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Runtime : 156 min
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“Should a scanner run their own business?” Revisited

Apologies for the lack of posts this week, there are a couple of reasons. The first and main reason is that my work situation has changed in a way that sees me away from home for about 11 hours each day, which while it is only about 1 hour more than before, that extra hour is taking more of a toll on my energy and state of mind than I expected it to. My job has also gotten more complex and thus stressful, and thus tiring.

The only reason, which ties in this this, is that I have come up with a new business idea, and most of my available free time this week was spent communicating that idea to various professional friends and trusted contacts – both for feedback but also advice.

I am very fortunate to know some very smart, insightful and talented people who are helping advise me with my idea. But it was a conversation with one of them that brought me back to this question, with a new answer.

Last time I speculated that running a business definitely requires a variety of skills, skills I didn’t used to possess (when I tried the first time), and possibly not even all of which do I currently possess. However, there is another angle to this question.

I’ve had a lot of ideas, few of them could be called “viable”. In the last year or two, I’ve been more frustrated because I felt like I had the skills, the potential to do more than I was doing, I just didn’t have a marketable idea. Some people have a plethora of marketable ideas, but not the skills to execute.

One thing I have had for years however, is a desire, a feeling, that I was capable of more, I just had a hard time finding ways to demonstrate it.

As I was talking to one of my friends about my idea, she said she envied me, as she (like most people, including myself) was told to get a “safe” job, and just “dabble in your spare time”. I’ve tried that, and every time, I’ve ended up bored, unfulfilled and frustrated. I keep coming back to that notion “I’m capable of more than this, why can’t anyone see that who is in a position to use my talents?”. And so inevitably I’ve always gone back to the drawing board. Because hey, I know *I* can use those talents!

Last year I started my podcast, to try and answer the question “what the heck should I be doing that I can really invest myself into and feel good about it?”. There was no good (read: “easy”) answer. I talked to several friends, many of whom also felt similarly, that they had no choice but to get a job that paid the bills and find “fulfillment” – whatever that was – elsewhere and on their own time.

This idea that you’re not supposed to enjoy your job (or at least that that’s not the point and shouldn’t be your primary motivation), I hear parroted so often, and it’s crazy to me. It almost seems like “I didn’t get to hold out for a job I like so why should you be so lucky?”. But that’s just arguably punishing someone else for a decision you may regret. What does it hurt to (realistically) encourage them?

I don’t necessarily believe that everyone can or will find their calling, their dream job, but I think so few people really even try, and that’s depressing. Of course the way our society is set up, it certainly isn’t easy. You kind of have to be a bit crazy to really push for a satisfying answer long enough to get one. I think I’m one of those crazy people, not by choice, but because I have this feeling inside. This feeling that, no matter how much or how long I’ve tried to push against it, it always wins, it always says “no, you’re capable of more, you can’t settle, it would be a travesty”.

And once I finally stumbled upon my current idea and knew that it was viable, and got the same feedback from my trusted peers, I knew that there was no choice but to go for it. It’s going to take time, but now I know that I will only have a “boss” for so much longer. Now my biggest obstacle is my impatience. I can picture the whole thing, in its final state, all tiers and wings, doing what it is intended to do. But that mental picture could well be 5, 10, 20 years off. I have no idea.

The best part is that my idea incorporates everything I like to do, including helping people. Mainly helping other people like myself, who have that feeling but are (or in my case, were) lost, confused and unsure.

In the meantime, I have no other way to avoid becoming homeless other than to keep doing my current job (for which I no longer have any real passion or emotional investment), via a sense of duty as a responsible, professional, mature adult, to not simply just stop trying.

I ended the last post with an anecdote from someone about what can go wrong and how it can turn out to not be as good or positive as you expect, and my risk-averse side decided that for me, at the time, that was the answer. I feel a lot more confident and upbeat now, and while I can’t get into too many details yet (so much is still up in the air), I’m very excited.

While I’m here, here’s a new resource I was just shown, Bloomberg’s “Game Changers” series (for inspiration):

So, should a scanner run their own business? If they have the skills, a viable idea, and that feeling that they just can’t escape that tells them they can and should be doing more, then why not?

Now I have to go and execute my idea and not fail so that I can be an example of my own advice not being bunk.

Why it’s good to be a Jack of all Trades

There’s a saying, “Jack of all Trades – Master of None”. That typically gets thrown around by specialists in a condescending or critical way. A specialist might assume that because a “generalist” (or polymath) dabbles and experiments in so many things, they can’t likely be good at any of them.

I’d never really heard any good rebuttals to that idea – until now. Life Hacker Tim Ferriss comes to the rescue on his blog with “The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Jack of All Trades”.

He writes:

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is an artificial pairing.

It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect”…

Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre?

Not at all. Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.” Hogwash. Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year. [emphasis added]

That last claim is pretty extraordinary (that you can become world class in anything within one year), but having read 2 of his books, and heard him talk about all the things he has tried, done and accomplished, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt there.

In a world of dogmatic specialists, it’s the generalist who ends up running the show.

Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals” are called such.

If being a generalist was so bad, I don’t think that it would be such a common thing in the military. Again, there is a difference between focused sampling/learning and just bouncing around different things randomly without really trying to understand or absorb them.

Boredom is failure.

In a first-world economy where we have the physical necessities covered with even low-class income, Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs drives us to need more for any measure of comparative “success.” Lack of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional bankruptcy. Generalizing and experimenting prevents this, while over-specialization guarantees it. [emphasis added]

I just had a discussion with a PhD student last night and they were telling me something like this, that your studies basically take over your life, leaving you little time to even attempt to “find yourself”. I have found lack of intellectual stimulation to be the number one thing that has made me hate most of the jobs I have had, and is obviously part of what drove me to start this blog, and my podcast, and the other projects I am currently working on.

Diversity of intellectual playgrounds breeds confidence instead of fear of the unknown.

It also breeds empathy with the broadest range of human conditions and appreciation of the broadest range of human accomplishments. The alternative is the defensive xenophobia and smugness uniquely common to those whose identities are defined by their job title or single skill, which they pursue out of obligation and not enjoyment.

This has definitely been my experience.

It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense.

The jack of all trades maximizes his number of peak experiences in life and learns to enjoy the pursuit of excellence unrelated to material gain, all while finding the few things he is truly uniquely suited to dominate.

The specialist who imprisons himself in self-inflicted one-dimensionality — pursuing and impossible perfection — spends decades stagnant or making imperceptible incremental improvements while the curious generalist consistently measures improvement in quantum leaps. It is only the latter who enjoys the process of pursuing excellence.

Since I “took on curiosity” as a full-time endeavour, I have met a lot of really awesome, interesting people, learned a ton, been very inspired and felt like my life really meant something and I look forward to each new day. 5 or even 10 years ago, I was in the “just get through the next shift at work and then back to killing time in front of the TV or computer” camp.

As much as possible, I want to promote the idea of being a “jack of all trades”, generalist, polymath, autodidact, scanner, multipotentialite, whatever you want to call it. I’m learning how to be smarter and more efficient about that process and am trying to share it here as I can.

Try, do, learn, explore, create, ponder, live 🙂

Or in the words of Ben Sharp/Cloudkicker, “Let yourself be huge”:

Nerd Nite Presentation Recap – Life as a Polymath

[Update 2 June 21, 2014 – I’ve come across data that refutes the validity of the MBTI system, so the reference to INFJ in this post isn’t as relevant anymore]

This post is essentially a written transcript of my Nerd Nite Presentation (delivered on April 17, 2014). The presentation was titled “I want to do EVERYTHING! (Life as a Polymath)”.

So, we start with a photo of Albert Einstein, and a quote of his:

I have no special talents,
I am only passionately curious

This quote has pretty much come to define my life, and I only discovered it last year.

