Multipotentiality

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Multipotentiality is an educational and psychological term referring to the ability and preference of a person, particularly one of strong intellectual or artistic curiosity, to excel in two or more different fields.[1]

It can also refer to an individual whose interests span multiple fields or areas, rather than being strong in just one. Such traits are called multipotentialities, while "multipotentialites" has been suggested as a name for those with this trait.

By contrast, those whose interests lie mostly within a single field are called "specialists."

History[edit]

Etymology[edit]

An early instance of the term in the record comes from relevant research in giftedness.

In 1972, R.H. Frederickson et al. defined a multipotentialed person as someone who, “when provided with appropriate environments, can select and develop a number of competencies to a high level.” [2][3]

In 1990, Barbara Kerr defined multipotentiality as such:[4]

Multipotentiality is the ability to select and develop any number of career options because of a wide variety of interests, aptitudes, and abilities (Frederickson & Rothney, 1972). The broad range of opportunities available tends to increase the complexity of decision making and goal setting, and it may actually delay career selection. Multipotentiality is most commonly a concern of students with moderately high IQs (120-140), those who are academically talented, and those who have two or more outstanding but very different abilities such as violin virtuosity and mathematics precocity.

— Barbara Kerr, Career Planning for Gifted and Talented Youth. ERIC Digest #E492.

In 1999, "multipotentiality" appears in Laurie Diane Shute's doctoral dissertation which was titled "An investigation of multipotentiality among university honors students." [5]

In 2010, multipotentiality appears again in Tamara Fisher's article in Education week. She defines it thus:[1]

Multipotentiality is the state of having many exceptional talents, any one or more of which could make for a great career for that person.

— Tamara Fisher, Education week

Around 2010 or later, Emilie Wapnick coined[citation needed] the term "multipotentialite", perhaps to establish a shared identity for the community. She defines it this way:[6][7]

A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life.

Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both).

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.

When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information.
— Emilie Wapnick, Terminology, Puttylike

Relevant Terminology[edit]

While the term "multipotentialite" is often used interchangeably with "polymath" or "Renaissance Person", the terms are not identical. One need not be an expert in any particular field to be a multipotentialite.

Indeed, Isis Jade makes a clear distinction between multipotentiality and polymaths.[8] Multipotentiality refers simply to one's potential in multiple fields owing to his/her diverse interests and attempts. Polymaths, on the other hand, are distinguished by their mastery and expertise in several fields.

Other terms used to refer to multipotentialites are "scanners",[9] "slashers", "generalist", "multipassionate", "RP2", and "multipods", among others.[6]

Context[edit]

With the advent of the industrial age, cultural norms have shifted in favor of specialization.[10][11] Indeed, in the modern day, the more narrow the specialization, the higher the pay and respect accorded, for example: PhD graduates, and specialized lawyers, doctors, and engineers. The aphorism Jack of all trades, master of none emphasizes this. (Ironically, the article and it's Wiktionary entry mention a longer couplet: "Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one.") Older emphasis towards generalism and multiple potentials such as Renaissance humanism and the Renaissance man were replaced.

However, the convergence economy, Internet age, connectivity, the rise of the Creative Class, and other modern developments are bringing about a return of a more positive opinion for generalists and multipotentialites.

In Specialization, Polymaths And The Pareto Principle In A Convergence Economy, Jake Chapman writes:[12]

Economists tell us that the history of human labor is one of continually increasing specialization. In the days of the hunter-gatherer, every member of the tribe would have been expected to command some degree of proficiency with each task.

As we progressed along the economic continuum from hunter-gatherer through agrarian and industrial and now into post-industrial economies, the labor force has become more fragmented, with workers having more and more specialized skill sets. ... Historically, specialization has been a path to prosperity. Although specialization has certain economic advantages, in the era of technological convergence, well-educated generalists will be those who are the most valuable. It is time for a renaissance of the “Renaissance Man.” ... The Renaissance thinkers recognized both the potential of individuals as well as the enormous value to being well-rounded. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the idea of someone who dabbled in many fields lost its cultural appeal and we began to praise those who sought deep subject matter expertise.

