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The Polymath

Unlocking the Power of Human Versatility

By Waqas Ahmed
15-minute read
Audio available
The Polymath: Unlocking the Power of Human Versatility by Waqas Ahmed

The Polymath (2019) explains how the hyper-specialization encouraged by society stifles people’s development, creativity and self-fulfilment. Instead, the book argues that everyone should nurture their polymathic capacities, and that educational and professional structures need to be reconfigured to reflect our innate human potential to think, learn and work across multiple fields and in varied ways.

  • Employees interested in achieving a more fulfilling professional life
  • Entrepreneurs or organizational leaders seeking to improve the work cultures of their companies or organizations
  • Anyone with varied, unrelated interests looking for ways to juggle them all

Waqas Ahmed is Artistic Director at The Khalili Collections, and is pursuing graduate studies in neuroscience at King’s College London. In addition, he has worked as a journalist and editor, and has traveled extensively. 

© Waqas Ahmed: The Polymath copyright 2019, John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used by permission of John Wiley & Sons Inc. and shall not be made available to any unauthorized third parties.

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The Polymath

Unlocking the Power of Human Versatility

By Waqas Ahmed
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Polymath: Unlocking the Power of Human Versatility by Waqas Ahmed
Synopsis

The Polymath (2019) explains how the hyper-specialization encouraged by society stifles people’s development, creativity and self-fulfilment. Instead, the book argues that everyone should nurture their polymathic capacities, and that educational and professional structures need to be reconfigured to reflect our innate human potential to think, learn and work across multiple fields and in varied ways.

Key idea 1 of 9

By emphasizing the pursuit of multiple interests, talents and forms of self-expression, polymathy enables us to realize our full human potential.

As human beings, we’re all born with multifaceted potential and multiple talents. In other words, we’re all inherently polymaths. How do we know this? Because polymaths have existed throughout human history. 

Let’s return to the very earliest human societies. Back then, we needed to be practical generalists – we needed to acquire a wide range of knowledge and skills in order to survive and adapt to hostile environments. In those early societies, it would have been necessary to develop many abilities in order not to die of disease, or starvation, or – worse yet – to be eaten by a hungry bear or wild cat. 

Living in such a hostile environment, we might have developed the knowledge to heal, as well as the skills to hunt for food and the skills to build safe and durable shelter. All of these abilities would have been crucial for our survival. The instinctive, polymathic capacity that helped us survive the threats and challenges of our early lives in the wild continues to live on in us.

It’s reflected in the fact that as children, we act and play as polymaths. After all, we’re born with a boundless curiosity about the world, and a desire to explore and grasp it in multiple ways.

This urge we have as children to indulge in various activities – to play physically, to draw, to sing, to make up stories – points to our inherent human capacity for polymathy, and to our innate human need to express ourselves across multiple spheres. As such, those of us who pursue polymathic interests satisfy that essential human potential that evolution has endowed us with. 

In this regard, one role model is Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer of the tech giant Microsoft. 

That’s because Myhrvold isn’t just a techie. He’s also a wildlife photographer and a professional chef, as well as an inventor who has secured multiple patents. In fact, Myhrvold’s talents are so numerous that the media organization the TED Conference described him as a “professional jack of all trades.” 

Myrhvold himself affirmed how important it was for him to embrace his polymathic capacities. In a 2007 TED talk, he described how his pursuit of varied interests allowed him to live out his full potential. 

We should follow in Myrhvold’s footsteps by pursuing our polymathic interests. Why? It’s really good for us. What’s more, it’s good for those around us.

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