What Might a Multipotentialite World Look Like?
Photo courtesy of Drew.

What Might a Multipotentialite World Look Like?

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Thoughts

The world isn’t always friendly towards multipotentialites. Whether we’re being viewed with suspicion as a “Jack of all trades, master of none” or feeling pressured to specialize, it can sometimes feel as though society is actively against us.

Of course, we don’t literally believe there’s a room full of cigar-smoking evil types, laughing as they carry out their master plan to destroy multipotentialites. They don’t exist.

The reality is more subtle (and boring). It’s simply that the systems we humans have created over time have led to the world we now live in. Everyone is responding to their wants and needs; hiring directors want the “safest” hires, teachers have to teach to the standard curriculum, and bureaucrats want a nice simple box to tick next to a clearly-labeled career. All this adds up to us feeling like we’re being forced into specialization.

While it might be interesting to explore further how this came to be, instead I’d like to imagine an alternative. What would the world look like if both multipotentialites and specialists were equally encouraged to live up to their potential?

Note: I don’t claim to be qualified to redesign the entirety of society from the ground up. These are simply some wild imaginings for the purpose of sparking up some discussion. I strongly believe that the combined Puttylike community will be wiser than me, so I’d like to put a few thoughts out there and see where the conversation goes.

1) Education

First and certainly foremost is education.

Pretty much everyone seems to have strong opinions about how the education system is messed up and needs radical change. But what would a multipotentialite-friendly education system look like?

I believe that my country – the UK – has one of the most multipod-unfriendly systems in the world. Back when I was sixteen, we had to commit to just THREE subjects… all of which were supposed to be related – say, Chemistry, Physics, and Math. After two years of studying only these three subjects, we were encouraged to go to university to study just one field, in which we would remain, presumably, forever.

Even worse, in those days, anything other than a purely academic career was barely acknowledged at school. If academic subjects weren’t your thing, there was very little for you.

What could we do differently?

Dreaming big, I’d love to see education be infinitely more personalized. Some students would benefit from deep specialization, whereas others would benefit from a wide range of subjects. So let’s make that possible.

I’d love to see everybody be given an individually-tailored timetable, built around both personal strengths and weaknesses, with a mix of practical skills and theoretical study.

Perhaps one student would specialize very early, becoming an expert in Math, keeping only a passing knowledge of other subjects. Perhaps another would study a bit of everything, while specializing in developing some practical skills.

Obviously the current school system couldn’t handle this depth of personalization for practical reasons. No one school has the resources to do everything.

But what if we scrapped the concept of attending just one school? What if education were delivered in many different ways? Academic subjects could be delivered online. Technical subjects could be studied across several “subject centres” – one for languages, one for sciences, one for physical education, etc. Could real workplaces take students and teach them useful skills? All of this would add up to credits across a vast range of skills and knowledge.

Of course, there are many practical difficulties with this idea. But might little steps towards a freer education system be possible today? Perhaps they’re already happening where you live?

2) Work

We don’t often hear that “a job is for life” anymore, but the world of work still isn’t very multipod-friendly. I can think of a few ways to make work a more comfortable fit:

  • Breadth: Multipotentialites don’t mind sticking in one role if that role is broad enough. Can more jobs be created that change regularly and require a wide range of skills and development?
  • Time – long scale: What if there were a more widespread understanding that some people naturally move from one thing to another over the course of their life, and that this is no bad thing, because they bring skills and experience from one area to another?
  • Time – short scale: Flexible working hours becoming more widespread would allow more people to build their own routines out of smaller parts: a couple of days in one job and a couple in another. Both companies would get the benefit of shared knowledge, and the employee would get a more interesting routine. (And, admittedly, double the administrative hassles!)

These ideas seem more likely than the educational changes. In fact, they all seem to be happening naturally to one degree or another. Is the workplace becoming more multipod-friendly? How else could we change it to support multipods, without ruining it for specialists?

3) Interests & Hobbies

I wondered if there are any multipotentialite problems in the world of hobbies and passions, but it’s already quite multipod-friendly.

The only proposal I would make regarding hobbies is that we should aim to slow down the rotation of the Earth, thus adding a few extra hours to each day, so we can get more done.

(I can’t imagine there would be any unforeseen consequences or objections here.)

Your Turn

What do you think a multipotentialite world might look like? Have you noticed anything moving in this direction already? 

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.

31 Comments

  1. On the education front. Waldorf schools attempt to teach a broad range of subjects up to class 12 including Woodwork, Drama and quite complicated Maths. But I think with complete free choice of create your own curriculum this is done by the Sudbury Schools and by Unschooling (a homeschooling paradigm). So these options already exist but as you note, their is a systemic movement in the opposite direction.

