This is part one in a three-part series. Read Part 2 — The Future of Work and Multipotentialite: Engage Polymaths for Organizational Success and Part 3 on Measuring Multipotentialites

Future of Work and Multipotentialites: Identify Polymaths In Your Organization

Anupam Kundu
9 min readMar 18, 2016



We live now in a world that can be characterized as connected, complex, chaotic, and faster than ever before. The best-laid plans fail, the well thought through strategies don’t scale and everything we have been taught about ways of doing business doesn’t work anymore. In order to succeed in the middle of this unpredictability, organizations need a new breed of adaptive employees that can shape-shift to learn new skills and processes to deal with the unforeseen.

Organizational success in the near future will be measured by its capability to evolve in real-time and respond to changes in the global marketplace: this will be enabled by an empowered and adaptive workforce that operates in a culture of anti-fragility. Many progressive organizations are already experimenting with radical new operating models (Holocracy, Agile Squads, Chaordic, etc) that focuses on roles, functions, and authorities with varying degree of success.

Our Stretch global think-tank believes that in the near future (20 years or so) all work in all organizations will be done by a group of poly-skilled and versatile workers (alongside cognitively smart robots) who will be accountable to each other (and not their managers).

In this world, it will be natural for employees to be self-organized, collaborative, decentralized, and globally distributed with a high degree of adaptability to new roles and challenges.

We further posit that the new creative economy will rest on the prowess of the multipotentialites.

Who is a MultiPotentialite (besides being a mouthful) ?

Multipotentialite is not a new word but re-discovered rather recently while watching TEDx presentation from Emilie Wapnick. It’s really a word and one-word packs in a lot of qualifications.

Multipotentialites generally have diverse and deep interests across numerous domains and are usually capable of success in many endeavors or professions; someone with many interests and creative pursuits. Emilie explained how she would get interested in something, learn it so well that she will get bored and go do something else after. How could she or anyone else like her have one good career if she gets bored after achieving success in something that she really likes? And then she picks up something else and does it well enough for some time before…you know what happens.

In many ways, this tendency to do something for a period of time to achieve mastery and then give that up for something new and different can pose a significant challenge for those who are truly multipotentialite: for example, Leonardo Vinci had a lot of unfinished artworks and projects. However, if one can manage this sense of variety and exploration with a healthy dose of pragmatism and purpose then a multipotentialite may be the best humans you will ever work with. Emilie does a good job of keeping her site updated with all kinds of insights for helping her tribe members survive and thrive in this new world.


Multipotentialites Are Challenging Conventional HR Practices

Leaving aside Emilie for a bit, the multipotentialite’s quest for new challenges is a big concern for Human Resources (HR) at large corporations who are trying hard to attract and retain credible talent.

In a recent survey of 225 corporate executives by Business Insider, 22 percent reported that what they really wanted to do was start their own companies. And every year, thousands of them are just exactly doing that globally across different domains. This spirit of switching jobs and doing something new is also kicking up the freelancing economy. Dice has already labeled 2016 as the year of the freelancer. The term gig economy is now in the popular lexicons.

We are witnessing the creation of many small and lean digital companies by multipotentialites who are leaving current employment and outcompeting the same larger, established companies that they once used to work or wanted to work. These new generation of founders are not only creating innovative products and services but also finding new ways of getting things done. A new way to work.

Brian Acton and Jan Koum, the co-founders of WhatsApp can safely be labeled as multi potentialities. They left their successful jobs at Yahoo in 2007, were rejected jobs by Facebook and then they created WhatsApp in 2009, which was bought by Facebook for a little over $19 billion in 2014. During this period, they learned a wide range of new skills like how to create programs for iOS (an operating system that runs on iPhones) to how to create a new company and raise funds.

Brian Acton and Jan Koum at their WhatsApp office

After the acquisition of Flickr by Yahoo, Caterina Fake, the co-founder of Flickr took a job at Yahoo!, running the Technology Development group, known for its Hack Yahoo! program and for Brickhouse, a rapid development environment for new products in 2005. Fake and her co-founder husband resigned from Yahoo within three years as Yahoo was unable to create an environment to help them address new product challenges. Caterina soon started her own venture Hunch which was later sold to eBay. Caterina later also became one of the key people behind Etsy.

Many of us will like to believe this is an exclusive Silicon Valley phenomenon where many Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google (FANG) employees are leaving their job after saving significant money for few years and starting or partnering on new ventures. While this is definitely true for all those lucky and skilled employees in the Valley, the phenomenon is rather global.

Though the corporate profits have surged in the last few years, wages are at their lowest in the last 65 years in North America, leading many enterprising employees to grow their own ventures. Many of our former colleagues (who are truly multipotentialites) across the world have left their job, after finding no more avenues to learn and do new things in their existing companies. They have started their own firms, gave life to new ideas, or joined other firms, learned a new set of skills, and moved on. These culture brokers, who are adept in working at the seams of many disciplines, are sought out by the competitors, and given the right opportunity, they could easily shape new awe-inspiring businesses.

