Since when did it become a problem for someone to be capable across a spectrum of activities? Sure, lots of people have hobbies in addition to their professional careers, but I’m talking about those seemingly rare individuals who are capable of doing multiple things at a professional level.
Take artists as an example. Lisa and I have found that the professional artists and craftsperson field these days is apparently made up of nothing but media specialists. You are pigeon holed into a specialty such as illustration, jewelry, ceramics or fiber arts. Heaven forbid you be good at more than one. If you are, it seems like the community almost demands you choose one and stick to it. Shame on you for being capable at something else. It’s frustrating.
I can only imagine if Leonardo Da Vinci had been told that he could only be a military architect, or Michelangelo had been confined to sculpture. Admittedly we still would have some fantastic work from them, but think about the things we never would have experienced (Sistine Chapel comes to mind). Yet today, many artists are confined to a single field, media or vocation and actively discouraged from stepping outside of it.
Lisa and I consider ourselves to be designers, not just illustrators, jewelers and leatherworkers. We have some pretty mad skills when it comes to interior design, woodworking, metal work, technology, presentation, you name it. Carpentry? Check! Sewing and Fiber arts? Check! Photography? Check! And if we don’t know how to do something, we are willing and happy to learn it. Does this make us awesome? Absolutely! Does this make us freaks? Apparently.
We run into a lot of people who have problems comprehending that we can do all of these things, and do them well. For example, several years ago Lisa applied to join one of the local craft guilds, but was rejected. The reason given was that “you’re kind of all over the place.” They found that since she had a variety of different products in different media on her web site she was not qualified to join. And when you look at the group, you can kind of understand their point of view. They are all single media artists and crafts people all with depth of knowledge in their field, but no breadth of their portfolio beyond that field. And apparently no ability to understand someone who has both depth and breadth.
These rules are even more apparent in the corporate world. You are in marketing or accounting or product development, etc. Trying to move from one to the other is nearly impossible (unless you want to go into marketing because everyone thinks they can be a marketer). For most people, they are fine staying in their preferred field, but what about the rare few who seem capable of moving almost seamlessly from one to the other? Generally, they are screwed.
I have run into this kind of thing more than I care to remember when I’ve been in the corporate world. My specialties are in the related fields of brand management, marketing and marketing communications so for most of my colleagues it’s pretty easy to see me as just the MARCOM guy – and I’m really good at it.
When I talk about matters directly related to these fields, people are good with it, but when I start talking intelligently about other aspects of the business, finance, operations, business strategy, etc. I often suddenly seem to have become some form of alien creature. To me it’s both amusing and a bit disturbing because multi-dimensional people are so rare in corporate settings we come across as abnormal in some way…and apparently we intimidate the hell out of a lot of our colleagues.
Throw in the design and creative business Lisa and I have and it’s even more fun to see how people will react.
Are you a poly-capable person or do you know someone who is? What do you think?