So let’s start with a question. It’s a pretty common icebreaker when meeting new people. So, what do you do? Continue reading

“The Never-Ending Career/Major Dilemma” aka INFJ problems, aka Scanner problems

Update 2 June 21, 2014 – I’ve come across data that refutes the validity of the MBTI system, so while you are reading this, try to focus more on if you relate to what is being said and less so that it specifically ties to being an INFJ or any specific Myers Briggs Type.

Someone once found this blog using the search term “personality types at a crossroad”. I have no doubt they stumbled onto my first Scanner post. But as when I tried to answer the question “Should a scanner personality type run their own business?” (also a search term that led someone here), I’ve wanted to address this other question as well. And I just found a really good basis for such a post.

In the world of Myers-Briggs, one of many (but the most popular and widely used) personality type tests, I am an INFJ. That means I’m an introverted (though pretty ambiverted now), intuitive, feeling, judging (but not judgemental!) person. I recharge with downtime, I think more abstractly, I make decisions overall based on how I feel or how my actions will affect others, and I prefer structure and predictability (to an extent) in my life. Here is another description of INFJs which is pretty flattering.

There was a discussion on the Puttytribe not too long ago, asking what each person’s type was. I think the IN parts were exceptionally well represented, with J/P being pretty split and F/T also being divided. But, when doing some of my own internet searches recently, I was searching for “what defines an INFJ?” and I found a thread on the forums at INFJs.com titled “The Never Ending Career/Major Dilemma”.

The poster explains:

Everything I look up about my INFJ personality type suggests something along the lines of psychology, teaching, or art. Problem is, I don’t particularly enjoy helping people. I don’t like volunteer work, and in the past couple of years, I’ve become incredibly irritated by the petty problems people seem to have, unless they’re someone close to me, and I have therefore completely eliminated psychology from the list. I absolutely hate teaching and training; I have no patience for it, and I get frustrated when they don’t understand. It isn’t fair of me to become a teacher and get frustrated at the students for something that’s my own issue, so I have eliminated education in all forms (from elementary to the collegiate level). While becoming an artist (particularly a photographer) would be fun, I feel like I’m too lazy and not disciplined enough to take the number of photos I would need and market myself and my photography in order to actually be profitable.

I know exactly where he is coming from. The first reply offered some fantastic insight and advice (quoted at the end of this post), and another thread was linked with that advice really expanded and fleshed out by a different person. The longer version (below) was basically a written description of my entire life thus far. I think this pretty accurately defines what it means to have “scanner problems”:

This is not a definitive guide but just some perspective and realistic outlook on choosing a career or “careers” as an INFJ and the usual obstacles we face as sensitive introverts.

To start let’s just state the obvious well known facts and ideal career parameters for INFJs:

  • Career Autonomy – INFJs thrive best when they have an intellectual freedom to set their working conditions the way they see it fit. Usually a mix of 60% solitary work and 40% interpersonal connections. Going on the extreme end on both of these conditions will create a lot of stress that can affect INFJs negatively in the work environment. Too much solitary work will create interpersonal distance that may cause depression and loneliness and too much human interaction will simply burn out an INFJ.
  • Humanitarian Instinct – INFJs humanitarian instinct is inborn and cannot be ignored nor does it go away over time. In fact; as an INFJ personality develops further into maturity; this humanitarian streak will become more obvious and the urge for full expression may create inner tension. This will be true if you work in a field that does nothing to help or better humanity in general. Younger INFJs may or may nor feel this urge strongly in the beginning; but do keep in mind that it will become an important factor as you grow older.
  • Work Environment – simply put; INFJs will have a hard time working in an corrupt, unorganized, critical, competitive and high stress work environments. INFJs ability to penetrate into the core of any systems or large organizations and seeing clearly where the issues and problems are will help weed out these environments. This is not to say that certain environments such as schools, hospitals or counseling and crisis centers should not be explored; but the built in bureaucracy of failing systems will affect an INFJ and if an INFJ chooses a career in these organizations then they will need to learn grounding and stress management techniques in order to cope and find balance.
  • Intellectual and Creative Challenge – INFJs are natural intellectuals with a desire to learn about subjects that catch their curiosity. Therefore; when choosing a career; intellectual stimulation or the opportunity to advance one’s knowledge base is important. Mundane and routine work will eventually bore an INFJs. The negatives of mundane work will make an INFJ question their role in society and if not careful can lead into hopelessness which leads to a mediocre careers without advancement. Hence it is recommended that INFJs pursue masters or doctorate degrees in fields that can open up intellectual growth opportunities. This will also become important as an INFJ gets older.

