The 7 Multipotentialite Super Powers
Photo courtesy of Matt Romack.

The 7 Multipotentialite Super Powers

Written by Emilie

Topics: Multipotentialite Patterns

Specialists do certain things well. They are excellent craftsmen, they have a deep knowledge of their chosen profession, they’re focused and detail oriented.

Multipotentialites are skilled in varying degrees depending on the passion. For example, after twelve years of classical violin training, I’m a pretty solid violinist. Compare that to the three years I spent in law school. It’s been a few years since graduating and I could probably recall the essential elements of a contract, but not much more.

The Value of Skill

The dominant story around career and calling tells us that skill is what’s valuable in the marketplace, and that we should therefore hone a skill (specialize), and then perform this skill over and over again in exchange for a paycheck.

Sure, this is an over-simplistic way of looking at employment, but there’s truth to it. It’s the model that came out of the industrial revolution, back when it made sense for each person to be a cog in the system and do one thing well because that’s how our industry flourished.

Are there Qualities more Valuable than Skill?

Skill is where the conversation usually ends. But I would argue that there are certain qualities more valuable than being “really good” at something.

Multipotentialites have a number of often underestimated superpowers that go beyond skill. These qualities are the reason that so many innovators throughout history happen to have been oriented toward multiple disciplines. They predispose us to innovation.

1. Contextual Thinking

Multipotentialites are able to see the broader implications of a problem, and can therefore make smarter, more informed decisions.

When I was in law school, I took a course on Intellectual Property. As someone who used to burn CDs of her latest songs and mail them to the Library of Congress when she was seventeen, I had a tangible understanding of what Copyright meant. Similarly, my experiences making films often had me bumping up against copyright law in different, often frustrating ways.

My background in the arts meant that I didn’t just see Copyright through the lens of law, but I was able to appreciate the affect that it had on different groups. Being able understand issues from many perspectives enhances empathy and understanding, and leads to more well thought out decisions.

2. Translating between Modes of Thought

A background of multidisciplinary exploration means that multipotentialites are able to “speak the language” of people in different fields. The ability to shift between modes of thought allows us to translate between groups, help them understand each other, and work with big teams.

I once couchsurfed with a guy who programs supercomputers for some of the biggest tech companies in the world. He literally told me that a specialist couldn’t do his job. As the project leader, he needs to be able to understand how the programmers, designers, businesses, and users all think, so that he can help them communicate with each other and bring the greater vision to life.

In her book, Refuse to Choose, Barbara Sher uses the example of the orchestra conductor. A conductor must know how to speak the language of the violinists, so that he can tell them which part of the bow to use during certain passages where he wants particular dynamics and intensity. At the same time, the conductor must know how to speak the language of the timpani players, which means thinking in terms of texture and rhythm. He needs to be able to zoom in to communicate with each individual part, and zoom back out to make sure that no voice overpowers the others, and that the instruments blend together nicely.

3. Wearing Many Hats

Multipotentialites know how to do many things well, which means that we rarely have to seek outside help (we may want to, but rarely do we have to). So while I may not have enough legal knowledge to be a lawyer, I do have enough skill for it to be a real asset in my business.

Our unique and varied skill-set can also make us indispensable to an organization. One summer I worked at an advertising agency in New York. I was initially hired as a web design intern, but once they realized what vast skills I had, they began giving me a range of tasks. I found myself working with the in-house lawyer to research city regulations related to billboards, editing video campaigns, and cutting together panoramic photos. I did all of this in addition to my web design work. I think they were pretty sad when I left. I would have been hard to replace.

4. Fast Skill Acquisition

Multipotentialites are so accustomed to diving into new disciplines and acquiring knowledge, that we become skilled at the process of learning. The more experience you have being a beginner, the faster “getting good” becomes.

The experience of tackling many subjects also means that we are less intimidated when facing new problems. We’ve got the confidence from years of picking things up to know that we can figure it out. Also, the truth is that multipotentialites rarely start from scratch. Most skills are transferable, and we often build off of past knowledge.

Multipotentialites are also fiercely passionate about their pursuits, almost to the point of obsession. This kind of passion fuels self-learning. It means that we devour information and can reach a high level of proficiency fast.

5. Impact/Inspiration

Being passionate doesn’t just lead to fast skill acquisition. The enthusiasm that multipotentialites have for their interests makes them excellent leaders that other people want to band around. Knowledge is important, but I would argue that enthusiasm is more valuable since it reaches people on an emotional level.

6. Concoction

Multipotentialites are schemers. We love coming up with new ideas and bringing projects to life. When I was a kid, I was constantly inventing awesome projects. There were plays, gymnastic shows, a kids news program, fortune telling and origami in the park, punk bands, websites, short films, and clubs. This pattern has continued throughout my life. Often when I look around and feel displeased with the existing options, I create my own. Multipotentialites are constantly looking to invent better, more fun ways of doing things.

7. Idea Synthesis

Probably the coolest multipotentialite super power is the ability to combine disparate fields and create something entirely new at the intersection.