HR needs to do more than judging now

All Human Resources (HR) managers will agree that the workforce of today, especially the millennials, is asking much more than work and career — they want an experience. HRs in progressive companies are now being tasked with creating compelling experiences to keep their own employees engaged and happy. So the job of an HR manager now has evolved from retaining and managing people to enabling the creation of a workplace that pulls motivated, polymath people in and keeps them there. The existence of multipotentialites makes things harder for the people-people aka HR.


How To Discover the Multipotentialite Hiding In The Accounting Department?

We believe that one of the fundamental way for organizations to succeed in this rapidly evolving future will be to intentionally create environment that enables individual humans to express their skill, talent and interest in multiple contexts unburdened by the thick or thin lines in the org chart.

So if you are HR in a large organization, you are reading this and thinking “where do we get started?”. Well, the first is to identify these uber creative and talented people within your organization and understand what motivates them and what doesn’t.

Here are 5 attributes to help identify multipotentialites (possibly hiding in your accounting department). If you say we have none of them, then we argue that you are NOT looking hard enough. On the other extreme, if you have many of them, then we believe that you have plenty of opportunities to explore.

5 core attributes that identify multipotentialites

Good problem framer. Do you know someone in the employee force who is able to frame and reframe a challenge from different perspectives?

Being able to frame a problem (or solution) in different contexts than usual is a skill sought after in times of change and uncertainty. A person with this skillset can look at a given business situation from many different angles and come up with insights different from linear thinking. Reframing problem is a skill that can be used in multiple different ways to improve any business — old or new, so employees who are good problem framers will get bored if they end up doing monotonous job functions for a long period of time.

Iterative & Experimental. The creators of the popular game franchise ‘Angry Birds’ worked on many different games and versions of the game for almost eight years before they became a cultural phenom. The team responsible for the game worked iteratively and ran different experiments with different characters and scenarios to become a massive success.

The creative economy demands iteration and experimentation as a path to growth and success. Iteration drives rapid and intentional changes based on feedback while experimentation helps with validation to innovative ideas.

This is a skill set that is considered invaluable in times of volatility and ambiguity. So if there is an employee with a bias for action to learn, then anchoring them to a job with predictable outcomes for a long period of time will lead to frustration and subsequent exodus.

Empathetic & Imaginary: Sony created the first e-reader before Amazon however lost the market for e-books and more to Kindle, only to withdraw completely in 2014. The product leaders in Sony were not empathetic to the entire ecosystem of stakeholders needed to make their e-reader successful — publishers, authors, and readers and couldn’t imagine the huge market possibilities in creating a paradigm-altering value proposition. On the other hand, Amazon reimagined the entire ecosystem and invested in digital rights management, author experiences, and sacrificed profits to emerge as the winner in the ebook reader space.

Without imagination and empathy for the stakeholders, no business can succeed in complex and volatile ecosystems. Glen Morgan, the Head of Digital at International Airlines Group (IAG) urges all business leaders to imagine the new frontiers of digital businesses as rain forests — full of potential for great rewards but also home to unforeseen risks and unexpected discoveries. This is different from the business-as-usual, predictable well-honed way of doing things with predictive outcomes which he compares to running a well-groomed banana plantation.

Visual Communicator. Alexander Osterwalder, founder of the Business Model Canvas is a great example of a multipotentialite. He founded startups for online investing, worked as a journalist for a Swiss newspaper, did research at a premier university, currently earns his living through consulting, and shares his experience on strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship through simple visual tools.

Most business challenges of today demand the attention of cross functional teams. Having the ability to use visual tools to communicate strategy and more helps to create a shared understanding across the team. People who can think and communicate using visual tools and models with a diverse group of people are leaders of tomorrow’s world. They provide visibility into possibilities, help reframe problems and solutions for others to ‘see’ and co-create.

Collaborator: Most problems faced by businesses today are at the cross section of different practices and domains and cannot be solved by any one person alone. Such problems demand multidisciplinary thinking. The organization of today and tomorrow demand more culture brokers who can work at the seams of various disciplines and collaboratively co-craft new services and products geared towards ultimate customer delight.

Successful organizations like Tesla and Apple are also becoming extremely good in creating vast and diverse ecosystems as part of their growth strategy making it essential for other businesses to keep hiring and grooming collaborators for future success. No collaboration tool can be successful in helping organizations achieve complex outcomes without the involvement of human leaders who believe in collaboration.

Collaborators work well with others. If your business puts a collaborator in a non-collaborative team setting, the stodgy system will always win — the prized collaborator will leave the organization frustrated.

FastCompany labeling 2016 as the year of hybrid jobs reinforces our claim of how multipotentialites are growing to become important for any company. In the next chapter we will cover how to keep these polymaths engaged and motivated during their work tenure.

This is part one in a three-part series. Read Part 2 — The Future of Work and Multipotentialite: Engage Polymaths for Organizational Success and Part 3 on Measuring Multipotentialites



Anupam Kundu

Polymath: dad, co-founder, strategist, Computer Vision enthusiast, visual thinker and dog lover.

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