Intense Realism to balance the natural Idealist:

Intense realism is the practice of seeing life as is with no filters and covers. Learning to make sound life decisions based on hard reality will always help a natural idealist make better changes in life and career. For career decision making; below factors need to be considered for certain careers you maybe considering:

  • Job outlook – are you choosing a career field that is growing or declining? What types of careers is your generation considering? Just like products and business have life cycles; careers also have life cycles. It should not be looked on with fear but a natural progression of growth. Choose careers that are on the rise for the next 20 to 30 years – expecially fields such as healthcare and technology that offers lots of niche field within a larger field so there are many options to consider.
  • Salary – always do an opportunity cost for your careers. Are you finishing a degree that cost you $40,000 in student debt to be hired as an entry level making $42,000? Is that a fair or normal living standard in your neck of the woods? If you wish to go to masters or doctorate route then is it feasible to get your undergrad in a community college to save money in the long run? Is it worth getting a masters degree for 2 years so you can increase your chances of making a comfortable living 10 to 20 years down the road? INFJs should and need to consider these options as early as possible in their career planning so they have more options in a hectic and unstable economy.
  • Competition – how competitive are the career fields you are considering? Most INFJs love psychology but unless you specialize it is a fairly competitive field to enter into even with a masters. Consider other types of psychology fields that are less competitive like sports psychology or industrial psychology, etc. In order to edge the competition; do research into niche fields that are not widely recognized or advertized. Try your best to not follow the herd if possible.
  • Research – there should be 2 types of very important research needs to be done by INFJs if they are undecided on careers:

  1. Shadow a professional in their work environment for few days to get a clear idea of that career field and ask lots of questions. If that is not possible; find professional career forums in a particular field you are considering and browse their forums. Read about the job satisfaction; issues those professionals face, how much they make, etc and see if anything you find appeals or discourages your interests.
  2. Go and experience them yourself. Internships and volunteer experiences will shed light on certain careers. There are lots of resources to consider when researching a career. This experience will be better than asking people what you should do as a career from people that does not know you on the internet.

Final Advice:

My final advice is to choose careers that takes into the INFJ personality career parameters I discussed earlier with that of the realistic career changes that are happening worldwide. Find a good balance where an INFJs natural tendencies are honored as well as the ability to thrive in career fields that are going to grow and expand in the future. Don’t be afraid to explore unkown career niches and also to expand your knowledge with a higher educational degrees.

Also follow your GOALS not your passions. Goals in a nutshell will entail the type of lifestyle you wish to live. Consider all the details of this lifestyle and what you will or will not do to make it happen. 

Passion and interest can bring joy into our lives but they do not always translate into a well paying and flexible career that can cater to the INFJ personality. Unless you are super talented in your chosen field and have the time and resources to make your dream a reality then good luck to you. Most people can benefit from a stable and comfortable careers that gives them 70% to 80% fulfillment and satisfaction in life while also giving them time to explore and pursue their hobbies and interests on the side as well as providing for their families and living expenses. Understand that your life circumstances and needs will be different when you are in your 20’s, 30’s and 40’s and making sound decisions based on these considerations can save some people a lot of headache and pain later in life. 

I wish I could figure out who wrote that, I can’t determine the person behind the profile, but I want to send them a whopping THANK YOU.

Now, despite the puttytribe being one example of how it’s not necessarily true that there is a defacto “scanner type”, perhaps INFJs go a little deeper on feeling/experiencing the difficulties outlined. I also think it gives a lot of great insight and advice to anyone experiencing those issues, arguably better than my own recent attempt. Some of those answers I figured out on my own through years of trial and error, and frustration.

Sometimes we get lucky and we find the pivotal answers we seek early in our search, other times we may be looking for years or decades until I we find that “aha!” piece of wisdom or insight. I’ve found some answers quickly, and others much later. But between the faster answers and the more delayed ones, I’ve managed to do alright on the overall. It has just taught me to keep reading, exploring, asking questions, and getting better at figuring out what leads to follow and which ones will trail off.

It doesn’t hurt that I know at least a few other people doing the same kind of thing. I’d say at least 80% of the things I post about on here are things that friends of mine or people I know, share, that I read and think are worth sharing here as well.

Here is the shorter version, directed at the poster of the original thread:

I’m going to tell you something that I wish someone told me seven years ago. You don’t “find” passion. You cultivate it. There is no such thing as the ‘right’ career for you and there’s no destiny or personality theory litmus test involved in the process. You can find something you love in every single one of those choices, just as you’ll find something you’ll hate in each. No job is perfect. What it all comes down to is which one of these careers is going to give you the practical means to lead the lifestyle you want. Start with the basic parameters. Consider the salary you’d like to make (how much money would you need per year to be comfortable?), the amount of hours you’d work, the training it’d take, the environment you’d work in, or whether or not you’d be comfortable living out in the wilderness for x number of months in a year away from family and friends (such as is the case with field work in geology). Do you want to settle down and have a family one day? How much will your job depend on networking? How much will licensing cost per year? Is there a future in the industry? 

At this point you also need to consider all that you know about yourself by now. If you have learned that you’re not a self-starter and you can’t function without structure or a steady pay-cheque, you’re probably not going to do well in a freelance position. If you’re not comfortable helping people, as you said, well, you won’t be all to happy in a teaching or service position. If you’re not a risk-taker/very sensitive to rejection, don’t go into sales. 

What I would do in your shoes is that I would interview as many people as possible who work in each of those fields. Ask them pro’s and con’s. Amass a huge list of information and differing perspectives. There is just no substitute for talking to someone who has been there, done that and who has insider knowledge into what it’s like to be in the field–but make sure you ask a variety of people so you’re not getting just one individual bias. 

At the end of the day, however, keep in mind that a job is a job and that’s where you have to do a cost-benefit analysis and figure out what sorts of things you can live with and what sorts of things you absolutely cannot compromise. One way or another we all have to work, we all have to pay the bills. I’m not saying that you should go for the job that pays the most… but at the same time, I kind of am. So long as you can marginally stand it, it will at least allow you to enjoy life outside of work.

For INFJs and Scanners alike, I feel like those 4 paragraphs kind of nail it on the head.

I will say, I also regularly enjoy reading www.reddit.com/r/infj. The questions – and answers – tend to be very thoughtful, honest, and insightful. Even if you aren’t an INFJ, if you want to learn about self-awareness and see how people who are really tuned into themselves think and act, that’s a great place to do some reading. People also go there to ask for advice, either if their partner is an INFJ and confusing/frustrating them, or if they are INFJ and struggling with their non INFJ partner.

Actually, it just occured to me – I’ve always strongly related to the traits bestowed onto people who are Pisces. But Astrology is basically bunk, so I had to accept that years ago. It only just hit me, that many of the same traits attributed to INFJs are also attributed to Pisceans. Huh.

So, whoever searched for my blog with that search term, I hope you found some answers. Next time, this post will be ready and waiting to hopefully give you some.

“Should a scanner run their own business?”

Someone found my blog by using that search term, and I was admittedly a little sad that I don’t really have a good answer for that here. For those not in the know, a scanner is a modern name for a “polymath” – someone who has a lot of interests and skills and isn’t content to do just one thing with their time.

