that perspective to solve the problem.

    I remember one instance where I was asked to sit in on a meeting. I was working a contract for a specialty pharmacy. To be fair, I knew nothing walking into this meeting. I don’t even remember the substance of the meeting. As I sat there, I tried to absorb what was being said and find patterns and build a picture in my mind. After about 45 minutes it occurred to me they were looking at only one possible option. In programming terms, they had an “if…then” condition and were only looking at the “if” branch. So I asked, what if this assumption, isn’t true. The room got quiet for a few seconds, then someone said, “Oh my god, he’s right. It isn’t always true. That’s the solution right there.” The people in the room were experts in their area, but it took someone from the outside with different experience to see the problem that was right in front of them.

    Being a multipod is a gift. It allows us to see and do things others can’t. At the same time though, we have to be careful not to let ourselves get pigeon-holed. For me at least, it is sure failure.

  21. Filipa says:

    Great. Loved it! :)

  22. juliana says:

    Totally makes sense! I love to feel part of a group, making it easier to identify my own unique way of senil the world!
    Thank you so much

  23. K.C. says:

    Excellent post Neil, and comments! A special thanks to Albert, Raphael, and Miriam for such enlightening and self confirming insights. I’m a serious advocate for equality, so I too loved your analogy. And now,thanks to Miriam, I don’t feel like time-or the lack of it- is a true indicator of the quality/passion one feels /derives from doing something they ‘love’. And as a writer who’s used to the old paradigm of ‘beginning, middle, and end, working backwards might take me a minute to get used to. But I’m willing to give it a shot! And last but certainly not least, a big Thank You to Emilie for creating a community that truly gets, understands, and embraces being a Multipod!
    K.C.?

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thanks K.C, really glad you enjoyed it! Definitely want to echo about how great the comments are here – plenty of thought-provoking ideas.

      My general belief is that the combined community are way smarter and more insightful than I could ever be, so I always hope to provoke some discussion.

      Pleased so many people have taken something useful from the article for themselves too :)

  24. lucia says:

    I worry about the depth of my knowledge continuosly. I am a civil engineer who has never been particularly good at it. This simply because I have so many more interests and such an average intelligence, that there was no way I could become an very good engineer. but i am defenitely an exeptional one. For many years ( I am 38) i refused being defined by my profession and I still do, but I can’t deny it gives me great axiety and insecurity to be below the level of my colleagues.
    Why do they keep my position? because I am a great extrovert comunicator, i have very good syntesis skills and I am very good in relations with project partners. Additionally, i am crazy enough to dear to bring some extravagance into a very squared world, that can translate into some real innovation.
    But I still feel unsuited for the job. I struggle with numerical models and maths…
    I would like to travel the world making photography and writing articles…and most of all, I would like to be a professional dancer. I do this things at an amatorial level and this year i took the decision to work only 3 days a week as an engineer and dedicate the rest of my time to my other interests. But still feel insecure: I am surrounded by professional artists, my friends ( they are so much more fun than engineers!) and guess what: I am not particularly good at it. I would like to be the one, for example, that takes their pictures for advertizing material…but they always have a professional photographer who will. I would like to accompany their music with a dance, but they always have some young dance student to do it better…it is frustrating and makes me very anxious at time because I realize i am late to become good at anything…or even worse….i will have no time to do it if i don’t narrow down my interests.

  25. Francis says:

    I like what you are doing, Neil.

    However…

    “We look at every activity and sort it into pre-defined categories: this one is farming, that one is whistling, while that other one is making paper airplanes.

    But those activities aren’t facts of nature. They’re arbitrary. ”

    What do you mean by arbitrary activities? I’d think that farming as an activity is deliberate and a fact of nature. My garden can prove it.

    “But we may have the desire to create our own category – a broader category – and to find depth in there.”

    Doesn’t it feel contrived a bit? This is equivalent to “find a place where you are a specialist”. I guess it’s one way to go about it although I’d rather not play by the rules. I’m a scanner and as such my strength is breadth, not depth.

    Also, notice that in your drawings you gained depth at the cost of breadth. Lot’s of people search for math, about 10x less search for mathematical musical books. Group enough things together and you might end up alone.

    “However, if I dial down my ambitions in each sphere[…]”

    Ah! You hit it square on the head. Can you really do that? I sure can’t! And the moment I stack boxes together they become one and then they go stale. In my world patterns do exist but in the end change is the only constant.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I love this comment! I always appreciate having my ideas challenged, so thank you :)

      Lots to unpack here. I think a fundamental part of my ethos is that I’m never trying present the One True Way to think about anything – just different perspectives that may help free us from being stuck in particular situations.

      Clearly I’m not attempting to claim that farming doesn’t exist – that would be absurd! I guess what I was trying to say is that we can be flexible in how we think about each of our activities; the Platonic ideal of farming never exists in the real world, only the way that each of us individually does it, and that will always involve some overlap with other parts of our life experience.

      (That may seem like a fairly empty statement when you break it down, but I think it contrasts with how we sometimes *think* about it – as if there is some Platonic ideal in x-activity that we ‘should’ be living up to.)

      Haha, it absolutely feels contrived – in fact, I think I said “this is contrived” at one point! The point wasn’t to encourage anyone to disappear into an absurdly narrow niche, but to judge ourselves by our whole life experience. Sometimes I beat myself up thinking “if I’d dedicated x years to this, I could be amongst the very best right now”, but that analysis ignores all the things I spent those hours on. The SUM of all my activities is still impressive, it’s just impressive in a combined category that’s much more unique to me.

      You’re right about search traffic for those terms, but I wasn’t thinking from a business point-of-view, instead from a ‘how we frame our thinking about ourselves’ point-of-view. Depending on our goals we may want to be highly visible in a much broader niche, but in our minds we remember all the experience we bring from our other spheres of life.

