072: The Rebirth of Renaissance Thinking and Modern Day Polymaths [Podcast]

Many people recognize Leonardo da Vinci as the quintessential Renaissance man. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, inventor, scientist, and musician. Leonardo remains a historical figure because he chose mastery of more than one skill. What if you face the same choice?

The Rebirth of Renaissance Thinking and Modern Day Polymaths

You are not stuck on an assembly line. You have varied interests, talents, education, and skills. The trick is to find where a few key elements intersect and empower you to become more than a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of some.

This week on The Portfolio Life, Andy and I talk about the resurgence of polymaths and what it means for creatives. Listen in as we discuss why every entrepreneur ought to think like a polymath.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you are reading this via email, please click here).

You can also listen via iTunes or on Stitcher.

Follow what fascinates you

If you’re finding yourself struggling with mastering one skill, you may need to develop a few complementary skills. There are opportunity costs in tackling three things versus one thing every day. But if you pick the right few things to do, the results far outweigh the costs.

I am a writer who uses technology and business to spread ideas. Those three areas: creativity, technology, and business, work together to establish the portfolio life not unlike the polymaths of the Renaissance.

Technology (and marketing) take the form of blogging, and social media, and podcasting. The business side involves making things sustainable so that I can make a living and enjoy the freedom to be more creative, write books, and try new things.

I’m not a master of these skills, but their combination creates something unique from what other people do, which causes the work to stand out.

There are complementary areas of interests that can strengthen your existing skills if only you just give yourself permission to do more than one thing.

You might just find that you end up doing that one thing much better when you begin borrowing from other disciplines.

BONUS: Download the full transcript here.

Show highlights

In this episode, Andy and I discuss:

  • Redefining mastery and how your craft is not just one thing
  • Why mastering a solitary skill is outdated
  • The forgotten versatility of Leonardo da Vinci
  • What it means to be a polymath
  • Fearing the challenge of multiplying mastery
  • A secret of “full-time” writers
  • Discovering a hidden energy in task switching
  • What the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have in common with a rich and influential family of bankers
  • A new area of skill I want to explore

Quotes and Takeaways

  • Give yourself permission to do more than one thing.
  • Complementary areas of interest can strengthen your existing skill set.
  • Follow what fascinates you within self-imposed limitations.
  • Forget about mastery. Widen your reach.
  • When you are unique, you give people something to talk about.


BONUS: Download the full transcript here.

What will the world miss out on if you stay stuck in your one area of interest? How are you a polymath? Share in the comments

11 thoughts on “072: The Rebirth of Renaissance Thinking and Modern Day Polymaths [Podcast]

  1. I’ve been listening to your podcasts on my morning walk. Can’t wait til tomorrow for this one. Leonardo is a favorite.

  2. In response to the questions on the Podcast, I’ve been writing novels for almost eight years. I’m CLOSE to finally publishing one!

    I’m becoming (or I am?) a polymath by creating illustrated blueprints that help aspiring novelists learn story structure. I’m painstaking building visual guides that break it all down. I’m trying to create visual art that teaches people how to see how the pieces of storytelling fit. I’m also getting back into expressing my take on the world through inspirational articles (just had a guest post in that realm!). Last, I’m talking to my audience and simply trying to help them one on one. I’ve never done story coaching before but it’s been fun so far and outside of helping people, I’m learning a lot through the process.

    Thanks for asking these fun questions on the Podcast. Good stuff!

  3. Since I’m an artist, writer, presenter/speaker, and designer, I’ve known for years that I’ve been something, but wasn’t sure exactly what that was. And “polymath” is definitely something I can wrap my mind around, even though the word “math” is part of it **LOL**! I’ve also started picking up a lot in technology, so I’ve developed some troubleshooting skills that amaze some of my former teachers, co-workers, and supervisors (technology used to intimidate me big-time). Now, if I could just figure out how to get my “older/newer posts” navigation buttons working like they’re supposed to in WordPress on my blogs, I’d have it made! (I’m not all that good at coding, so I may have to have help on the glitches, and, yes, I’ve sent in a request to WP for this.)

    If there’s one thing I’d like to master in order for everything else to work together better, it would have to be marketing, so I’ve spent the last three years learning all I can about effective marketing strategies. There are some things I have a knack for, while others are taking more practice and trying on strategies to see which ones fit.

    Thanks for asking these questions on the Podcast, as it’s been a while since I’ve done any thinking on this, and I’m sure others will concur with me on that. This is great! Keep this stuff coming!

      1. Thanks, Scott! I checked this out and enjoyed reading about the polymath lifestyle. Polymath=the only “math” I like and appreciate. I also just found out that I’m an ambivert, so I’m looking forward to learning more about this fresh path. Thanks again!

  4. I deliver math, at the high school level, in a computer lab environment and a blended learning classroom.
    I mentor 10 students participating in the TNPromise program and serve as a trainer and item reviewer for the new assessment initiative in Tennessee.
    I use my access to students to expose them to “renaissance thinking” to picture the trajectory of their lives/career.
    i am now championing a class in our school on Digital Citizenship that provides access to:
    * Gig Speed Internet
    * Online training resources for digital literacy
    * Low-cost internet service
    * Low-cost netbooks for students to use to support classroom efforts.

    I would be interested to hear other similar initiatives from this user group.

  5. Thanks for this podcast, Jeff. The concept of a polymath really clicked. I’ve referred to myself many times as Jack of all Trades, but master of none. I love your new take “Master of Some”. Many of my interests have links to creativity in various forms – painting, sewing, quilting, crochet – but I also have interests in mentoring, teaching, and helping moms. You’ve given me lots to think about. I’m looking for the few to master.

  6. This really resonates to me because I’ve never been able to narrow my interests down to “one thing.”

    I feel like the whole “You were meant for one purpose” line have been over-popularized, and is wrong. And it’s prevented a lot of people from just STARTING SOMETHING.

    Yah, maybe some people have ‘one thing’ but for the majority of us, if we’re honest, a lot of our various interests feed into each other.

  7. Jeff and Andy, I loved this podcast. It gave me the little spark I needed to keep doing what I do: write, connect people, make music, encourage, birth coach, inspire, mother, business-ize. THANK YOU!

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