    As to slowing the earth down. I’ll run in the opposite direction half an hour every day if you do the same. With enough of us doing it it just might happen. Although running is not something I’m much interested in at the moment so maybe not.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Really interesting, thanks! I suspected these things existed somewhere, good to hear the details :)

      Haha, I would need a lot of incentive to run for half an hour a day – especially since I couldn’t run back or I’d undo all my good work! Running directly west from here would hit the sea pretty quick too…

  2. Tristan says:

    Though, I do believe that there must be a room full of cigar smoking multipotentialites having lots of fun as they carry out Neil’s master plan to create a beautiful world.

  3. J'aime says:

    I think those workplace changes would be great for everyone, not just multipods! Lots of people need to take time off from working to care for kids, then re-enter the workplace later. Or they need flexible hours to be home when the kids are home. Or they need to be able to care for an elderly relative. The standard where everyone works 9-5 their whole life just isn’t realistic for a lot of people!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Definitely! I think that’s why we’re starting to see these kinds of changes in the workplace, and they just happen to be extra useful for multipods who would like to build a more varied regular routine :)

  4. It seems, I’ve been lucky, education-wise.
    Till the end of school, we had to take a wide range of subjects and our abitur (kind of A levels) had to cover the areas math/natural sciences, language and social stuff. Since we had four subjects to take the exam, you could talk two subjects from one area to emphasize a bit.
    But apart from those exam topics, all the rest still made up one third of the final grade.

    I personally am fond of projects at school where you dive deep for some weeks. Why? Because the closer you look, the more interconnected things turn out to be :-)

  5. Tamsin Crook says:

    Oooh – this is a great post.

    I am also English, and had the stress of choosing the three A Levels – luckily, one of mine was Geography, which is what I ended up studying at University – this is one of the better degrees for multi pods – I got to study such a broad range of topics, such as environmental studies, medical geography (epidemiology/international health systems etc), international development, town planning etc. Maybe one of the reasons I focused my career on careers counselling is that I now get to live many different careers vicariously through my clients!

    I think the International Baccalaureate offers a broader education at senior school level, and is beginning to increase in popularity…

    I love the idea of education being delivered in different ways – maybe the broad academic curriculum in the main schools, with more structured opportunities to share technical / ICT / Sports facilities and specialist teachers between a number of schools. The only downside I guess is downtime (thinking time?) between getting to different schools and the level of organisation required to achieve it. One other issue might be that too much choice can also cause stress to children (and their parents) – the concern that in choosing one option, they are effectively ‘unchoosing’ another option (what might they be missing out on? what are the other kids doing? FOMO).

    I’ve found that start-ups tend to be much better at ‘hiring the person’, rather than for a particular role – they bring someone in because they see the cultural fit and commitment to the vision (as well as being generally bright and motivated), and there are more opportunities to take on different challenges as the business develops. Harder to achieve in more established businesses, particularly now with the double-edged sword of open recruitment – you can’t just put someone in a new role and try them out – you have to go through a whole advertising/recruitment process, which although is obviously valuable some ways, it does reduce the ability of an organisation to be flexible/experimental in it’s approach to talent management….

    Finally (sorry, I’ve got a bit carried away here!) There’s a college that’s opening near us in September which is much more employment focused http://www.logicstudioschool.org they have solid relationships with local employers, six weeks of work experience per pupil per year, and a number of different ‘streams’ of subject choices which would help the students decide which area to specialise in – far more sensible approach than the slightly random ‘pick your best three subjects’ that we had at A Level….

    Really interested to hear others’ views here….

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Hey, don’t apologise for getting carried away! This is a great response :D

      That’s interesting about the IB. I had heard it was getting more traction in schools these days, and from a multipod perspective that could well be a good thing.

      Also very interesting about too much choice being a bad thing. I never considered that. But choice paralysis is definitely real. Maybe part of this curriculum would necessitate helping people to develop mature coping strategies for the problem of choice?! (Now we’re talking super idealism!)

  6. Maria says:

    First time commenter, long time reader.

    I love this website a lot, thankfully I saw the ted conference one night I realised that it wasn’t nothing wrong with me, since that day I started knowing myself a little bit more.

    I’m in my last year of high school and I have to give a presentation (free topic) so I’ve decided doing it of Multipotentiality. Who knows? Maybe I help somebody in the way that this page helped me.

    You can’t imagine how grateful I’m to you Emilie. This helped me in the most important moments of my personal development, just the key time.

