Random finds (2016, week 5) — On polymaths and simplicity

Mark Storm
3 min readFeb 5, 2016

Every Friday, I run through my tweets to select a few observations and insights that have kept me thinking over the last week.


This week I came across an article on FastCompany called Why The 21st-Century Economy Needs More Polymaths. One of the things it said, was:

“Don’t get stuck in a single pursuit — create a body of work. Like Picasso, keep looking for other skills and interests you can develop that will complement your core. You never know where a new fascination might lead.”

I wholeheartedly agree, but then again, I consider myself a polymath or a neo-generalist. That’s the term Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin use in their forthcoming book The Neo-Generalist (LID Publishing, September 2016).

But the article also directed me to Emilie Wapnick who coined the term multipotentialite. In her great TEDxTalk Why Some of us Don’t Have One True Calling, Wapnick identifies three Multipotentialite Super Powers:

Idea synthesis
“Combining two or more fields and creating something new at the intersection.”

Rapid learning
“When the multipotentialite becomes interested in something, we go hard. […] We’re also used to being beginners, because we’ve been beginners so many times in the past. And this means that we’re less afraid of trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zone.” Furthermore, “many skills are transferable across disciplines”.

“The adaptability to morph into anything you need to be in a given situation.”

She continuous saying that it’s not about specialists versus multipotentialites. Not about either-or, but about both-and:

“In fact, some of the best teams are comprised of a specialist and a multipotentialite paired together. The specialist can dive in deep, and implement ideas, while the multipotentialite brings a breath of knowledge to the project. It’s a beautiful partnership.”


I also loved Paul Graham’s quote on simplicity (The Importance of Simple):

“In a time of bad design, building something simple is a revolutionary act.”

And in another article on FastCompany, Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter, Medium and Jelly) explains why designing something easy is so exceedingly difficult:

“Keeping things simple means letting go. It means giving up some control to the people who are going to use what you’re building. Build the basics and as people use it, you’ll discover two things. First, you’ll find out where the value is. Second, you’ll find out what’s missing. Then you iterate.”

And you can’t talk about simplicity without mentioning John Maeda’s wonderful book The Laws of Simplicity. His first law, Reduce:

“The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”

A bit more…

Adam Grant wrote a new book about how to champion new ideas and fight groupthink. It’s called Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. He talks about non-conformism, creativity, entrepreneurship and much more in this a16z podcast: https://soundcloud.com/a16z/originals.

And then there is Illuminate by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez on how to ignite change through speeches, stories, ceremonies and symbols. The online summary already looks really beautiful: http://cdn.www.duarte.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Illuminate-Executive-Summary_Duarte.pdf.

The Bugs in Our Mindware in Nautilus on the many obstacles that lie on the path to rational thought: http://nautil.us/issue/32/space/the-bugs-in-our-mindware-rp.

And finally a chat with Brain Eno about his theories of music, art and creativity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57tqnddgF2Q.

“When you look at a painting, you don’t just see that painting, you see every painting you’ve ever seen.” — Brian Eno



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought