How to Become a Polymath and Why

blue red and green letters illustration

Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers in history and an activist, poet, and philanthropist. Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa and pioneered scientific studies of human anatomy. If it wasn't for famous actress Hedy Lamarr and pianist George Antheill, WiFi and GPS may not exist. Florence Nightingale founded modern nursing and was an accomplished statistician and theologian.

Donald Glover is an actor, comedian, writer, director, rapper, singer, songwriter, producer and DJ. Brian May, best known as the lead guitarist of the rock band Queen, is musician, singer, songwriter and astrophysicist.

What do all of them have in common? They are polymaths - people whose interests and knowledge capabilities span multiple disciplines. They draw on disparate fields to generate new insights, and leverage upon the best human discoveries to enhance their own understanding of a problem or phenomenon.

Of course, these are all exceptional examples of multi-talented people. But they all buck against the prevailing notion that you must specialize in one area. Or that being a jack of all trades means you must be a master of none.

While the path to becoming a polymath can be arduous, it's also an exhilarating way to discover new passions while gaining the skills you need to thrive in a rapidly evolving world.

Polymaths are necessary for society as we need their skills and capabilities to create unique solutions to address sticky problems. They invent, solve complex problems, and lead us to a better future.

Why are polymaths important in the creative industry?

1. They can navigate an increasingly complex world, ripe with burgeoning trends

Polymaths are able to collaborate, integrate and execute ideas from a range of specialties (such as social media, experiential marketing, content creation, mobile, search, PR, broadcasting, etc). The result will be an integration of complementary platforms into a single seamless experience for the consumer.

2. They are more innovative and offer creative solutions

Innovation today is increasingly relying on recombination.  This means that they are not necessarily inventing completely new things, but rather applying existing technologies in new ways.  This requires creatives to have a broad set of skills and experience so that they can apply 'left field' thinking on common problems.

3. They are fast learners

The often confusing exchange of buzzwords and launch of new platforms in today’s media landscape fast-paced learning and unlearning. A polymath's natural curiosity compels him or her to find out more about anything that interests them. Fueled by unwavering discipline, they quickly master the basics of a topic, and attain above average to advanced proficiency.

How do you become a polymath?

1. Learn, Unlearn and Relearn

Modern polymaths are voracious readers, researchers, and explorers, on the constant prowl for new knowledge to accumulate. So start reading books, browse online courses to learn new skills, network with specialists to understand their areas of expertise and most of all, leave your comfort zone.

2. Self-Directed Learning

While specialists often confine their pursuit of learning to one field, polymaths teach themselves new concepts, skills, and disciplines, even when it goes beyond the bounds of their formal education. If you ever finished reading an assigned book and picked up another while the rest of your classmates were finishing up, or maybe applied a high school math lesson to an extracurricular chemistry problem, you're likely someone who enjoys being self-taught.

3. Know what you don’t know

Polymaths relentlessly pursue new concepts to learn and ask countless questions to challenge their assumptions. They also have the humility to recognize how long it takes to acquire deep mastery of any one topic.