I would define innovation as: taking knowledge in one area and applying it to solve a problem in an entirely unrelated field. The intersections are where new ideas are born. New ideas don’t come from text books. With so many fields to draw from, multipotentialites have a lot of potential intersections to explore.

Tapping into Your Super Powers

As a multipotentialite, you are naturally inclined toward the seven super powers mentioned above. However, some of us are more practiced in certain areas than others.

If you’ve been denying your multipotentiality and trying to specialize (because that’s what the culture told you to do), you might be a little rusty. Don’t worry. All of these abilities can be brought out through practice. As you embrace your multipotentialite nature, it will become easier to harness your super powers.

Your Turn

How have you used your multipotentialite super powers? Can you think of any others that I left out?

31 Comments

  1. Leslie says:

    Yes, I love it! I’d add one more: being about to connect with people in many different fields. Knowing a little bit about many things helps you to strike up a conversation with just about everyone.

    • Emilie says:

      Definitely. I think this is a precursor to the power of translation. We’re only able to translate between people in different fields because we can understand each of them. Good call, Leslie.

  2. Kylie says:

    I particularly love that “concoction” is one of the superpowers. Yes! Absolutely and completely. The world needs more shemers who are thinking up new, fabulous amalgamations of ideas!

    As I was reading this, the whole article reminded me of how in the last 100 years, neuroplasticity has become increasingly important in brain and behavior research. What are multipotentialites but examples of the fabulous things that can happen when out-of-the-ordinary neural connections are made?

    • Emilie says:

      Haha I was deciding how to phrase that one. Creation/creativity sounded so over done and “invention” was a little specific. Concoction makes me think of a mad scientist, which I love. We’re totally mad scientists. Self-starters.

      Um you realize that you just sent down the “neuroplasticity” google hole, right? :)

  3. Jenny says:

    Emilie, you are a rockstar.

  4. Sara says:

    Great post and spot on! In my current job, my multipotentiality has caused my “duties not otherwise specified” to explode. And those are always the most fun things to do.

  5. Tai says:

    You so get me (LOL) I’ve embraced my multi-potentiality for some time now. My brain and creativity just don’t know another way to work. Wearing many hats is what helped boost my career before I left corporate america…I was constantly given new tasks and assignments. The trick is to make sure that you have a boss or manager that recognizes your skills and capability and lets you thrive.

    • Emilie says:

      Absolutely Tai. It’s all about having work that is fueled by your multipotentialite super powers (as opposed to work that makes you hide them away). Gotta play to your strengths.

  6. Joel says:

    Truly an awesome piece. Well put.

  7. Erin OK says:

    Yay! Can I staple this to my resume? Oh wait, I already don’t get half of the jobs I apply for because I’m overqualified. . .

    Which is why I’m working on starting my renaissance business!

  8. Hey Emilie. I just heard about you through the blogcastfm podcast and wanted to say hi. You’re putting into words and out there in the universe for others to learn what I’ve been challenged with my entire life. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC in 82 and went to The Fashion Institute of Technology that I learned that I wasn’t alone – that there were other people out there who had 3001 ideas in their head every day.

    I love how you’ve turned this around and I love the Super Powers. #2 has always been a big one for me and one guy introduced me to a small group one day as a renaissance man because of my ability to move and groove effortlessly.

    So, thanks for being here to help all of us “dreamers” keep on dreaming. I couldn’t bear to think of life any other way.

    Best,
    Jeff

  9. Jonathan says:

    Concoction, brain storm. I’m always having these in vast amounts. I’ll be thinking of one idea, when another totally rolls in. Example: New kids cartoon show that has a Mr. Rogers take on life. In mere moments it switches to how does this be a creative & fun thing to display to people. Product line. Then I’ll have some kind of opposite thought of what it involved super natural characters instead of kid themed. Werewolves… vampires. So, now as I type this you can see it starts shoots off into bubbles upon bubbles of endless thought. *explosions*

  10. Ellen says:

    I LOVE this and I love bloggers who invent their own words to describe themselves :-) I have always felt a little bit good at everything which at times, especially in school, felt like a bummer because I wasn’t top of any of my classes, just generally good. Now, I see my ability to put it all together and make it work as a HUGE asset. It sets me apart and lets me really rock out in a way only I can.

    Uniquitude is a word I made up to talk about being yourself and telling the world. I think you’ll dig it :-) http://thecreativegiraffe.com/be-yourself-tell-the-world/

  11. Eddy D says:

    I am so glad I found this site.
    I am 44 and struggling with the fact that I am good a most things but not a master of any. My job has me driving most of the day so my mind is always so active that I have to write ideas down, but then I have to many to know where to start. The thing that always held me back was that school was not for me,It should of taught me how to channel my knowledge and be entrepreneurial, rather than saying I was unfocused. I left school at 14 with very poor grammar, but loved to write, though I never had the ability to write anything decent. So I have found myself living through other people, by teaching them the things I know, so their success has been my reward.

    i am going off on one here so I’ll come to an end, but I just want to say that it is such a relief just knowing that there is a term for people like us and it’s a positive one.