    Greetings from Spain!

  7. Tessa W says:

    I recently finished reading Free to Learn by Peter Gray. While I don’t agree with all of his ideas, the general idea of the book is fantastic. He talks a lot about Sudbury Valley School and how it should be held up higher as an example for letting students direct their own learning. So it certainly can be done on a larger scale, and it costs WAY less than conventional schooling.

    My poor husband is not an academic and was so grateful to be done with the conventional school that made him feel stupid and “less than”. He is now a farmer and gets to develop skills in nearly all the trades (plumbing, electrical, construction, welding, animal health and nutrition, computer technology, mechanics, etc etc etc). Perfect career for a hands-on multi-pod! So after spending 14 years in conventional schooling and barely scraping by, he is now thriving in an environment that recognizes his skills and accepts him for who he is.

    I long to give that same acceptance to my children!

    It is possibly because I am a multi-pod that my husband and I decided to homeschool out children. Unschool them, rather. They spend their days pursuing whatever catches their fancy. I have one son who likes to specialize and delve really deep into any and every subject he can get his hands on and another that prefers to just skim the surface and move on. My third son is only 2 and it is, therefore, rather tough to see what his learning style may turn out to be. (Currently he is interested in playdough and trucks.) I love giving them an environment that allows them to develop to their fullest potential, with the bonus of being able to explore all these topics right alongside them. I’ve learned so much from them and they’re only 7, 5, and 2. I can only imagine how much more they can teach me over the next 10-15 years (and beyond, I’m sure).

    So my perfect multi-pod world starts at home. Accepted children grow into accepting and confident adults.

    A note about choice paralysis: it doesn’t exist if children are used to the freedom to choose. If they are not restricted, then it becomes a matter of choosing “What Next” vs “What Forever.” So there is none of that “giving something up” feeling. They learn to develop their own critical thinking skills and move through life with much more confidence than if we limit them.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I think home/unschooling really appeals to me, though I’ll have to research it more if it ever becomes a decision I have to actually make :)

      I really love that info on choice paralysis – it completely makes sense that it isn’t some ingrained thing, but learned behaviour. And everything in our education system currently bashes you over the head with “this choice is important and permanent”, which is probably where a lot of the choice anxiety comes from.

      Great comment, thanks!

  8. Stella says:

    I agree on the education front.

    I’m currently doing A levels, and my choices (Maths, English Language, Chinese and Philosophy and Ethics) always raise a few eyebrows because of how varied they are. While nobody ever told me that I couldn’t do that combination, many people seem scared to spread themselves out. These subjects are also different from what I want to study at university (Japanese, chosen for how it encompasses a wide study of culture and the skill of a language), which again surprises people because they’ve never heard of anyone studying that at uni.

    I think that in education, we multipods need to be brave and spread ourselves out in the ways we want. Of course, having the freedom to choose is important and not everybody has that, which needs to be changed. But if we let go of expectations of what we should do and what is acceptable, we open ourselves up to a whole world of possibilities. ?

    • Neil Hughes says:

      I thoroughly agree with this (unsurprisingly ;p). I always tried to mix arts and sciences and languages too, but I never regretted it. It is tough not to conform to the system, but the alternative is guaranteed to be unpleasant as we squeeze ourselves down to fit.

  9. Máire says:

    Quick two pennies worth.
    I grew up in Australia and managed to skip between subjects before the pressure arrived to specialise. I didn’t know back then I was a multipotentialite. I was just super curious about too many things and couldn’t settle on anything.
    That said, education is a bit of a problem full stop. Kids don’t get to learn how to handle life and all of its challenges. There should be more emphasis on life skills and then the option of trying out different interests. No one stops learning unless they live in a cave. School years are just the foundation. We should help kids learn how to learn. Be curious. Not badger them into early boredom or the fulfilment of someone else’s agenda.
    Just this morning (before reading this thoughtful blog post) I was making grand claims that the whole system is biased towards a crazy idea of what life is all about. That is, meeting the needs of the corporate world. This is such a modern era problem and one that I hope gets overthrown in some kind of coup really really soon. (Bring in image of evil cigar smoking jackets where they choke on their own smoke).
    Anyway, these are my random two penny thoughts for today.
    :-)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Haha :)

      *coughs* I would never endorse any kind of revolution or governmental overthrow. I love the government of whichever country we happen to be talking about right now.

      But seriously, as I think I hinted in the post, I believe problems in education run deep. As you say, the system seems to be geared towards solving problems for corporations, and not problems for humans. I don’t think those things HAVE to be mutually incompatible, but they currently are and we end up with disengaged youth and an uninspiring education.

