Multipotentialite. That’s a long word. I first came across this term when I watched an awesome TEDx Talk by Emilie Wapnick, called “Why some of us don’t have one true calling” (you can watch it here).
Emilie describes how many of us (around 50%) have multiple talents and multiple interests, which is why there is no one thing that is undisputedly “for” us. Whereas some people are better suited to be specialists in one particular area or field, multipotentialites have a wide array of areas they are interested in, and so can build either a wide-ranging role/career for themselves, building a business or working in a small business, for example, or by building a career comprised of several sub-careers, known as a “portfolio career”.
Barbara Sher was one of the first to make this concept of multipotentialites mainstream, though she had another word for them – “Scanners” (John Williams, author of Screw Work, Let’s Play, also started his own Scanners Night – a group for these people to get together, share stories and inspire one another – which lasted for 5 years). Other terms also exist for people with many talents and interests, such as “Renaissance people” or “polymaths”.
The term “Renaissance people” actually emerged via one of the most famous historical examples of a multipotentialite/scanner was Leonardo Da Vinci, who lived during the Renaissance period and, according to Wikipedia, “was an Italian polymath whose areas of interest included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography.” Wow.
Upon finding out about this notion of multiple interests and talents, this immediately resonated with me. I wished I had known about this sooner, and especially during my school years when I would often trouble myself with coming up with “the thing” I would do for the rest of my life! (I also think career advice was largely unhelpful and, especially in 2016, now often irrelevant given new industries and the changing world of work).
Interestingly, though there will always be a place for non-multipotentialites (specialists) I’m sure, the way work is going seems to suggest that the future will suit multipotentialites nicely. “Work” has gone something like this over the last 100 years:
1. One job for life (one industry)
2. 2-3 jobs for life (one industry)
3. 2-3 jobs for life (different industries)
4. 4-5 jobs for life (different industries)
5. 2-3 jobs at any one time, and therefore several jobs at any one time
I believe we’re currently moving from 4 to 5, and largely due to the rise of freelancing/contracting, which means that individuals can either conduct one or more contracts in the same industry at one time, or carry out contracting as their “salary work”, with a passion on their side as their “soul work”, earning less but being built up. Equally, I have come across so many people (offline and online) in the last 12 months who have a “slash career” – e.g. writer / speaker / engineer. I think these trends will only carry forward, and especially as more and more people look for fulfilling work that they care about. Inevitably, with the trends described above, for some this will manifest itself into different work streams and, perhaps, multipotentialites will thrive.
– Emilie Wapnick – PuttyLike blog (also: see Emilie’s TED Talk here)
– Barbara Sher – Personal website (there you can find a list of her best-selling books, such as Refuse to Choose – goodreads link here)
– And What Do You Do?: 10 Steps to Creating a Portfolio Career, by Barrie Hopson & Katie Ledgers (goodreads link here)