The Fine Art of Bringing Together Unrelated Ideas
Image by Eugene Peretz, available under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Fine Art of Bringing Together Unrelated Ideas

Written by Emilie

Topics: Renaissance Business

I get off on synthesizing ideas.

How’s that for nerdy?

I think my passion for bringing disparate ideas together started back in undergrad when I needed thesis statements for my essays. I learned very quickly that cramming too many unrelated ideas and examples into your paper = bad grade.

My attempts at writing essays on narrow topics, however, would invariably leave me with space to fill: Oh god, 600 more words left till I reach the required word count?! This would then lead to bullshi– I’m sorry, “redundant” sentences. I can’t write filler. It pains me.

I’ve gotten better at tackling a narrow topic, but only where word count is no issue. A 400 word blog post on one idea? No problem. Punchy, clear, I like it. But writing a book on that same topic? Yawwwwwn.

Nope, the deep dive approach into one specific subject is not for me. And so, out of defiance, I learned to bring many ideas together under one overarching thesis statement. After mastering that skill, my grades skyrocketed. It seems professors like this sort of thing (they just don’t teach it).

It began out of necessity, but now I actively seek out opportunities to synthesize ideas. Apparently I love challenges too, seeing as I chose to work with multipotentialites! How many interests ya got? Hells yea, bring it on.

I love the whole process of working with a scanner to combine many of their interests into one passion-based business. I love it. The brainstorming, the branding, the implementation. All of it.

Can Idea Synthesis be Taught?

Most of the work I do with my students happens through intuition. Each student has a unique set of interests, which means that no two cases are alike.

Up until now, I never really considered whether there was method to my madness. We would just brainstorm till we came up with something. Sure, you can create an environment that’s conducive to brainstorming (and then do a lot of it), but is there a process beyond brainstorming?

A few weeks back, I started writing my new book which is all about creating a Renaissance business. Just to clarify the terminology:

Renaissance business: a business that allows you to combine many areas of interest and use many different skills on a regular basis.

Basically I’m trying to take the process I go through with my students and systematize it so that other multipotentialites can apply it on their own. It seems like the best way to help the greatest number of people.

However, it’s been challenging, figuring out how to communicate exactly what I do when I’m looking for connections between many interests. And so I started looking back at past cases and trying to pull out patterns (so very “meta”, I know).

3 Techniques for Bringing Together Unrelated Interests

Here are 3 techniques that I was able to identify:

1. The Umbrella Theme

This approach is just what it sounds like. You spend a long time making lists of all your passions and talents and then you look for a pattern. Is there a common thread that runs throughout everything you do? Is there a particular way that you see the world?

Personal development and politics can be linked through the theme of “evolution” (both personal and social). Other broad themes that have been used effectively include: freedom, relationship, exploration and goal-setting.

These themes may sound broad and generic, but that’s okay for now. Finding a way to communicate your umbrella theme comes next, but that’s largely a matter of branding. For now, you just want to find one super broad umbrella theme so that you know what you stand for.

Tyler Tervooren’s blog Advanced Riskology is a great example of this approach. When I asked him about it, he said that the reason he can write about mountain climbing, traveling and business all on the same blog, is that they all have one thing in common: risk-taking.

2. Combining Two Broad Interests

Can you bring together two seemingly unrelated, maybe even opposing topics? Social media + social change? Confidence + video games? Lifestyle design + multipotentiality?

What’s great about this approach is that by fusing two broad categories, you actually get to include more than two interests. Each topic acts as a “sub-umbrella”. For instance, Steve Kamb’s Nerd Fitness combines fitness with nerdery, but each of those categories is pretty broad.

Fitness includes:

  • Exercise
  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Mindset
  • etc.

Nerdery includes:

  • Movies
  • Music
  • Video games
  • Technology
  • Travel hacking (hacking of any kind really)
  • etc.

It may seem as though Steve has fused together two very specific topics, but he’s actually combined 2 sub-umbrellas, each encompassing its own array of topics. This gives him the freedom to throw almost anything into the mix.

3. The “Through the Lens” Approach

This is a good method for scanners who have one identity or label that stands out above the rest.

One of my students loves music, art, nightlife, and personal development among other things. She also spent several months over the last few years living abroad in Iceland. We decided to take her identity as an expat and have that theme infuse all of her other interests. That way she could write about everything, from becoming more confident and making friends to new music she had discovered while sipping tea in an Icelandic café. She can write about anything really. It’s just “an expat’s take on…” (fill in the blank)

Some other examples:

  • Jodi Ettenberg is the legal nomad.
  • Srini Rao is a surfer who “rides the waves of personal development”.
  • Andy Hayes is “that travel guy” who writes about entrepreneurship.

