Kanye West, Elon Musk & Adam Smith: How To Be A Multipotential Polymath In Our Specialized World

Updated: Mar 27

“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 Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

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. 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 Polymath is a name for those with this trait. By contrast, those whose interests lie mostly within a single field are called "specialists."

Our world is created by and focuses on specialists & specialization. The specialization of labour is a recent human phenomena that was popularized by Adam Smith in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Famously, he used the example of a pin factory. Adam Smith noted how the efficiency of production was vastly increased because workers were split up and given different roles in the making of a pin, and that’s the factory system that controls our world to this day.

The warning against being a polymath has persisted for hundreds of years in dozens of languages. “Equipped with knives all over, yet none is sharp,” warn people in China. In Estonia, it goes, “Nine trades, the tenth one — hunger.” Yet, many of the most impactful individuals, both contemporary and historical, have been polymaths: Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Richard Feynman, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Marie Curie to name just a few.

I am an autodidactic polymath, I pursue multiple intellectual & creative interests. I’m a writer in a variety of forms: essays, stories, poems, comic books, screenplays. I produce beats, play piano, I graphic design, I design websites, fashion, products, I edit videos, I have directed films, and I hope to do much more with my life. I am nowhere near as skilled as I will eventually be, in all of those fields, but I practice each craft as though my life depends on it, and put my all into it. Many of those skills are basically the same, & I pride myself on my skill in each of those fields. I’m passionate about each one, I’m aware & attempt to educate myself on the disciplines, history, schools of thought, cultures and communities of each craft I practice. I’m constantly learning all of the techniques, ins & outs in each discipline, & they all inform and compliment one another, all of them use the same muscles. Now I’m not telling you this just to aggrandize myself or to give you my resume, I just want to discuss something that a lot of young people today are going through.

All of that probably sounds cool, and it would sound great on a resume, it probably sounds great in writing, it’s definitely great for the high earning polymaths that have already "made it" that I’ve previously mentioned, but, it’s not an easy sell. As a 22 year old, I have had older people constantly tell me to give up on attempting to practice a variety of skills, I have been mocked for not having a specialized field of interest for years now.

Even though I am technically a professional, and am financially compensated for most of the crafts I practice, I’m nowhere near as financially successful as any of the men I’ve mentioned previously, at this point in my journey, so it’s difficult to convince people who hold wealth as the criteria for success, of the validity of this course of action. I practice each craft because I genuinely love practicing them. I'm a curious person and I try a bunch of things, but the crafts I mentioned have stuck because they are things I genuinely love doing in order to pass the time, the more I do, the more it feeds my curiosity & spirit. I am wholeheartedly interested in learning things that spark my interest, if it's not something that interests me, I can't do it. But when I'm interested & engaged, my output is much better, I'm able to spend more time dedicating myself to the truth of the task at hand, and I have witnessed my growth in terms of skill in each of those crafts.

Outside of self indulgence though, polymaths need to realize that by refining our skillset throughout our varying interests, we can then apply our skills into building atypical combinations of skills and knowledge across fields and then integrate them in the application of innovative ideas, and make the world a better place through our skillsets within our time alive. We can add & acquire value through excelling in multiple fields. Polymaths are able to integrate ideas and find parallels to solve complex human problems, and if one has the propensity to pursue that path, then he's depriving humanity by specializing. The internet has given us a wider access to information, the ability to store, then compartmentalize it, and the ability to directly act on, and monetize our ideas. Our world tries to judge fish by their ability to climb trees, not everyone is meant to specialize. The main barrier to entry in anything is information, and now we have access to almost every piece of documented information, ever.

I made the decision to become a polymath when I was in the 10th Grade, it was a conscious decision. I learned about the concept of a Renaissance Man in my world history class, and it instantly resonated with me and the way I consumed information. I’m not the only person with this condition, the hallmark of our generation is multipotentiality, modern polymaths are changing the factory mentality of specialization. My favourite artists growing up were polymaths, guys like Kanye West, Donald Glover, Virgil Abloh, Louis C.K. Tyler The Creator, these were all guys that were proficient & prolific in various fields.

In our specialized world there are roadblocks in the form of labels people want to place on you. If you’re attempting to do anything to better your life, you might be going through something similar. People have a certain perception of you, and if you’re not careful, they can make their perception of you, your reality.