I tried to start my own business in college (a low-maintenance recording studio in my mom’s basement), but I didn’t realize that at that point I completely lacked the necessary social and business skills to be successful. I folded the business 3 months later feeling like it was one of the stupidest things I had ever attempted, and told myself I would never do that again. That was in 2007.

In the last couple of years, as I’ve been “working for the man”, there have of course been times where I’ve longed for a bit more freedom and have felt my entrepreneurial spirit be rekindled enough that I’ve questioned whether or not I might actually want to try again. I feel like I know much better now, and have many of the skills I lacked back then.

Can I be my own boss? I kind of am, right now. I give myself tasks and projects and prioritize and execute as I see fit. Kind of like “I want all these things to happen or get done. I don’t care how you do it, self, but figure it out”.

But I feel like I am bad at freelancing. I was a freelance bookkeeper briefly a few years back and it was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. I find that working style of always running around between clients and having to remember details for so many different projects very stressful and draining.

But it’s weird because but in a way I am freelancing between my various unpaid hobby projects, and while that can be tiring, it generally isn’t stressful. And I guess it’s not hard to remember the details of different projects when they are my projects. There’s also a big difference between freelancing in an admin role and freelancing in a creative role. At least I think there is, and I think I could be a lot better at one than the other. I think I could be a great contract maintenance guy (if I had the skills).

To be honest though, now that I’ve once again rebooted my interview podcast, I do feel like I would enjoy being a freelance radio interviewer/journalist (except I am pretty sure I would never get paid for that without some actual credentials). That’s the closest thing to true freelancing that I do presently. I decide who I want to interview, I reach out to them, I schedule and facilitate the interview, manage the tech, moderate the conversation, make production notes, edit and produce the episode, upload it, update the feed and promote. I really enjoy that I am part of the entire process, it really makes me feel accomplished.

So part of me wants to freelance (or rather, it would be awesome to get some kind of compensation for my labours of love), but I think I am only capable of functioning in that style/routine under certain circumstances/in certain fields. And of course there’s the issue of “real-world” deadlines. I do have some deadlines – I recently volunteered to help host and moderate a monthly discussion group for a non-profit, so for that I have to do research and prepare a topic with questions and supporting information. But it is a loose/soft deadline, and maybe that’s why it serves more as a healthy motivation than a stressful deterrent.

I also admit I still do a lot of things last minute, despite being one of the most punctual people you’ll ever meet. That’s sort of a way to trick myself with a self-instituted deadline, but the result is the same – when I need to I can produce the output on short notice. I guess this allows me to relax more between those pockets of crunch?

For the moment, I am still avoiding taking on too much responsibility by not trying (very hard) to turn any of my scanner projects into paying projects. I think as soon as money is involved, the stakes get much higher and it stops being fun (thus I no longer want to do it). I’m conducting my life as a freelancer/entrepreneur to trick myself into functioning like one, but without the financial reward. I do consider myself very fortunate that I don’t hate my day job, and that I have found a very good balance between it and all the things I do for fun but free.

So I guess I can’t really answer the question posed, I can only answer it for myself, because I know me and what works for me. However, to attempt to answer, I would say you should definitely try. Read some books on entrepreneurship (for instance, “The E Myth”, which is pretty good, though I do have a couple issues with some of the wisdom/advice presented in that book), and you could always go request informational interviews with someone who does what you are interested in doing (that’s pretty much why I started my podcast last year).

If I hadn’t tried and failed so hard back in college, I wouldn’t have the hindsight to realize all the gaps in my skillset that I’ve filled and all the totally new skills I’ve picked up as well. I have a really good idea of how I am useful and what I am capable of. I believe I have the necessary skills to be a freelancer, the question is more can I find an area of work where it gels?

So reader, I’m not sure if this answers your question, but I hope it helps at least a little bit. Some people start businesses before they’re ready, and the pressures force them to learn fast and get good enough to make it work. Others will try and fail several times before they find the right thing that works. It’s funny I’ve heard more than one artistic friend say they are “broken in just the right way” to do the thing they love to do, even though the pay isn’t great, the hours are long and it’s physically challenging sometimes. So in part, it comes down to “how bad do you want to do X thing?”. I want to do my various hobbies bad enough that I do them regardless of financial gain, I just happen to be fortunate enough to have a “day job” that I don’t hate, that can pay the bills.