  10. Fred Petillo says:

    In a multipotentialite world…

    -Children would be more than amusing, they would be interesting.
    -There would be intense pressure in college not to declare a major.
    -Everyone would want to go to dinner parties.
    -Long resumes would go to the top of the recruiter’s stack.
    -Eulogies would be an all-day affair.
    -The only books would be encyclopedias.
    -People would ask each other, “What don’t you do for a living?”

    :-)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      “What don’t you do for a living?” is making me grin massively this morning. Love it, thanks Fred!

  11. Olesya says:

    Russian school was similar to UK, but they let me change their rules a bit. Instead of following Math/Physics/Chemistry path I was able to keep my advanced Math class, and change the other two into English and Literature. Everybody was expected to choose just one path predetermined for them in high school(were teachers felt the student was inclined to do something). I fell through this paradigm and just did what I felt like doing. I went to college to study Art and Design, after graduating I realized I want to keep learning languages, so I went to University to study Linguistics. Right now I’m a mom of five kids. I homeschool. Sort of experiment I guess. I let my kids to learn what they want for the most part. In Russia they would never have as much freedom in education as they have here in the USA.

  12. George says:

    Huh, i was lucky enough to have a lot of choice, as we can study with the aim of general knowledge in Romania. Still, I’ve seen some questions marks when i was tested for University, as i applied to Literature Romanian/Italian, Chemistry, Economics and Medicine. But i could do only one so i did Accounting. Even worked in the field for 10 years. Then I specialized in Healthcare for another 8 years. I will do this for another 3-4 years. Then i have another career path in my mind to try next. Life is beautiful. (Except to the part with showing my CV to my potential employer, that part is always funny and scary in the same time).

  13. Tony says:

    What an inspiring vision! This article got me thinking about how to transform my world into one more closely resembling the one described.

  14. Yasmin says:

    I really liked reading this. There are still LOADs of stuff MultiPs should worry about.

    I wanna cover a few points here, so I’ll try to be organized:

    1) why are multiPs always worried about “procrastination”?
    I would say, the main reason is “other people’s expectations”. when people expect you to earn money at a younger age, or be a doctor, or whatever makes parents happy these days, you’ll stop at some point and just tell yourself, Jesus, what am I doing? all I do is skip from one thing to the other!! I will never do great things…
    So what should we do?
    ACCEPT ourselves as a multi-freakin-potentialite. We are who we are. There is nothing wrong with us, we are not mentally ill or physically sick. We just want many things rolled in to one.
    So if someone asks you “what do you do”? you’ll proudly answer” Im a MultiP. currently: doing crafts mainly.” that’s it.
    2) how do we face our inner fears? ok, I am proud on the outside. but there is still a shitload of stuff I gotta take care of. And there is no official MultiP-rulebook, YET. SO..?
    a)Alongside all this self-love and acceptance, we need to sit down with ourselves and be realistic. We NEED to find our true “current” limit of multipontentiality. We need to make sure what we want, why we want it and how far are we willing to go in to it. maybe if we go too far, we will fall in to the “bored-specialist” trap. Maybe we will skip so many things so fast that we go nuts. Find the freaking border, man.
    b) BE organized. Nothing more important than being organized in the awesome freaky and MESSY minds of multiPs. being organized can help you do better, faster and easier tasks, and it will also ease your way in to the non-friendly environment. You don’t need to be organized in the conventional way. You just need to organize in a way YOU get.

    This is seriously going in my current rule-book edition :)
    Love,
    Yasmin

  15. Ivan says:

    Thank you very much for the article!
    In the Russian educational institutions are very narrow, I pomogyut only additional courses and self-study.

  16. Nikki says:

    Great article!
    I recently left a successful white collar career that i was good at but loathed- the hours (too much overtime), the industry, everything – to study a double degree fulltime, however the course structures are way too restricting, extremely boring and honestly useless.

    I found myself thinking similar to what was posted on here, here are a couple of examples:

    Work: flexible hours where the work would be completed but in a time that suited the individual due to their lifestyle – like split up the day in blocks of 4 hours – as long as deadlines are met, of course.

    University: tailored degree programs where people choose subjects – not only electives but ALL classes to what interests them and what they feel would suit their personalities, interests and career paths they’d like.
    (At the moment i have to take required statistics classes learning about formulas and charts I know for a fact I will never, ever use outside these classes).