I’m going through something I like to call ‘Kanye Syndrome.’ Kanye is a public, and very vocal, example of something that I’ve seen in my life, and in the lives of many of my friends. Polymaths are usually proficient in a variety of fields, the world as it exists, is outlined for specialization. It becomes increasingly difficult to broaden your horizons and experiment in a variety of fields, because people try to put you in a box and impose a rigidity that your brain isn't made for. Kanye is constantly talking about how difficult it was for people to view him as a rapper after being a producer, and trying to gain respect as a fashion designer after being a musician. People are constantly trying to put people in a box because It's easier for categorization purposes, to be able to define and label a person when interacting with them.

When I first started, my Ethiopian parents didn’t see me as an 'autodidactic polymath' like Da Vinci or Michelangelo, they saw me as scatter brained & hyperactive, and I understand their perception, but I still had to be authentic to myself and my needs. They’re not the only ones with this attitude, polymaths are constantly labeled, dismissed, warned about ‘burning out’ or sacrificing quality in a certain field, but that’s not how I view it.

People may think the most difficult part of attempting to be a polymath would be practicing different crafts, but personally, I enjoy practicing multiple crafts. My creativity requires other outlets in order to breathe, that’s the only way it’s ever worked for me. I need to give something a break, & do something else, in order for my brain to be rejuvenated so I can gain the necessary inspirational spark. Doing one thing forever would kill me, it’s just ingrained in me. I have an extreme curiosity, tons of inspiration and a need to act on the ideas I have, and if you’re like me, you’re probably going through something similar.

When I first started my journey, I used to look up the various paralleling skills of successful polymaths, their routines, how they allocate time or consume information, and I’ve gained a lot of useful information on that front, but one of the main attributes I saw was, they just didn’t give up. You first need to have the propensity to pursue various crafts & ideas, but if you do, the next step is to just keep doing it. Through constant practice, you get better. It's a fact of life, it's something that seems so simple and self evident, but sometimes we just need to hear it said to remember. Elon Musk was designing video games before PayPal, SpaceX & Tesla, Kanye had a bunch of bad beats before My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy & Yeezy's, there's a learning curve to everything. We constantly associate great skills with talent. Talent is seen as something you’re born with, guys like Picasso were prodigies that were incredible at age 4, but natural talent isn’t the only way to gain a skill, constant practice is something everyone can do. Most polymaths succumb to the pressures of life and specialize, but they're regressing the world by doing so.

I practice a variety of crafts often, and with time, I am getting much better. The more work I put in, the more skilled I become. The more I fail, the more I learn, these are cross disciplinary truths that aid you in becoming proficient in a variety of disciplines. As I become more skilled, I’m able to apply different and innovative ideas in a much more elegant manner.

When I first started editing videos I didn’t know how to use the splice tool, I didn’t know about the magic wand on photoshop, I wasn’t nearly as good at writing as I am now when I first started, this website didn't look this clean when I first designed it. I didn’t know about planning, concept development, design specs or system-level design. I wasn’t nearly as good when I first started playing piano, my book of poetry I published when I was 19 probably isn't as good as my writing now, my first beat tape on Soundcloud is garbage in comparison to my 6th, I’m nowhere near as good as I’m going to eventually be, and that’s the point. Through constant practice, & seeking information, you evolve & get better, this knowledge is a key to so much in life.

Our mission statement is to instill hope where there was once despair, to enlighten & entertain, and to make the world a better place during our time alive, I’ve been clear with this mission statement from the moment I began publicly sharing any of my work and that doesn’t require a specific tool. Our intentions are not trapped within a medium. Walt Disney wasn’t just one thing, he was a medium for ideas, and that’s what creative people are. We are mediums for ideas, I’m not a specialized worker, I have a bunch of ideas coming to me, all the time. But the world around me tries to force me into becoming something I'm not.

There’s a new wave of humanity, we’re living in a renaissance period. I understood my parents, but this is a different time, the internet has changed the landscape, and I believe in my abilities and the abilities of other creatives. People like Kanye West, Salvador Dali, Nikola Tesla, Elon Musk, they transcend genre and industry, by being creative people who efficiently execute their ideas. I don’t want to be labeled, I just want to help. If we keep practicing, we’ll only get better, and then we can make the world a better place, through our skills, within our time alive.

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