By Mieke Byerley for Enlivening Edge Magazine
I was born in 1980 to “Baby Boomers,” which places me in the first unconventional collection of humanity. Depending on what “Date and age range definition” you use, I am either a “Millennial” or still classified as a “Baby Boomer”. I am as a consequence neither and both, which makes me a “Transitional”.
I grew up in a very regimented but paradoxically liberal family environment; there were strict rules of conduct, responsibility and boundaries, but within this I was actively supported and encouraged to pursue whatever I dreamed of, whatever took my interest, whatever caught my curiosity. Besides that, my upbringing took place in two quite different cultures; the first 10 years in the Netherlands, and the second 10 years in New Zealand.
As a consequence of these conditions, I was exposed to a plethora of cultures and allowed to explore with gusto. I was hungry for life, and my exposure to these different realities coupled with very pronounced Millennial tendencies has given me: an enormous range of interests, seemingly unrelated talents, and a never-ending restless appetite to learn.
All of that can make me, like so many Millennials, seem flighty, distracted, unreliable, very “Different,” and sometimes even like having a “personality disorder.” Needless to say, figuring out what career to pursue is an impossible task, and conforming to Established Organisational structures and practices is unbearably stifling, and–as discovered by all my managers–a complete pipedream for us all.
The discovery of Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux provided me with a sense of connection and belonging that up until then had been consigned to my “Holy Grail” collection of possibilities.
Here, “Different” is normal; diversity is actively valued; here the unorthodox and unconventional is celebrated. The ability to perceive, connect, and integrate the seemingly unrelated and paradoxical polarities and contradictions, is sought, because it helps connect the “Teal” ecosystem. Transitionals, Millennials and Multipotentialites have a natural capacity for this; they are natural human capacitors of the Teal “neural networks.”
Above I mentioned two terms which I explicitly covered albeit superficially in my own experience, Transitionals and Millennials. Much has definitely been written and discussed regarding the latter. The third term hinted at is the Multipotentialite, which is starting to be mentioned more widely in the public arena under various different names and descriptions. You may have come across them as Polymath, Neo-Generalist, Multidisciplinarian, Community-Straddlers, etc.
So why are “Multipotentials” becoming a massive trend now?
Well, it comes down to the convergence of collective human development. It is partly, because technology enables, promotes, and even demands that we attend to many of our interests more easily and seamlessly, thus technology is amplifying those natural capabilities of the Multipotentialite.
It is also partly because Millennials (the largest representation of the new workforce) also share a portion of the Multipotentialites’ attributes, that is, their need for meaning, their unswerving focus on purpose, their connected perspective, and their strong aversion to pigeonholing. And, it is also partly because there is an observable shift in human consciousness, noticing that via our natural tendency to realise all that we can be, Life is expressing its preference for variety and diversity.
So who are the Multipotentialites?
The best way to convey them is in the words of Multipotentialites who have studied them;
“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
It was a question that was embedded in a post, within the Enlivening Edge Community on Facebook, pertaining to Communities of Practice, which started a conversation, shining light on this normally unseen collection of people.
Due to their very nature they often go unnoticed within a community, that is to say they may be known for specific accomplishments but not necessarily for their greatest gift/strength. They are relatively inconspicuous and hiding in plain sight, usually only identified if you know what you are looking for, or if you have known them for an extended period of time. After all, like the Shapeshifters of folklore, “How do you tell the difference between a real wolf and a Shapeshifter assuming the likeness of a wolf?”
Why are they significant?
“Neo-generalists are catalysts, sparks which move others to action. They are translators and border-crossers, following their curiosity into the unknown, bridging between multiple disciplines, exposing people to new perspectives that challenge their preconceptions. I often use a network metaphor:
The specialist resides in the nodes on a network. They mine deeply and develop narrow but important expertise. The generalist resides on the bridges that connect those nodes. But the neo-generalist, who is both generalist and specialist, is in constant flow between bridge and node. Their energy, responsiveness and connective capabilities help make things happen.” — Richard Martin, The Restless Multidisciplinarian, Magazine E-180
A timely article in Enlivening Edge Magazine, “From Community Straddling to Intentionally Diverse Practice: Call for a Global “Teal” Professional Learning Community”, gave voice to a tension being experienced in various spheres across the ever-expanding and diversifying Teal ecosystem.