We now live in a world where distinctions between formerly separate industries are breaking down and the real opportunities for growth are where those industries intersect. Harnessing these 21st-century opportunities will require people who are “jacks of all trades, masters of none,” or, perhaps more accurately, master polymaths.
— Jake Chapman

Now, more articles are coming out in defense of the generalist and the pursuit of multiple fields.[13][14][15][16][17][18][19]

Business[edit]

Organizations such as startups that require adaptability and holding multiple roles can employ several multipotentialites and have one specialist as a resource.

In Specialization, Polymaths And The Pareto Principle In A Convergence Economy, Chapman said:

In the modern world, where a very common job might require someone to be a social-media expert, public speaker, writer and data analyst, the polymath wins and the deep subject-matter expert is relegated to a back corner to be used as a resource for others. As an investor, if I were going to pick the perfect team, it would be a group of rock-star polymaths with a single subject matter expert as a resource.

— Jake Chapman, In Specialization, Polymaths And The Pareto Principle In A Convergence Economy

Stretch Magazine discusses the role of multipotentialites in organizations and how they will believe they will be more in demand in the future.[20][21]

Criticism of Specialization[edit]

Historical context, current conventional wisdom, comparative advantage, USP, among others contribute to the wide acceptance of specialization.[22][23][24][25]

Proponents of specialization above cite excellence and it's perceived higher rewards compared to medicrity in everything. Proponents of multiple capabilities below emphasize the importance of adaptability.

In "Master of Many Trades", Robert Twigger goes so far as to coin the word "monopath": "It means a person with a narrow mind, a one-track brain, a bore, a super-specialist, an expert with no other interests — in other words, the role-model of choice in the Western world." [26]

This sentiment is not new. In Time Enough for Love (1973), Robert A. Heinlein wrote:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

— Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

Life of Multipotentialites[edit]

Advantages[edit]

Advantages available to these people who have developed skills in multiple fields:[27][28][29]

  • rapid learning and fast skill acquisition (learn how to learn)
  • idea synthesis
  • adaptability
  • translating between modes of thought
  • concocting new solutions
  • contextual thinking
  • enthusiasm
  • novelty and variety
  • fit well into leadership roles

According to Tim Ferriss, a renowned generalist:[14]

In a world of dogmatic specialists, it’s the generalist who ends up running the show. Is the CEO a better accountant than the CFO or CPA? Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals” are called such.

— Tim Ferris

Caveat: The multipotentialite may encounter several problems if they are mediocre or average at everything. It's recommended to be above intermediate or master of at least one.

James Liu, founder/developer of BoxCat Games says this:

Over my many years of learning, iterating, and teaching, I’ve arrived at the conclusions that the process of learning, as humans, can be abused, tuned, and scaled easily.

There comes a specific point in your life where you can reach or obtain near mastery of one specific subject. After that, there’s a base of knowledge that you can (and will) build analogies on. By doing so, you take one industry and mirror it into another industry.

I would emphasize, you can not be a jack-of-all-trades without being a master of at least one.

Perhaps it is social skill, doll making, mathematics, language, emotional awareness—you must be a master of at least one in order to be a jack of many others...

Mastery of one trade can be converted into a catalyst for learning other fields. You have something to pull from, complex ideas you can pattern match, and metaphoric analogies that can complete a picture.

The more you learn, the faster you learn.
— James Liu

Disadvantages[edit]

  • lose out on the benefits of specialization, ultra long-term commitment
  • distraction and burn out[29]
  • depending on person, mastery or competence can take longer to achieveWhile there is some dispute[citation needed] as to the degree of prevalence of this phenomenon, it can be a significant problem for those who experience it, leading to overscheduling, high stress levels, confusion, paralysis by analysis, and impulsive or conformist choices in gifted children, and to feelings of social alienation, purposelessness, apathy and depression in the brightest of adults.[citation needed]

Boredom is also a frequent occurrence in multipotentialites who have already "mastered" or learned everything they desire to know about a particular topic before moving on.[citation needed] [30]

They will also encounter opposition from career counselors, parents and friends who wish for them to choose conventional specialized career paths.[31][32]

Strategies[edit]

For the challenges above, several resources have published coping strategies:

Impact[edit]

In a world that overvalues specialization, the term and it's increasing popularity (especially among the blogging community) have contributed to the revival of awareness on the importance of generalists. The concept was even mentioned in a Jamaican newspaper as the subject of a competition's training session.[33]

In the current economy, Creativity and the rise of the Creative Class are linked to divergent thinking and innovative solutions to current problems. Because new ideas can be found in the intersection of multiple fields, they would benefit from the advantages of multipotentialites.

