What characteristic would you say links the following individuals: Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie and Elon Musk?
All successful innovators in their own right, they are also all polymaths. Derived from the Greek ‘polymathēs’, meaning “having learned much”, these individuals all developed specialisms in more than one domain:
Aristotle – politics, biology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, poetry
Leonardo Da Vinci – art, invention, engineering, anatomy, astronomy
Nicolaus Copernicus – astronomy, mathematics, physics, economics
Nikola Tesla – invention, electrical and mechanical engineering, physics
Marie Curie – the only person to win the Noble prize in two sciences, physics and chemistry
Elon Musk – programming, physics, engineering, manufacturing, business
How to become more creative
There has been a long-standing fascination with identifying personality traits that correlate highly with creativity. There may be many that seem to be associated, but the only one that tends to stand up in the literature is that of ‘openness’: people that are open to new ideas and new experiences tend to be more creative. So if we consider the creative process, the first step to becoming more creative is neither to improve idea generation or creative implementation, it is to develop this openness.
The easiest way to do this is to broaden your interests and become a polymath yourself. Creative innovation is often the result of people combining two unrelated concepts, or skills. Pursuing this definition of creativity it becomes quite obvious that polymaths have the upper hand: they simply have a broader creative palette from which to draw. So, to become more creative:
- Become a multi-disciplinarian
- Enter and cross new domains
- Cultivate broad interests and engage your curiosity
- Always be learning and researching
- Collaborate and work with others
- Develop cognitive diversity
5 more benefits of becoming a polymath
In addition to enhancing your creative thinking, here are 5 more benefits of becoming a multi-disciplinarian:
1. You can easily become ‘world class’
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, puts it best:
“If you want something extraordinary [in life], you have two paths:
- Become the best at one specific thing.
- Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.
The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. The second strategy is fairly easy.”
2. It’s easier than ever to learn new skills
With the explosion of quality online learning, there has never been a better time to engage in self-directed skill development. Anything you’d like to get better at, you will be able to find a reliable source that will help you learn – often at little or no cost.
3. It helps future proof your career
With a rapidly changing technological landscape and economy, the one skill you can guarantee will continue to be invaluable is the ability to learn and adapt. The broader your expertise and experience, the more likely you are to be able to adapt successfully.
4. It makes you, and life, more interesting
Developing broad interests and passions simply makes life more nourishing – and you better company.
5. It helps keep your brain young and adaptable
Our modern understanding of neuroplasticity paints a picture of your brain like a muscle. To keep this muscle adaptable and flexible, it needs regular resistance training. Resistance training from your brain’s perspective is novelty, challenge and learning.
Take your learning and skill development seriously. Identify the domains you want to explore, and begin. The future will belong to those who have invested time and energy in their own development, and in particular will reward those who have expertise in multiple areas.
A final word from the quintessential polymath: “Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses — especially learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo Da Vinci.