3(b). Using an Artistic Medium as your Lens

The “through the lens” approach works especially well for artists. If you use a particular medium to express yourself, that medium can act as your lens:

  • Hugh McLeod explores creativity, business and the meaning of life through the lens of business card doodles.
  • Arsene Hodali looks at identity, society, sexuality and love from the perspective of a dancer.
  • David Billings (aka Sparky Firepants) is an illustrator who writes and draws about positivity, his favourite/least favourite movies, and all kinds of other weird and awesome topics.
  • Mark Powers writes about traveling, productivity and social entrepreneurship as he pursues various percussion-related endeavors.

Can You Think of Any Other Approaches?

How else could you bring together many unrelated interests? I really want to hear your ideas so that I can make this book as insanely useful as possible.

If you have your own Renaissance blog, which approach did you use to bring your unrelated interests together?

***

If you’d like to learn more about turning all of your interests into one business, check out Renaissance Business.

24 Comments

  1. Hmmm… seems they’re only unrelated ideas until you can discover the relationships. :)

    To me this is about pattern recognition. And sometimes we can’t see our own patterns very well, which is why it’s important to work with others: they’ll see patterns you don’t.

    • Emilie says:

      I agree. It’s always helpful to bounce things of a friend (or coach.. :)

      I think it’s also a skill that can be honed with practice. The more you try to find patterns, the easier it’ll come.

      Thanks for the comment Michael.

  2. Emilie this is great stuff! And I completely agree with your outlook on synthesizing ideas… best approach out there for us Scanners! Its a win win all around! And so many options… how could we ever resist!

    For me personally, my biggest things are travel and all that comes with it from language to culture to seeing ridiculous things that would never ever ever happen in your country to beautiful destinations and views | personal development in terms of truly LIVING our lives | entrepreneurship-passion projects-lifestyle design

    … So I’m really trying my best to follow your your lead here and embrace all of these things that really captivate my mind.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to do ALL THREE of what you listed here.. maybe that’s not the best approach?

    Anyway, I love where you’re going with this and I’m looking forward to learning some more lessons form you in this area to help me get this right!!!
    - LAUR :D

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Laur,

      Yeah, you fit into all 3 (depends how you look at it), but I’d say you fit into category #1 the most: overarching theme. When I think of The Mad to Live, I think “enthusiasm for life”, and that carries over into all the topics you mentioned.

      It’s funny because I think I met you after you had already arrived back in the States, so I didn’t think of your blog as a travel blog at all. I think that’s good though. By branding your site as something broader than just the standard “digital nomad” blog, you end up having multiple audiences.

      I’m going to write a whole section of the book on multiple audiences actually. It’s something I’ve starting to explore myself with Puttylike.

      Thanks for the feedback Laur. Really appreciate it!

  3. “Symphony,” no–bringing disparate pieces of the world, and making something beautiful. Kamb’s life has become an unfolding “unexpected heroic journey” in real time.

    Makes me wonder if blogging is not an aesthetic genre, an electronic performance art, or something slightly more than “citizen journalism.”

    I feel an art-buzz w/all these examples.

    Best,
    M

    • Emilie says:

      Wow, beautifully put. A symphony. Electronic performance art. I love that. I certainly feel like “blogger” is an incomplete term to describe what we do.

      Much to think about.

  4. Layla says:

    Great post!! :)

    Well, I’m still struggling with this myself… My first blog (unmonetized) was just my name, writing about stuff I was doing.. Surprisingly, some people found it interesting :) hehe..

    Another blog I started was ‘specific’ (eco, rather general in name, wanted it to be more ‘anonymous’), left it unmonetized too.. (haven’t figured out yet how to monetize it in an ethical/eco way and maintain privacy..) Some people liked reading both.. :) I still blogged about some other things/interests that were connected to eco/lifestyle endeavours..

    Things can get very specific too, some people like to read about that, some prefer funny unrelated ‘intermezzos’.. :)

    It would be interesting to read any tips on maintaining separate ‘identities’ online and ‘offline’.. How to maintain privacy as a blogger/online ‘public’ person (Problogger and some others have had problems with that etc)

    Some people have a lot of ‘niche sites’ (or careers/hobbies), or at least a few ‘separate’ identities.. I admit it’s easier to have and maintain one blog than a few, it depends on the level of commitment and continuity needed/wanted though.. (static ‘niche’ sites can be less work than a blog, I suppose..?)