UPDATE – April 13, 2014. I was just reading a discussion on Quora called “As a startup founder, do you ever think you might have had a happier life as an employee?“. The top answer (As of this writing) is “Yes”. Several reasons are given, but here is the part that struck me:

Being a successful founder rewires your brain.  It makes you far sharper, far more insightful, far more able to understand the whole of how a business works.  But it does change Happiness.  If you aren’t ready for that, don’t do it.

I find just being a scanner/polymath has had the same effect. I feel much sharper, I learn quickly… and I notice problems, flaws and deficits much faster as well. I would suggest that for each thing I “fix”, I find at least 5 more things that are broken or need to be tweaked. If I started my own business, I would probably become forced to specialize more, and that is really what I am trying to avoid.

This is part of why I love reading other points of view on some subjects, because they may provide me with the perspective I need to really make the choice that is best for me.

You might be a scanner if…

Heh, I am preparing a presentation to touch on this, but there’s a great post over on Puttylike “You Know You’re a Multipotentialite when…“, about the trials of a scanner.

  1. You read the “interests” section of your Puttytribe profile and realize it’s completely out of date, even though you only updated it a few months ago.
  2. When scanning new puttypeeps’ “interests” sections, you find at least one new interest you want to pursue.
  3. You notice that you have at least five different styles of handwriting and numerous signatures which you choose from according to the “hat” you are wearing – the cursive artist, the big bubbly-worded socialite, the serious tiny print when you mean business, etc. – and you realize that most people only have one style of handwriting.
  4. You’ve got so many tasks/things to accomplish and so little time.
  5. You check out the “groups” section of the Puttytribe and have a meltdown when you realise that you want to join 95% of the groups. Where will you find the time for that? Will you ever get out of there? (The mental-tape kicks – “narrow my interests, narrow my interests.”)
  6. You dip into an old hobby and five minutes later you’ve planned out a whole business/career based on it.
  7. Most of your friends only know one tiny part of all the things you do/are interested in.
  8. You’re just barely getting started with a new career and, while you still enjoy it (and know you still have a lot to learn), you’re also planning out your second and third career in advanced.
  9. Every time you go to concert, art gallery, etc., you say to yourself “I want to be able to do that!” and start strategizing ways to learn.
  10. You get pangs of regret when seeing something you used to do and think “I could be doing that at that level now had I just stayed with it!”. And then realizing that you’re a lot more useful in the grand scheme of things because you know so much!
  11. Somebody asks you “so how’s that knitting going?” and you realize you got bored of that weeks ago, have moved onto calligraphy now and no one has a clue.
  12. Someone comments on how you always seem to have a business idea for everything under the sun.
  13. You see a thread like this and instantly think “we could sell prints of things like this!”
  14. You check this discussion looking for an update more often than you’d like to admit.
  15. You never got a tattoo because you’re unable to settle on a single meaningful image to be stuck with for life.
  16. Your friends give you weird looks when they check out your holiday reading. They have the latest blockbusters and you have one of the latest biz-think books, Italian grammar exercises, a WordPress guide, and your camera instructions printed off – and you take them all down to the poolside.
  17. You’re in the middle of at least twenty different books and discover a new one that you simply *must* dig into.
  18. You get so excited by a new musical instrument that you’ve just discovered and absolutely must own it now, so that you can learn how to play it even though you still haven’t totally learned how to play the last ones you got.
  19. You write about your weirdest mash up of interests which are no longer your main interests.
  20. You are laughing so hard while reading this thread.
  21. You try to sign up for that art class you really want to take, but the schedule clashes with your salsa lessons, your fencing classes, and your day job!
  22. Before going to a cocktail party, you try to decide which answer to use when someone asks “what do you do?”
  23. You have a hard time packing for your vacation because there’s not enough space for your hiking boots, your dance shoes, your drawing materials, and your climbing gear.

