What is a multipotentialite?
A multipotentialite is someone with many interests and creative pursuits.
It stems from the word multipotentiality–a psychological and educational term used to describe people who display aptitudes across multiple disciplines.
The term was popularized by Emilie Wapnick on Puttylike and in her 2015 TED talk, Why Some of Us Don’t have One True Calling:
In 2011, a member of the Puttylike community suggested that multipotentialite could be shortened to multipod. We’ve been using the two interchangeably ever since!
Although multipotentialite is a modern term, the idea of someone with many passions is not new. Any student of history often hears mention of polymaths or Renaissance people. Multipotentialites have, indeed, existed as long as human societies.
While the strengths of multipotentialites are not always appreciated in post-industrial capitalist societies, there have been times throughout history when being well-versed in multiple disciplines was considered the ideal. And, of course, multipotentiality is highly valued in certain spaces, contexts and cultures today.
Synonyms and related terms:
- Renaissance Man / Renaissance Person
- Scanner (coined by Barbara Sher)
Feel free to use whichever term(s) resonates most for you. Side note: we feel it’s kind of appropriate that, as a community, we cannot seem to agree on a single identity…
Multipotentialites have been movers, shakers, and out-of-the-box thinkers since the dawn of time. Maybe you’ve heard of some of these people?
Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Jackie O, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Hedy Lamarr, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Beatrice Webb, Beatrix Potter, Leonardo Da Vinci, Julia Child, Geena Davis, Cleopatra, Aristotle, Elizabeth I, Dorothy Dunnett, Hildegard of Bingen, Hypatia, René Descartes, Trotula of Salerno, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Anna Maria van Schurman, Galileo Galilei, Queen Christina of Sweden, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, Isaac Newton, Olympe de Gouges, Dr. Mae Jemison
This list was crowd-sourced from the Puttylike community. Know of an awesome multipod who’s missing? Get in touch!
Where does “Puttylike” come from?
Way back in 2010, when Emilie Wapnick was first brainstorming names for this community, she stumbled upon the word puttylike in an online thesaurus:
accomplished, adaptable, all-around, functional, gifted, resourceful, skilled, skillful, talented, able, adroit, all-purpose, ambidextrous, conversant, dextrous, ingenuous, many-sided, multifaceted.
Emilie expands on this definition in her book, How to Be Everything:
Puttylike (adj.): Able to embody different identities and perform a variety of tasks gracefully
And of course, the children’s toy Silly Putty is a colourful, malleable substance that stretches and changes shape. Just like us!
What are “puttypeep”?
In April 2012, the Puttyverse was born. We kept the putty theme going and began using the term puttypeep (“peep” as in people) to describe members of the Puttyverse community.
Multipotentialite challenges and super powers
The way multipotentialites think, learn and create sometimes clashes with specialist norms. Multipotentialites often struggle with:
- Finding work that provides both enough variety and stability
- Productivity and focus issues, like balancing the need to explore with the need to make progress on multiple projects
- Challenges with mental health and confidence, such as imposter syndrome, answering the question So, what do you do? and dealing with family and friends who don’t understand.
These challenges don’t exist because multipotentialites are broken–they aren’t a result of failure. Instead, these difficulties arise from a lack of resources, a wide-spread misunderstanding of multipotentialites’ needs, and a devaluing of their unique strengths.
When multipotentialites are supported and encouraged to embrace their diverse skills and experiences, they’re able to tap into their super powers:
- Idea synthesis
- Rapid learning
- Big picture thinking
- Relating to and translating between different types of people, “languages,” and modes of thought
The ability to draw from and integrate a range of diverse ideas makes multipotentialites particularly well-suited to solving complex, multifactorial problems. And, their unconventional backgrounds help them develop unique voices and contribute fresh perspectives wherever they go.
If you would like to learn more about multipotentialites or need help with a particular situation or question, check out our Help section. If you’re a newly self-identified multipotentialite, we’re so glad you found us. Welcome home!