    PS I used to bring together unrelated ideas in Uni papers too, hehe.. A prof loved it: poetry and psychology; when I tried to bring together all 3 essay topics with another prof she didn’t like it so much lol.. I guess it depends on the person and how you do it, yup..
    If people like some of your ‘underlying themes’ they may be interested to discover those other aspects of you too, and may even reveal or discover some of those aspects themselves!! :)

  5. Emilie says:

    Hi Layla,

    My friend Trever over at AxisofAwesomeBlog.com is a scanner who’s also really into building niche sites (probably the reason AoA hasn’t been updated in a long time, he’s been so busy). Having many specific sites is a great approach for multipotentialites who like to dive deep into one thing for a while, set it up and then dive deep into something new. It works less well for those of us who prefer to have many projects on the go at once. All depends on whether you’re more sequential or simultaneous in nature. But like you said, both methods work.

    Interesting that you used your name as your first blog. I’m actually toying with this as a 4th category. What do you think of using a name as a way to bring all your interests together? A lot of people do this, but I’m wondering if it deserves it’s own category or if it could be lumped in with #3 or if I should even mention it at all.

    The thing is, a name alone doesn’t inherently communicate anything unless you already have a reputation. But of course I encourage everyone to pour their personality into their blogs anyway… Also I think it depends on the primary purpose of your blog. If it’s self-promotional, like to sell freelance services or artwork, a name might be best. But for a community? I’m not so sure. Of course there’s huge overlap between the two!

    So yeah, I’m still struggling with how to approach the name-based blog. I’d love to hear any ideas anyone has!

    Thanks for the comment Layla. :)

    • Layla says:

      Hey Emilie,

      I think you need a special chapter on naming your blog-based biz :)

      I’ve googled up some stuff on branding and blogs and such, when looking for ideas on how to name my site/s.. there’s some info online and there seem to be different approaches, yup: either to name the blog by theme/s, actual description or something easy to remember and possibly unrelated, or to go for name/name&surname combo, and create a ‘personal brand’ – I’ve actually seen too much of the latter, especially if people have names that are difficult to remember or spell, and not very clarified directions of where they want to go with the blog/site… If I see an interesting comment on another blog, I may be more likely to follow if there’s an interesting name behind it (and not like tons of other blogs!)

      It depends on what you wanna do too.. I personally much prefer Rowdy Kittens and Puttylike cause it’s totally easier to remember… One Dress Protest is easy to remember too (and descriptive of what she is about) and smartpassiveincome is easy to remember and descriptive too…

      If you wanna offer your services as a writer/speaker/freelancer to other people, or to ‘corporate biz’, a name+surname site or a more ‘serious’ name makes sense.. Though there’s Secret agent Jospehine too! (and I love her!:) (I don’t know if she markets to corporations though lol!)

      Guess it depends on your target niche, it may be worth to check what other people in that niche are doing and what target customers might think :)

      Merlin Mann has both 43folders and his merlinmann.com (where he also has links to his other sites/adventures). So this may be something worth considering too..

      Also, if we’re talking about e-book ideas, international tax and law for micro businesses (or for blog-based/creative biz with affiliate and/or own i-products/services/downloads specifically) would be a great chapter and e-book too!! (in which country is it best to create a biz and how and when, there’s probably a reason why you chose Denmark etc.) Maybe later, after the move etc. :)

      hehe I think I’d need to post this in my own blog post lol :)

      • Emilie says:

        Heh.. thanks for the ideas Layla!

        I was already planning on devoting a chapter to naming your business. I actually have this theory that every business needs both a theme AND a way of communicating that theme. What most people don’t realize is that these are two separate steps. Most people jump right to branding (communicating the theme) when they don’t even know what they stand for.

        And when it comes to name-based businesses, this is an increased problem. It’s even more tempting to just use your name and skip over the whole “what do I stand for” process.

        Also I believe that the title, tagline and design are what contribute to that communication of the theme. So if you’re going to have a title that doesn’t communicate much on its own (like a personal name), then you’re going to need to compensate with a strong tagline and design that communicate a lot about what you stand for.

  6. Holli says:

    Fascinating and inspiring post + comments.
    I started my blog with my name, because I didn’t have a focus or specific lens. As my blogging has progressed, I’ve found some common themes, and was ready to get some advice from you about how to shape that into something.
    It’s a work in progress as I am juggling life’s responsibilities, but I am enjoying every spare second I get to work on it (when I’m not cooking dinner, doing the laundry, gardening with my son’s preschool class or reading to his younger sister).
    Funny how much I have fallen in love with blogging as a medium of expression, and a way for me to learn about myself – almost like an old school journal meets a technical canvass. My motivation to inspire and help others is actually tangible beyond pot-lucks where I used to show off my “healthy” recipes and ideas.

