Master of all trades: the potential of multipotentialites

Has your career been anything but linear? Do you balance myriad interests and pursuits? What you might’ve thought was a short attention span might in fact be “multipotentialite” status. But is this status a strength or a weakness in founders and entrepreneurs?

When asked what they want to be when they grow up, most children chop and change on a month to month basis.

Multipotentialites are the kids who never grew out of it.  

And quite often, they find themselves founding companies. 

Multipotentialites, otherwise known as polymaths or renaissance men/women, are highly dynamic. Adept in more than one discipline and comfortable in multiple environments, they build expertise as they go. They have diverse interests and a broad bank of skills. And they can draw on their haphazardly collected knowledge across a hundred different subjects to dream up innovative ideas and solutions. 

Given the need to fill all the C-suite roles as well as recruit, fundraise, develop, market, sell, and mop the floors at the end of the day, multipotentiality is a trait that comes in handy for startup founders.

Originating from a TedTalk by Emilie Wapnick, there’s a whole website dedicated to the concept. The site extols the benefits, but mentions little of the pitfalls. 

Is it really the leg-up it’s made out to be in startup circles? Is variety really the spice of life, or is it a crippling handicap that leaves those who experience the phenomenon unable to focus or commit? 

Famous MPs

You’ll find multipotentialites among the high achievers of the world. Elon Musk’s scientific disciplines span “rocket science, engineering, construction, tunnelling, physics, and artificial intelligence to solar power and energy”. 

Australia’s Ambassador for Peace Adeniyi Ekine is a social worker, human rights activist, media consultant, filmmaker, and journalist. 

Ryan Reynolds is a serial enterprise owner (Aviation Gin, Mint Mobile, Wrexham Football Club, and production studio Maximum Effort), and co-founded The Creative Ladder, a non-profit improving creative career progression for underrepresented young people. 

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Paris Hilton is another celebrity to turn their hand to business and investing. Alongside her roles as influencer, activist, DJ, designer, investor, recording artist, chef, model, and author (take a breath), Paris was named number 7 on Fortune’s NFTy 50 list for most influential people in NFTs. And she launched her own NFT company.

Big personalities and bigger ambitions aside, what makes a multipotentialite so good at, well, everything? 

Their strengths include:

1. Idea synthesis: You’re naturally able to combine two or more fields, and create something new at the intersection of dual disciplines. 

2. Rapid learning: You become an expert quickly, and are comfortable with starting as a beginner, over and over again. You’re also less afraid to step out of your comfort zone than others.

3. Adaptability: Morphing into exactly what’s needed, in any given moment, is a key attribute of highly adaptable polymaths. 

There’s always a trade off. Multipotentialites can suffer from:

1. Choice overwhelm: Overburdened by the number of opportunities on the table, you can feel under pressure to discover your “one true calling” among a plethora of passions. 

2. Tasks overload: Overwhelmed by the huge to do lists you’ve created for yourself, it can be stressful to process so much new information with limited time. You’ll try to do everything, and sometimes fail. Under the pressure, some MPs may burn out, self sabotage, or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

3. Challenge of novelty: With a low threshold for tedium, it can be hard to keep multipotentialites on task. You may exist within a project graveyard, abandoning ideas before anything comes to fruition. 

Surviving multipotentiality 

Whether you’re one of the lucky ones who fire from success to greater success, or the MPs who suffer from perpetual restlessness, there are ways to whip this idiosyncrasy into shape. 

1. Carve out time: For such a busy calendar, you’ll need to keep a calendar. You don’t need to chop every day into maniacally enforced 30 minute slots like Mark Wahlberg. It might be by year, by month, by week, by day, or by hour, but it’s essential to decide how much time you can dedicate to each object of focus. 

2. Lean on compound learning: Reading and researching is time-consuming. But people who do it a lot enjoy compound returns. The Sigmoid learning curve dictates that the busy lifestyle and work style of an MP will marry learning with experience leading to exponential growth and, ultimately, mastery. As you learn, you learn to learn better. 

4. Stay curious: Curiosity and creativity are key attributes of the multipotentialite personality. So it’s vital to keep your mindset open. Embracing change and remaining curious are key to ensuring you keep focused on the right opportunities. 

One of the hardest things to swallow is that you might not have “one true calling”. You’ll likely have many, and may have to make agonising choices throughout the course of your career. 

But choice is what it’s all about. Polymath founders must learn to manage their vast potential, and see this weird and wonderful divergence for what it is: a gift.

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