      That’s interesting that you struggle to control your ambitions. I guess that’s common in that perhaps all of us want it all to some degree, but I think most of us find a way to set achievable goals in each sphere (or across multiple spheres, depending on what we want).

      Also very interested in the idea that as soon as you group concepts together in your mind they grow stale – could you expand on that? I try not to generalise from my own experience too much, but sometimes it’s inevitable when the way we think has such variety: it’s very hard to get a true glimpse into anyone else’s lived experience!

      Very much appreciate your thoughts – will chew them over. Hope I’ve shed a little light on what I was trying to offer :)

      • Francis says:

        “That’s interesting that you struggle to control your ambitions.”

        Fact is I don’t. Long ago I tried to stay put and that almost killed me. Big mistake! I’ve let my curiosity run wild ever since (at great cost, but I don’t really have a choice).

        The first time I read about multipotentiality I was excited! But the word is used so loosely that it can mean just about anything. “Someone who can be good at many things”… eh?

        I’ve had countless “passions”, not 3 or 4. And it’s still going strong. Things go stale if I linger for too long. Once I’ve had my fill I need to move on and if I don’t I get sick. Some things keep coming back, most never do. A bit difficult to build depth in these conditions.

        Anyway, the reason I came out of the dark is to say that breadth is more than just a provider for depth (as in your box example). No need to measure your worth with depth. Breadth gives me contrast which lets me see patterns and sometimes even shortcuts.

        “I guess that’s common in that perhaps all of us want it all to some degree”
        To some degree? LOL be honest now :P

        • Neil Hughes says:

          Haha :D

          I honestly think I want only reasonable amounts of “it all” – I can be happy with ‘enough’ as long as the enough is varied and broad enough.

          I *really* like your point about not measuring worth with depth. At first I was confused about what you meant, as I didn’t intend to use the doodles to suggest that depth was the true worth, just to demonstrate an alternative way of looking at things.

          But you’re right that there’s a hidden implication that depth is better, which wasn’t part of my intention at all. Will think on that – maybe there’s a Part Two to come here pointing out the pure value of breadth just for its own sake.

          I totally agree about the loose usage of “multipotentialite”. It’s something I struggle with myself – it’s clearly a real thing in the sense that people identify with it (hell, I do) but it is just a loose collection of personality traits -curiosity, drive, ambition, desire for variety, etc – which makes it hard to measure or fully define.

          Anyway, great points again, thank you :)

          • Francis says:

            I made some drawings for a friend some time ago. They show an easy way to visualize depth/breadth, the difference between specialists and scanners and a simple way to leverage breadth.

            I put them online in case you’re interested.
            http://brutaltest.com/?p=25

  26. Mark says:

    When I try to explain the usefulness of being reasonably good at lots of things but not a master at any one thing, I use the movie director as an example. A movie director needs to be reasonably good at — or at least have sufficient knowledge of — the various disciplines that are combined to make a movie.

    So, while the director may not be the best writer, actor, cinematographer, art director, costume designer, music composer, etc, ultimately they often make the final creative decision on each distinct element which establishes which direction the film as a whole goes. The more well-rounded the director is, the easier it is for them to have a view of the big picture (excuse the pun).

    Innovation happens when the director is also able to bring in elements that have not been used in movies before, with directors such as James Cameron and George Lucas exploiting their knowledge of emerging technologies being among the most well known examples.

  27. Don Morgan says:

    As a multipod, a career in law has been a saving grace. I have had the ability to learn about many different areas. I have represented many general contractors. I learned how stuff gets built. I have represented hospitals in medical malpractice actions. I know a lot about several different medical proceedures, but I didn’t have to go to medical school. Early in my career I had to take appointed criminal cases. I know as much as I want about the prison system without ever having to be incarcerated. I know how to buy and sell businesses, close commercial real estate deals and a bunch of other random stuff that I never would have learned doing anything else. And if you find an area where you are drawn to specialize, that is always an option. I can think of no bettr multipod career.

  28. Leeloo says:

    I have always struggled with the question, “What do you?” When someone asks me what my job is my boss is usually present and I always hope he will step in and answer the question for me. I have the unique opportunity to sort of dive my hands into whatever they will let me have.

    My favorite assignments at work are the one I know absolutely nothing about when they land on my desk. I have a natural and intense desire to know how something ticks, WHY we need it, what we use it for and if there is another way to do it.

    My biggest issue at work is that I sometimes ignore more important projects because I get consumed by the more interesting projects. I’ve come to realize that what I live is the figuring it out part. I loved working with modeling clay until I got pretty good at. Once I mastered the basic principles I didn’t care about perfecting them – I just had to understand them. That’s all I needed to be content (not I have a couple hundred dollars worth of untouched clay and tools..)

    I feel like maybe I don’t have a passion for lots of little things. I have a passion for solving puzzles, asking questions and consuming knowledge. Sometimes a bigger shinier more interesting enigma flies by and I just have to pursue it. It is one big passion; not lots and lots of little ones. Tying concepts and resolutions from across these fields is just a really cool byproduct of this passion. :)

  29. Trinity says:

    Thank you – this was exactly what I needed to hear tonight!

  30. Gillian says:

    What a great article Neil, many thanks. This is a strategy that’s sometimes used in business, but I haven’t seen it applied in this way before!

    I do love it when someone put forward a new idea or applies something in a new way just as you’ve done here. And judging by the number of comments and interesting perspectives that people have added I’m certainly not the only one.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Thanks Gillian! I’m sure I’m not the first to think this way, but I’m glad the way I found to present it opened up a new perspective for you :) Really appreciate you sharing – welcome to Puttylike!

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