    • Emilie says:

      Holli,

      I completely agree. I had no idea what I was getting into when I began blogging. It’s truly awesome, for all the reasons you mentioned!

      Glad you’re having fun building your site (though all your other activities sound pretty fun too). It’s funny, we sort of started out looking at your blog with approach #2 in mind, and then incorporated some of #3 in with your photography. I guess we’ll know with time which approach it most resembles, but it doesn’t really matter. These exercises are really just a way to help you find a theme, which you’ve got. (Plus your site name is so good! :)

      I’m looking forward to the launch!

      • Holli says:

        It is cool to have worked through this morphing system then see it all nicely laid out here. Agreed: I was on track for #2 but more like 3 and now we just get to see it unfold.
        My husband surprised me with a ticket to #WDS so that is my external deadline for launching (end of May)…I am excited and nervous:) I have been taking baby steps.

  7. Andy Hayes says:

    Loved this. It inspires me that spinners and polymaths can find many ways to build successful businesses/lifestyles.

  8. Ian says:

    Hi Emilie,

    Not found my ‘theme’ yet! I may never, since I keep finding new and interesting things to do all the time (this week its fly fishing, after reading in the news that the sea trout are in close to where I live lol!)

    From lath and plaster to off road driving in Africa. Living in Norway to being a house husband in New Zealand. I think the only pattern that I can see is that I might be, ever so slightly…..potty!

    Damn days are never long enough either!

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Ian,

      The funny thing is I think you totally do have a theme! Exploration maybe? Adventure? Living on your own terms? Shape-shifting? These all come to mind. :)

      Your shape-shifting adventures makes for some really intriguing content too! I like your recent post about Norway. I felt similar pro/cons about Denmark, though we certainly had wind in Copenhagen! Heh.

      • Ian says:

        I never thought about it like that! I guess if you keep moving all the time, that in itself is a pattern/theme.

        Hmmm, interesting, need to give this some thought.

        Copenhagen is lovely isn’t it, including dodging the bicycles!

  9. I love this post, your excitement about synthesizing ideas feels like home. Well-written!
    Two additional suggestions to approach this fine art:

    1.THE HUB
    I am starting to recognize a “hub”/core/heart/center pattern in the midst of the Renaissance wheel of interests and passions. One way to discover it is to ask yourself What is it what you are always trying to do, the why behind the why etc.? Stick with the question for a few days or weeks.
    For me that core is “to liberate”. I am a lawyer, visual thinking partner, artist, mother, Dutch expat in USA etc. . (I happen to be born on the 4th of July) And since I have recognized this theme it even shows up in relationships, personal life, preference for certain sports and spiritual practices.

    2.THE FORM
    Is there a continuous theme or preference for a certain form beyond the ideas and content? For me that is “Visual”. All my creative businesses are created around visuals, visual services. For my son it used to be “spinning” (wool, jojos, talking). For someone else it might be movement or touch or story etc.

    • Emilie says:

      Very very interesting. I love the Hub and Form concepts. I’ve thought about these from different perspectives before, but I like your language and way of explaining it. Thanks for sharing Susanne.

  10. Nitro says:

    I am interested in human evolution too, in all the fields. I had a lot of time to thing all the little particulars, and now a plan has risen.the picture look a lot like one of thoose fantascientific films of this days, something that reminds me of Cloud Atlas, for some reasons. Indeed the umbrella metod is my favorite.

    May the wind uphold your wings!
    Nitro

  11. Michelle says:

    My first step away from my day job was doing Parenting Workshops with a faith base. I needed a website so they could learn about me amd my ideas.You can parent if you want to it is a “Grab Bag”. So It became Grab Bag Parenting.

    I also Paint, glowing paint and wall art as accents even murals sometimes. I want is affordable so it can be painted over if needed. Creative World Wallart

    Now I am dying to share my love and use for esential oils. I want others to understand how good quality ones can help eveyone in you familiy even pets. However, need to make some reguar income to get outta this day job…… I think people think I am a flake. I can’t be the adult teach of everything or the workshop lady!

    I love to teach adults, crafts and kid ideas for gifts…. things that remind up life is good, even if we are a little off.

    I can’t find my overarching theme….. What do you all think about “GrabBagology” ??? I made it up ; )

    • Emilie says:

      Ha I like GrabBagology. Has a nice ring to it. You’ll need to express the idea clearly in the tagline and About page though. And know who your audience is (not demographics, but psycographics. What values do they share?)

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