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
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.
- Video games
- Travel hacking (hacking of any kind really)
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.