multi • potential • ite
a person with many interests and creative pursuits
– Emilie Wapnick
The advice to “niche down” has been a mainstay for entrepreneurs and consultants seemingly forever. But it turns out that people who have experience in a lot of areas may find greater success in embracing and leveraging their full range of knowledge and skills.
Zoetica Media founder Kami Huyse explored this notion in a recent livestream, where she discussed the ideas presented in David Epstein’s book Range: Why Generalists Triumph is a Specialized World that breaks down the niche myth and explains how to thrive as a generalist.
“This book is really an incredible mind bender for me. It kind of changed the way I look at certain things and I know that doesn't really happen that often,” she says.
Niches Have Their Place
Kami doesn’t negate the benefits of developing a niche, acknowledging that for some people, it’s the right way to go. “I still do believe that when you're online it's easier to get people to understand who you are and what you are,” because, she notes, “we as humans love to categorize.”
But an Overemphasis on Niching Can Prevent People from Discovering All of Their Gifts
Nowadays, she explains, there is an unhealthy emphasis on trying to get people to specialize, even at a young age. The book “really talks about the cult of a head start and the idea that you gotta start early and young,” she says. Yet, she points out, ”most entrepreneurs don't get started until they're 40 or older.”
Generalists are Excellent at Problem Solving
While the debate of specialists vs. generalists isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon, recognition of the power of generalists is gaining traction.
“What’s really interesting that [Epstein’s] book brought out is that, at the end of the day, actually a real generalist, a real bottom line generalist idea, can help you a lot,” she argues. “And a lot of really difficult problems rely on you understanding more than just your narrow specialty.”
Being a Generalist Can Help You in Social Media Too
Applying an anthropological approach to analyzing and engaging online communities is beneficial, Kami believes. Anthropologists “go into a new culture, they spend time there, they learn all about that culture, then they interact with that culture. And I thought, wow, couldn't that be the same for online communities? Why wouldn't we approach [them] like an anthropologist, not like a marketer?”
Multipotentialites Are Perfect for the AI World
Knowing how to navigate the fast-moving AI environment is critical for marketers and other communications professionals. “‘Multipotentialite’ means somebody who has multiple potentiality, somebody who knows multiple things, and that person actually is perfectly aligned to do really really well in this new AI world,” she argues. “What AI is really good at, or what machines are really good at, is performing tasks, performing a bunch of patterns.” But there are limits to what AI can do.
Multipotentialites, with their broad-based experience, excel where AI can fall short. “You, as a human, need to generalize your knowledge base that you can [use to] make the connections that are necessary to solve problems,” Kami explains. In his book, Epstein explains “how we as humans are good at solving the problems once we define the problem. And once we define the problem, if we can recall or think of analogies that could apply to the problem, often outside of our own expertise, it's mind-blowing” what we can do.
Specialists Often Revert Back to a Favorite Approach, While Generalists Think Broader
Specialists develop expertise over long periods of time, usually honing their knowledge through a combination of extensive studies and practical experience. In doing so, they “often go back to the same you use pattern repeats, and you just do the same thing over and over again instead looking at the problem in a fresh and new way,” Kami points out.
Adopt a Generalist Mindset
As final advice, she suggests that “if you are finding your way, or maybe you're thinking about doing something different, or stepping out on your own for your own business, the best thing you can do is just get as widely read [as possible],” learning and adopting ideas from a variety of fields such as psychology and anthropology.
To hear Kami’s entire discussion of David Epstein’s book and its applicability to communications professionals, watch the full livestream. Due to technical difficulties early in the recording, start listening at 4:00.