Notable Examples[edit]

Leonardo da Vinci may be the most well-known historical example of an acknowledged genius who struggled from the difficulties associated with multipotentiality.

Having failed to complete many of the projects he started, he has been quoted as saying: "I have wasted my hours" and "I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have."' '[34]

Other notable multipotentialites throughout history excelled in many fields (hence they're also polymaths) such as:

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Fisher, Tamara (11 August 2010). "Multipotentiality - Unwrapping the Gifted". Education Week Teacher. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Bechtold, Patty. "Creative Blocks or Multipotentiality?". Living Deep Studio. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  3. ^ "Recognizing and assisting multipotential youth.". Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  4. ^ Kerr, Barbara. "Career Planning for Gifted and Talented Youth. ERIC Digest #E492.". ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  5. ^ Shute, Laurie Diane. "An investigation of multipotentiality among university honors students". University of Connecticut, Doctoral Dissertations. Paper AAI9942597. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  6. ^ a b "Terminology". Puttylike. Retrieved 27 February 2016. 
  7. ^ Noma, Belinda. "Will the Real Multipotentialite Please Stand Up?". I Start And Finish. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  8. ^ "Isn't Polymath and Multipotentiality the Same Thing?". IsisJade. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  9. ^ "Scanner Tribe". Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  10. ^ "Division of Labor". Boundless.com. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  11. ^ "The History and Importance of Specialization in Professional Psychology". Oxford Handbooks. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  12. ^ Chapman, Jake. "Specialization, Polymaths And The Pareto Principle In A Convergence Economy". TechCrunch. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  13. ^ Markman, Art. "Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist". 99u.com. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  14. ^ a b Ferris, Tim. "The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades". Four Hour Work Week. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  15. ^ Cole, David. "The Myth of the Myth of the Unicorn Designer". Quora. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  16. ^ Pinola, Melanie. "Being a Jack of All Trades Doesn't Mean You're a Master of None". Lifehacker. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  17. ^ "Being a Jack: The Master of None". Zentiv Agency. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  18. ^ Dachis, Adam. "Knowing a Little of Everything Is Often Better Than Having One Expert Skill". LifeHacker. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  19. ^ "In Defense of The Jack of All Trades". Webdesigner Depot. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  20. ^ Anupam Kundu, Tanmay Vora. "The Future of Work and Multipotentialites Part 1: Identify Polymaths In Your Organization". Stretch Magazine. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  21. ^ Anupam Kundu, Tanmay Vora. "The Future of Work and Multipotentialites Part 2: Engage polymaths for organizational success". Stretch Magazine. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  22. ^ Bergan, Nicolas. "Marketing Yourself: The Importance of Specialization". Online Career Tips. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  23. ^ Van Noy, Andrew. "The Importance of Specialization in the Tech Job Market". Mashable. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  24. ^ "Benefits of Specialization". Boundless. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  25. ^ Saddington, John. "The Power and Importance of Specialization". Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  26. ^ Twigger, Robert. "Master of many trades". Aeon.co. Retrieved 27 February 2016. 
  27. ^ "The 7 Multipotentialite Super Powers". Puttylike. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  28. ^ "Emilie Wapnick: Why some of us don't have one true calling". TED. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  29. ^ a b Allan, Patrick. "The Surprising Benefits (and Pitfalls) of Being a "Jack of All Trades"". Retrieved 2016-07-26. 
  30. ^ Noma, Belinda. "Multipotentiality Problems and Why You Are Not Being Hired". I Start and Finish. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  31. ^ a b Rivero, Lisa. "Multipotentiality: When High Ability Leads to Too Many Options". Psychology Today. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  32. ^ Wapnick, Emilie. "The Ultimate Guide to Dealing with Friends and Family Members who Disapprove of Your Multipotentiality". Puttylike. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  33. ^ "On the Joys of "Multi-Potentialism"". Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved 27 July 2016. 
  34. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci Quote". BrainyQuote. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 

External links[edit]