Every now and then I like to take a question from the Puttylike email bag and share my answer with the community. I thought this question was particularly relevant to multipods.
“I guess I’m looking for a little advice… I’m extremely creative, and I love to draw, paint, sculpt, and even make stuffed dolls and animals. I also have a background in environmental sciences and ecology, and in fact, I taught both Fresh Water & Coastal Ecology to middle schoolers. I’d somehow like to combine my artistic passion with my love for nature, and somehow turn that into profit. I don’t however, have any solid ideas on how to combine them. Do you have any tips, or even ideas on how to get a plan started? I just hate working for other people. I want to be in control of my own life, and I’m tired of depending on my employers who see me as merely a number, not a person.”
Having just given a seminar on the topic of smooshing many interests into one career, I definitely have some thoughts on this subject.
Coming up with a business that blends together many subjects requires some active introspection and brainstorming. It involves exploring your intersections, and thinking about how you can use your unique mishmash of interests in service of something you care about. It’s hard work, but it’s also fun work. Here are some ideas to help you get started.
Create a master list of interests
Get out a piece of paper or open up your favorite word processor. Write down every single passion, interest, obsession, project, and curiosity that you can think of that has ever struck your fancy. Include both past pursuits and current fascinations.
It doesn’t matter if you spent years studying a subject, or whether it was just a fleeting interest. You never know how something might be relevant. Think about Steve Jobs and how that one calligraphy class he took in college was the inspiration for the beautiful typeface of the Apple computer years later. Jobs was by no means a calligraphy master, but even a very rudimentary knowledge of the subject was enough to have real application elsewhere.
Multipotentialites have a tendency to discredit their accomplishments, so here’s a rule I want you to follow: if you are unsure of whether to include something in your list, include it.
Exercises to help you brainstorm
Once you have created your Master List, it’s time to brainstorm. When I’m trying to generate creative ideas, I usually like to brainstorm in chunks, even just 10 minutes a day, and let my subconscious mull things over in between. It’s unlikely that you’ll get your answer in one brainstorm, so keep at it. It’s really a process. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
1. Can knowledge from one of your interests help people related to a second interest of yours?
Try out as many intersections as possible. Some of them will seem silly (scuba diving for dance instructors anyone?), but others might result in some unexpectedly brilliant pairings.
2. Can you use one medium to explore multiple subjects?
Is there a particular medium that you’re comfortable with, that you could use as a lens to explore multiple topics? A lot of writers fall under this category. They write a book about one subject, then they write another book about a totally unrelated subject. The medium (writing) stays the same, but the subject matter changes.
3. Can you use multiple formats to explore one theme or idea?
This is the opposite approach to the last one. Instead of using one medium to explore multiple areas, you’re taking one grand idea and communicating it through several formats.
Is there is an idea that you care deeply about, something that could inspire or help people? This is your Why, or overarching theme, and you should know it, even if you use one of the other methods for arriving at your business idea.
I have a feeling that this last approach might work well for Brett. Brett works in a variety of different media: drawing, painting, sculpting, making stuffed animals, and TEACHING (that’s a big one). He also seems to care deeply about a particular issue: nature.
Perhaps he could share his knowledge of ecology with others by creating an educational website like Interactive Biology, but on the topic of the environment. Since he enjoys making visual art, he might use drawings and paintings to explain the concepts rather than video.
Maybe he could do something like Charity: Water, and use his artistic talents in service of his own environmental charity. Hell, he could even make and sell his own stuffed animals, use them in illustrated stories/lessons about endangered species, and have a portion of the profits go to an environmental charity. I’m just throwing around ideas, but there’s a lot to work with here.
The importance of adding value
What’s most important when coming up with business ideas, is to think about how the combination of your interests can add value to other people’s lives. It’s this value that people will pay for, and it’s also what will make your work fulfilling.
There are many ways to add value. You can help people, inspire people, heal people, educate people, or entertain people. All of these are ways to make people’s lives a little easier or more exciting.
How do you (or will you) smoosh together your interests to bring value into other people’s lives?
For more exercises and worksheets to help you figure out your overarching theme, be sure to check out Renaissance Business.