Multipotentialite is the last buzz word that I came through, that helps describe my own personality. I must admit I have missed it. Its origin is rooted in a Ted Talk by Emilie Wapnick, which mainly tried to answer a few common questions for some people.
- Are you interested in many topics and subject? (Yes)
- When you are interested in a topic, you deep dive in it fully, just to feel bored after a few days? (Yes)
- Do you have difficulty in defining what you are good at? (Yes)
- Do you have problems in adapting to an agenda, and are often led by “streams of consciousness“? (Yes)
- Is your personal purpose vast to be defined? (Yes)
Then there are high chances that you too are a Multipotentialite. In Emilie Wapnick’s word, it’s someone with many interests and creative pursuits. And below you can find her exciting Ted Talk.
Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers.Emilie Wapnick
If that doesn’t sound new to you, you can directly take a test to find out if you are as well a Multipotentialite.
The problem with Boredom
One aspect that spreads around people with this tendency is that they become bored very quickly.
Boredom usually hits once we’ve learned what we are meant to learn on a particular topic, and instead of moving on, we try to continue down a path we’re no longer interested in. Boredom is our body’s way of telling us that it’s time to move on to something new.Emilie Wapnick
Primarily Multipotentialite people tend to seek variety, and when stuck into what they perceive as a cage, they get immediately bored. At work, this can become a problem. Some might be getting interests in other parts of their life, but overall this leads to a waste of energy.
The Seven Superpowers of Multipotentialites
According to Emilie Wapnick, Multipotentialites have seven superpowers, i.e. skills that allow them to be more effective in certain situations. I’ve selected three as the ones that struck me:
- Synthetizing idea: it’s the capacity of bringing seemingly unrelated topics on common ground or overarching thesis. Because of the eclectic nature of the many interests we have, we can grab different concepts and see what they have in stock more rapidly.
- Fast learning: it’s the capacity to bring new knowledge in at speed, usually through self-learning.
- Adaptability: it’s the capacity of wearing many hats, we rarely have to seek external help, and we can act in multiple different scenarios.
Of course, many different scenarios apply, but you can see the influence of some skills we have already spoken about: Curiosity, Learning Agility, Systems Thinking.
The Renaissance Man
The idea of Multipotentialities is not entirely new; what has changed is its acceptance within society. In the Renaissance, the concept of multi-faceted knowledge and interests spanning multiple disciplines was considered highly. This was the realm of Leonardo Da Vinci, a personality that spanned expertise and creativity across the entire field of human knowledge of that time, and especially did not feel ashamed of expressing opinions around any topic.
The scientific revolution of the XIV century, has privileged domain knowledge instead, moving away from a wide span of expertise and into deep specialisation. Exact, the development of science has required a much broader speciality: the entire amount of knowledge that existed at the time of Leonardo was much smaller than what exists today. However, the specialisation and generalist aspect is not antithetic.
Thinking like a Renaissance Man or Woman is critical in developing in a digital organisation today.
The T Model of Competence
There’s a theory that calls for moving away from pure specialisation. It’s called T-Shaped Skills. David Guest, CEO of IDEO, mentioned for the first time this concept in an interview for The independent titled “The hunt is on for the Renaissance Man of computing“. He focused on the idea of developing interdisciplinary careers for people, particularly in creative sectors. In reality, the term “T-Shape” had already been in use at McKinsey since the eighties and was used to stress the need for leaders to have both in-depth knowledge in one field and a broad understanding in different areas.
Today the T-Shape concept is more and more crucial in the implementation of agile approaches, especially for roles such as the Product Owner. Some companies have built their competency systems based precisely on this model (see Buffer for example). What is particularly noteworthy is that this approach helps to avoid the so-called “Paradox of Expertise” that happens when excessive specialisation makes accepting outside-in perspectives almost impossible.
It’s however not easy for all people to build deep expertise as well as a broad general knowledge. A lot needs to happen on the deconstructing of our skills base, as unfortunately, our traditional educational system does reflect more the idea of exclusive competences.
There are many shreds of evidence that Mulitpotentialite is essential in a business environment. T-Shaped profiles are now being intentionally designed in many organisations, and particularly for business roles. Yet there is an area where often there is a Bias towards specialisation. It is Recruiting. Too often hiring is still based on industry-relevant competencies, possibly within one professional family only.
People that have been juggling among different sectors and industries might be penalised, even if not intentionally. A lot can be done in fighting recruiting bias, but what is essential especially moves away from experience-based hiring and focus on attitudes and fit for the job.
What about you? Are you a Multipotentialite?
Photo by Zach Dyson on Unsplash