    This quote that always hit me springs to mind (not sure who it was said by!) when I think about how society forces us to squeeze all we are and have into one “thing”:

    “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yes! I think that quote is so appropriate – if you judge a multipotentialite like they’re a “bad” specialist, you’re judging them all wrong :)

      Great contributions, thanks Nikki :)

  17. schismarch says:

    Neil, what you describe about the UK ed system was one of the interesting challenges I saw with my peers in grad school at York. (I’m from the US.) I mean, I was already a on a different scale because of the whole polymath deal, but negotiating the difference in how we approached our grad work coming from the highly specific training in British undergrad/collegiate/secondary school tracks; versus my very broad liberal education both inside and outside the classroom through undergraduate university made for a lot of interesting conversation.

    It took me awhile to realize the degree to which you’re really not *allowed* to investigate other topics academically once you’ve done your A levels. At least, not without adding time on to your education, which seemed to be frowned on from what I learned. I was living in England when I applied for grad school, which was largely why I went to grad school in England, but the other appealing reason was that I had gone through a very broad set of subjects and had narrowed down the thing I wanted to thesis on.

    In the US, for adult education anyway, one of the most important opportunities is at the community college level, I think. (Sometimes called junior college, not too dissimilar to college in the UK apart from the widened age bracket.) In my community (I’m in the Pacific Northwest USA now) you can enroll as an adult for credit courses, but you can also enroll in “community education,” which is non-credit, non-graded, where you can learn the academic subjects but also hobbies, personal betterment (personal finance, French for traveling, etc), and other activities.

    It’s inexpensive (generally) and offered year-long (generally) and open to the community. Pretty awesome resource for those of us who are always eager for something new.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      You got it exactly right – we’re actively *discouraged* from taking anything that broadens your academic scope. Academic specialism is forced from around age 14 and only gets sharper and pointier by the time we get to university.

      I’m not sure we have an equivalent to community college – our adult further education also tends to be specialised in exactly the same way. Very interesting differences. I wonder how it is in other countries.

  18. Yann says:

    Totally me :D
    I was just about to leave earth in a home made spaceship because I didnt fit to societies norm. Estranged suits me if I had to choose a pseudonym.

    Dropped Financial Services to Web and multimedia & to educational & instructional technologies.

    Jumped from Customer service to Education via project management,marketing and BPOs.

    I’m really happy to know that I’m not that left behind rotating aerial pod which doesnt want to ground oneself on earth.

    I’ve done trillions of things and each time its like exploding my comfort zone only to fall and shine as shooting stars.

    And its just the start…..

    I front a psychedelic band(No use of drugs)
    Into entrepreneurship & education

    I used to be into 15 different stuffs until I stepped down to three.
    Educator
    Entrepreneurship Network publisher
    Veena player

    The cherry is that I’m indigo & Bipolar.What more to ask for?? :D

    May it rain flowers.

  19. Bryan says:

    Great post!

    I agree entirely on this whole prospect. I’ve been dreaming and thinking of ideas of how I could collaborate with people (multipotentialites and specialists alike) to create a community where the goal would be to combine all three of these aspects into one place. A place of research and discovery for adults, college students and children. A place of education and exploring ones interests early on and a place where multipods and specialists can collaborate and use each others strengths to make breakthroughs in the arts and sciences. The hope, if successful, would be to have these communities spread across the country and across the world.

    I also wanted to note about your thoughts on education. I believe children are intrinsically multipodal. So my question is, when does someone learn that they are a multipod or a specialist? Can this also change throughout someones life going back and forth between the two? So maybe children should be tailored to a more broad curriculum exploring many interests (not just science, math and language). Maybe high school would be the best time to start what you suggest as an individual path for each student.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      This is a really interesting question – never considered the development of multipods before, but you’re right that children tend to be widely interested before specialising. Will do some research on this. Thanks for the comment :)

  20. Katie says:

    I’m from the U.S. and our education system is not perfect by any means, but it does stress broad knowledge. You take history, math, english, science, art, and physical education throughout your schooling career (K-12).
    In my school district, when you get to 6th grade (junior high/middle school in some places) you then start taking electives. You can choose whatever you want to learn, whether it’s languages, performing arts, graphic design, cooking, woodshop, or music.
    Even when you get to college/university (university for the UK readers) the first 2 years as an underclassmen is general education. It’s not until your 3rd and 4th years that you are expected to work on your major fulltime. You can also add minors (that don’t have to be related to your major at all) so you can study more broadly.
    I think the US system is a more liberal education designed to have a well-rounded graduate. My only issue is that there are too many classes that I want to take and they can get pretty expensive after a while.