    Thanks Eddy UK

    • Kevin says:

      “I just want to say that it is such a relief just knowing that there is a term for people like us and it’s a positive one”
      I definitely second that one, It is only about three months ago that I found out I was a scanner/multipotentialite and it has been quite a revelation. Having a ‘Day Book’ is a good idea, really helps me keep track of my current interests.
      I consider myself lucky that I was steered toward a career in electronics. It is such a broad field. One day I can be doing metal bashing, the next soldering, then next fault finding, then next designing a piece of test gear and the next writing software for it.

  12. David says:

    Hello,

    damn this website rocks my world. Jack White is defenitely a multipotentialate!

  13. Go4Joel_ says:

    I am in my thirties and I never understood why I could not get and stay passionate on anyone thing. All my life I’ve jumped from one passion to the next. I will get to a point where I’m pretty good at something and than I would just stop doing it cold turkey. Unfortunately this applied to relationships as well. I just considered myself a “Jack of all trades but a master of nothing”. But really (mentally) I was considering myself a failure.

    I’ve only been on this site for about 30 minutes reading through the “Start Here” sections and already my life has change so much. Just to be able to define what it is “Multipotentialite” is huge, to be able to read though the “Superpowers” and say yes, yes, yes, that is so me!!! I feel like someone finally has been able to diagnose my problem after 30+ years.

    Wholly S@@@ I wish someone could have explained this to me 20 years ago. Emilie you absolutely have rocked my world!!

    Thank You

  14. Laurence says:

    WOW! I just discovered this blog and I’m so glad I did. I recognise myself so much here. I gotta say I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m multipotentialite recently, despite not knowing it was a thing and had a name haha. To find out there’s a community of people like this, and tools to help us thrive…that’s just too awesome. Keep up the good work! :)

  15. Aviva says:

    Thanks, Emilie! I have certainly used the ability to acquire skills fast and the ability to wear many hats in order to have an interesting and successful experience in many workplaces and collaborative or job relationships. Over the past 1-2 years, I have unfortunately felt pressure to at least say if not live like I am working toward zeroing in on one thing or specializing in something. I am primarily passionate and interested and experienced in music, but even within music I am a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist and composer.

    I felt keenly aware of the generalizations and expectations people have around age and number of jobs and career paths, and while I have stood my ground in many areas, my innovation has suffered. I look forward to pursuing the innovative ideas I have, combined with my skills and experience, rather than spending my time trying to fit in where I should stand out.

  16. Cherise says:

    OMG. Everything on the list sounds like me, but number 4 and number 6 are sooooooooo me.

    Number 6 – I tend to see rules as guidelines or strong preferences, which leads me to want to bend and/or break them to create a new path.

    Number 4 has become a bit of a sore spot for me. I pick things up so fast that I tend to leave my colleagues (even the one’s with more years on the job) behind. This has lead to hurtful comments like “know it all” and “show off.” I have moved past those painful moments, but it is nice to be able to fully understand myself and why I am the way I am. THANK YOU!

    I think another power is the ability to spot potential in others on a whole new level. I think we are great recruiters. Because we can see the big picture and because we are familiar with all parts, we can recognize the talent needed in all parts. A master violinist can find another master violinist, but a conductor can recruit an entire orchestra.

  17. Kristian Altuve says:

    I agree that I am like this in many ways. However the problem I have is that I lack the thirst for knowledge when I tell myself to be thirsty. I have so many interests but I lack the motivation to learn deeply about them. All my interests are extremely short-termed (weeks/months). How can I elongate my passion?

    • Emilie says:

      You may not be able to, and that’s ok. Some passions are just short-lived, and you need to believe that they serve a greater purpose. Maybe to contribute to some larger project in the future, or just enriching your life. On the other hand, you could try enrolling in a class or working on a longer term project with a deadline to see if that would keep things interesting longer.

      • Kristian Altuve says:

        yeah right now in school I’m learning about my biggest passion (software development) and that’s helping me focus on my main motivation. Once I develop those skills hopefully i will be able to throw in all my other interests into the mix!

        thanks for your help and this website rocks!

  18. shishir says:

    Thanks to you, Now that I know why I am so weird.

  19. Andrea says:

    Where have you been all my life….. I’ve been struggling for so long with Multipotentialite that I was really starting to believe everyone around me was right (I’m crazy) but I’m not and deep down inside I knew this all along. I cannot get enough of your message and feel so empowered to be myself after reading your stuff. The thought of doing one thing for the rest of my life makes life for me depressing and pointless. I could go on and on about the all the great topics you written but I am short on character space. I’m never one to leave a comment on anything but compelled to do so. Thank you for sharing and I can’t wait to become one of the tribe.

  20. Josie says:

    Every day we’re hustlin’!!!

  21. Thank you, thank you!
    A friend just told me about your website. I am familiar with Barbara Sher, and I definitely have some scanner attributes. I love the superpowers.

    I’m bilingual, a coach and therapist, a writer of fantasy, an archaeologist, I play the recorder, I love horses, wanted to be an animal trainer as kid … and I find all those superpowers spot on!

    The one about languages could actually be expanded to include world languages. It’s so much fun and worthwhile to bring together concepts originating in different languages and parts of the world.

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