“I feel a strong tension that the seemingly infinite possibilities risk diluting the core purpose so much as to lose the opportunity in a sea of enthusiastic ideas. Like trying to boil the ocean. My preference is for action – to just start. I also recognize this tension and my reaction as a personal tendency; once I feel ready, I want to move quickly, perhaps too quickly, and risk leaving others behind.” —Susan Basterfield.
She makes a poignant observation that we could take our chances and all work without a plan or intention; or align and coordinate to give ourselves and the world the best chance for this Teal ecosystem to grow. Susan poses this question rather in the form of a challenge:
“How do we ‘community straddlers’ transition from being a group of enthusiastic lurkers to being a group of focused and intentional transformers? Do we require a framework or a structure to enable us? Do we require the explicit purpose of intentional creation to coalesce our consciousness?” —Susan Basterfield
How do they excel?
“As big picture thinkers and why-seekers, neo-generalists shine light in unfamiliar places. We need that to solve interconnected and complex challenges. Neo-generalists are driven by a deep desire to understand how the dots connect, and question the status quo relentlessly.
By living in more than one world, they are exposed to a diverse set of interests, people and ideas. Their experiences as critical thinkers, shapeshifters, constant learners and boundary crossers make them uniquely qualified to help shape tomorrow’s world by thinking the unimaginable, exploring the unknown and doing what seems impossible to others.” — Kenneth Mikkelsen, The Restless Multidisciplinarian, Magazine E-180
There are 5 areas that Multipotentialites noticeably excel in besides their tendency to connect, which when intentionally applied can transform the landscape of an entire social ecosystem.
- Problem Framing and Reframing: This is an area developed through their love of questions, particularly ‘WHY’ questions. They continuously shift their perspectives, and reference frames even challenging their own lenses and perceptions. They are often experts at the ‘Analogy’ due to their desire to understand complexity through patterns and through recognising alignments.
- Iterating and Experimenting: This is a result of their incredible appetite to learn, continuously updating their concepts, hypotheses, ideas, through seeking continuous feedback and validation. They are Natural researchers which is often enacted in an understated manner devoid of grand release events.
- Empathy and Imagination: This is an area leveraged though their diversity of interests, but also supplemented by their intense desire for purpose. They look to anticipate needs, and often sense shifts before they happen, as a result of their tendency to scan. Their curiosity often manifests as creative imagination and a tendency to challenge convention.
- Visual Communication: “A picture paints a thousand words” is a very apt saying. In an attempt to understand and convey relationships of complex connections and diverse interests, information is compressed into visual frameworks. This accommodates flexibility and depth of concepts.
- Collaboration: This is developed in pursuit of connection and integration of their diverse interests and capacities. It is a recognition of the limitation of an individual’s capacity as opposed to the collective whole. They very much work on the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to achieve the greatest possible outcomes.
Multipotentialites are well-endowed to intentionally enable and advocate the emergence and viability of the ecosystem of Teal organisations and projects. We have been waiting in the ranks to be called upon for precisely such collaborative effort. Many of us are already actively working independently within our spheres of interests and experience.
What could we accomplish if we were coordinating interdependently for the good of the whole? How could Teal organisations and their ecosystem benefit from leveraging our gifts? Could we play a role of connectors in and among Teal organisations and thereby helping them better express what is mentioned in the below quote?
“It has often struck me that many people who embody Teal consciousness or work in Teal organizations, haven’t learned how to express themselves in ways that sound Teal. When a Teal organization doesn’t act, look, and also sound Teal, that communicates a lack of coherence.” — Edith Friesen
If you’re a Multipotentialite, Polymath, Neo-Generalist, Community Straddler, renaissance Person, Multidisciplinarian, under any other name, and curious about how we can better leverage our gifts for reinventing organizations, come out! Let’s explore that together. Please contact me at mieke.byerley(at)gmail(dot)com, or even better, leave a comment below so that our multilogue can start right here.
Mieke believes that humanity’s gloriously complex and diverse potential for good is worth tending to, through facilitating organic ecosystems to nurture, protect and sustain meaning, well-being, abundance and worth.
Founder & C.O.G of Biomimetic Clockworx: Research home of ‘Human-Centric Collective Enterprise as a Complex Living Organism/Ecosystem’. Nature Inspired Organisation Solutions focused on Human-Centric Organisational Analysis, Development, and Improvement.
Transitional Neo-Generalist with a central theme of Humanity, in other words my interests span the whole continuum of Human development and endeavours. Active member of: Teal for Startups, U.Lab, Holacracy, Economy for the Common Good, Economy of Communion, Biomimicry 3.8, Permaculture, Teal NZ, and many more.