The Art Of Being A Polymath: Not Being Married To Your Ideas

This article was originally published on The Hum on July 27th, 2017.

Finding the right venture for self-growth

In all endeavors, having the right mental toolbox is one factor that will make or break you and your team. With this in mind, I have consistently been attempting to improve and expand my mental toolbox.

One strategy that I’ve been implementing for this goal is thinking about being a jack of all trades. While researching the practical applications of studying multiple subjects outside of my primary profession, I came across the term polymath.

A polymath is someone who can draw upon multiple areas of study, using their in-depth knowledge in these areas to solve complicated issues. Most polymaths tend to be self-taught. Notable polymaths include Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Seth Godin, and many more (these are just the ones I’ve been researching and following so far).

If you are a business owner, entrepreneur, inventor, or simply someone who wants to find other alternatives for accelerating your growth — the path of a polymath may be for you. However, we do have to think about applying this to everyday life.

In our work, we will be tasked with working in teams. Teammates can help compensate for the skills that we lack, but we can also develop an understanding of their world by being a polymath. Diving into other subjects of work that we may not be directly responsible for can help us hire the right people, ensure that we can be the best asset to our teams, and allow us to associate different skill sets for a better approach to our daily challenges. Being a polymath requires us to develop our own curriculums for self-education, having a sense of directed curiosity.

As Seth Godin writes in his daily blog:

“When you’re the victim/beneficiary of compulsory education, it happens to you. You have little choice. Perhaps you choose to open your mind and do the work, but either way, here it is. Now that we’re adults, though, we have choice. Endless choice. Most people choose to learn as little as possible, while a few dive in and find more insight, wisdom and opportunity than they could ever expect. Why do so many people hold back?”

Many will say that there are cons to trying to be a jack of all trades. “You’re wasting your time by not focusing on your core craft.” Although this argument can be made, that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Give this approach to self-develop and growth a chance and I’m sure you’ll find benefits. It will be needed in the future as our marketplace and niche industries begin to change at an even faster pace.

Related: Creating Your Own Curriculum For Self-Education After College (6 min. read)

Being flexible in a marketplace of constant and exponential change

With the advent of the Internet of things, blockchain technology, augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and advancements in big data — the ability to be adaptable to change will make or break you. The teams that can associate different concepts (that often seem unrelated) to their work are the ones that will find key insights in their fields. Part of the reason why I propose the polymath approach is because we have nothing getting in our way when it comes to learning any skill we want.

“…the ability to be adaptable to change will make or break you.”

With the internet and the consistent optimization of the questions we ask it, anyone can find new concepts to integrate into his or her business strategies. Prospective polymaths can learn about multiple subjects at any given time. One could theoretically apply the lessons from musical theory to digital marketing, mathematics to art, and creative writing to film sales — depending on the context of the issues at hand and the time they take on a daily basis to educate themselves. It all depends on the questions we are asking ourselves to solve our daily problems.

As these problems increase in magnitude and number, due to the changes made in all marketplaces, we have to reorient ourselves into experts of learning — and not in just one particular field.

Sure, we will have an affinity towards certain subjects of thought over others. However, we should not disregard the fact that, to be competitive in the future, we will need to have access to mental tools that our competitors don’t have. That can only be obtained when we take the approach of being fluid in the topics we are curious about.

Not being married to your ideas of the world

I’m a firm believer that there are no original ideas. The solutions that we see others create in the world originate from a combination of their unique perspectives and the application of old ideas in the context of our current circumstances. Those of us who wish to break the mold and stand out from the norm in any area of work must come with a perspective that is comprised of mutiple fields of study to pull ideas from.

The usefulness of any idea or area of study is subjective. The ideas you currently have and that you believe to be true can be proven wrong at any moment. Being open to that possibility and seeking to reinforce your adaptability in the world can certainly help you stay relevant and competitive in any marketplace. The process of self-education and developing yourself as a polymath can help you stand out in a world where so many of us simply blend in.

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