Why is polymathy in revival in 2019?

Why is polymathy in revival in 2019?

When I started SkillUp Academy, I didn?t expect a third of the trainees would be interested in becoming really good at some skills, like a polymath. Given how all have us have been taught in schools, I expected most people would have preferred mastery of only a select few skills. The reality is that becoming a specialist is the least favourite of the three learner archetypes.

Image for postDistributions from SkillUp Academy trainees. Source.

Because 74 percent of trainees are interested in learning multiple skills, I?m not surprised to see the preferred learning method being the balanced way (72 percent). Common wisdom says to focus on your strengths/talents, yet less than 20 percent of trainees are interested in doing that.

And I say this is a good thing. In 2019, and especially for the rest of the 21st century, the surest way to thrive is to become more adaptable. A great way to do that is by learning multiple skills in a balanced way.

While the above statistics can be surprising, I was more intrigued by the trainees? purpose for learning new skills.

What is the number one reason people want to learn skills? What is your guess?

My guess would have been something work-related. I was wrong. The most selected reason (by far) for wanting to learn new skills was this one:

To become a better me.

Image for postDistribution of reasons for learning new skills. Source.

The job-related reasons are surprisingly the least sought after reasons. People want to become a better version of themselves, first and foremost. This is followed by learning faster and simply doing it because they love doing it.

These three main reasons complement each other nicely. The more you learn, the faster you learn. After learning over 60 skills in less than 2 years, I can attest that this is definitely true. The faster you learn, the more you get addicted to learning. The more you love learning, the more you?ll realize it?s also helping you become a better version of yourself.

There are so many theories that it?s hard to figure out which one is the most likely. But here a few of the most popular ideas:

Because it?s easier than ever

We have access to so much more information than any previous generation before us. For people able to make sense of it, it?s a gift that opens up new opportunities. Too many, in fact. They want to learn everything, yet are lacking the time. In SkillUp Academy, the average number of skills trainees want to learn is 11. Someone even wants to learn 263 skills!

Image for postSource

Because they have lost jobs or have seen others lose jobs

In addition to sending a bunch of resumes when you lose your job, what do you do? Most people skill up. In the 21st century, like no centuries before, jobs are becoming irrelevant a lot quicker. Machines are replacing humans at so many jobs that people are realizing that having a single strong skill isn?t helping them anymore.

Because our basic needs are already covered

Life in the 21st century is, overall, easier than it has ever been. Granted, there are exceptions, but for the most part, we actually have a higher chance of dying from being hit by a car or from obesity than pretty much everything else. Because of that, we have more time to focus on our self-improvement. Whereas before, if you ?wasted? time doing things not immediately bringing you income, your family would starve, now you have options.

There are other reasons of course, but these are the most common ones people have told me.

How to become a polymath in 2019

A lot of the secrets to becoming a polymath have been revealed in Scott H. Young?s Ultralearning book. While his book is more focused on deep learning projects, it nonetheless applies to wannabe polymaths.

Let?s start with a golden rule to become a polymath over the next 3 years or so:

Practice one hour per day

It is that simple, at least in theory.

Most polymaths I know or read about practice their craft at least one hour per day. Michael Simmons calls it the 5-hour rule. Essentially, it comes down to three things:

  1. Quality Inputs: Feed your brain with good knowledge coming for quality content like books, short courses, and mentors.
  2. Reflection: Spend some time reflecting on your learnings every day, every week, and every month.
  3. Experimentation: Learn by doing. Spend more time on practice over the acquisition of knowledge.

The key here is to focus on the process and not so much the results.

You want to become a great photographer? Take and edit photos for an hour every day, experimenting with different styles and settings.

You want to become a writer? Write words every day, no matter how relevant it is to your current project. It?s better to write something than to overthink what you?re going to write about.

You want to become a programmer? Write code every day.

You get the idea. 🙂

Have tenacity

You won?t get far if you always give up too soon. Tenacity is king. In this case, I?m using the word ?tenacity? to mean consistency, persistence, and accountability.

While consistency is hard, where most people fall short is with persistence. That?s the New Year Resolution syndrome. We start good habits in January only to stop in February. There?s almost nothing you can master in a month, but it?s hard to sustain something longer than a month unless it has become a habit.

Polymaths have ways to remain accountable. My own personal way is to announce the things I?ll be doing publicly. This doesn?t work for everyone though. The most popular approach is the find yourself and accountability buddy. Ideally, someone who will not shy away from letting you know you?re slacking.

Know your why, what, how, and where

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to learn this skill?
  • What does it take to learn it?
  • How can I learn it?
  • Where will I practice it?

Don?t just answer now with a single sentence each. Take time to reflect. I typically spend 2?3 hours per skill I plan to practice for 15?20 hours.

Be deliberate

Before learning anything, you have some preparation work to do. Most people jump in too quickly, thinking that Googling ?best way to learn <skill>? is the only thing they need to ?research?. Well, that?s wrong folks.

In Ultralearning, Young recommends spending on average 10 percent of your total learning time in pre-research. If you plan on practicing for 100 hours, you should spend about 10 hours of research before even starting.

It is then that you?ll know what to do daily and adjust as needed.


People are now realizing the benefits of balancing their learning. While about a third of the trainees on SkillUp Academy want to become polymaths, most don?t understand the basic principles to make it possible.

Practice at least 1 hour per day. Be tenacious and deliberate. Answer the basic questions of why, what, how, and where. These are only the basics, but if you do the basics right, you can achieve polymathy within the next 3 years or so.

You can do this!

Thanks for reading, sharing, and following! 🙂

Check out my deeply actionable Course on 10 Skills to Improve Your Learning in 10 days.


No Responses

Write a response