I score roughly 19 out of 23 on this list. I’d probably add “constantly send yourself emails on the go for reminders of various ideas you had or things you have to remember to do or look into”.

Also worth reading is “Lessons from Polymath Interviews” on Discovering Your Awesome.

Are you a scanner? You might be a scanner.

I guess I should have done this post a while ago, seeing as it’s a large part of why this blog exists at all.

What is a scanner? Well, that’s just one name for it. The name “scanner” was coined by Barbara Sher in her book “Refuse to Choose”. Others include Renaissance Soul (by Margaret Lobenstine), Multipotentialite (from Emilie Wapnick) and the classical term Polymath, which originated during the Renaissance. I prefer scanner because it’s the shortest, easiest to say, and invokes the least amount of confusion in people not familiar with the concept.

[Update 1 – June 21, 2014 – I’ve come across data that refutes the validity of the MBTI system, so the reference to INFJ in this post isn’t as relevant anymore]

[Update 2 – Aug 15, 2016 – I have started a new project that if you enjoy this blog post you’ll likely be interested to check out – The Most Interesting Thing Project. Weekly blog post with new interesting facts, and a bi-weekly video talk show episode with interesting guests]

A scanner is a personality type, basically you are interested in many things that may or may not be related, and you have a strong desire to just keep learning (and trying) everything you can. Whether that’s learning new skills, new concepts, or even just learning more about yourself.

The best description/breakdown I have seen of this comes from Joanne Munro’s Career Pioneers blog:

Simply put, Scanner Personalities are people who either have so many interests they find it impossible to decide on just one career – so they don’t make any decision at all for fear of making the wrong choice, or they have lots of projects on the go but seldom finish any of them before they lose interest and move on to the next project.

Scanners are interested in multiple things, they love learning, their brains work very fast, and they are constantly scanning the horizon for new things.

Scanner Personality Traits (from Scanner Central)

  • You have creative ideas all the time, whether it’s for a book, a TV show, an art project, a website, a business, starting a movement, creating a brand, or writing a bestseller
  • You love to learn about new subjects and ideas and then quickly move on to something else
  • You have loads of seemingly unrelated interests
  • Trying to choose between all your ideas, interests and projects stresses you out
  • The thought of concentrating on one job or business for the rest of your life horrifies you
  • You start lots of projects but don’t always finish them before you get into something else

Common problems for Scanners are a reluctance to commit to just one thing for fear of making the wrong choice, and not finishing projects. An analogy I love is comparing Scanners to honey bees. Their purpose it to move from flower to flower getting pollen. They stay at each flower just long enough to get what they came for and nobody can tell them when they should be finished because only the bee knows when it is done.

I only discovered the concept last August (2013), a friend of mine was reading Barbara Sher’s book and told me about it. She was correct in thinking that since her and I are very alike, that I was probably a scanner too. I have since bought and read both books as well as Emilie Wapnick’s “Renaissance Business” – the ultimate impetus for this blog’s birth. Though I don’t currently plan to make this a business, it’s more of a community service.

Discovering this Scanner thing however, was a huge epiphany for me. I’d struggled my whole life professionally because I could never find anything that I enjoyed doing consistently for more than 2 or 3 years maximum in a stretch, and this helped explain why. I mean, I’ve been a musician for nearly 13 years now and have always enjoyed that, but I figured out when I went to school for music business, that it wasn’t going to work for me as a career. Basically, nothing that I find truly fun or interesting, is viable as a career for me, because once someone is telling me what and how to do it, it stops being fun. So I have LOTS of hobbies.

The list of “Careers” I’ve attempted to pursue is long and varied. I’ve only settled on something now out of pure necessity, but I still have several side projects on the go regularly. I did however come up with a brief list for reference:

As a child/kid I wanted to be:
-—Police Officer
-Hockey Goaltender (but I sucked)

As a teen/young adult (16-24):
—-Web/Graphic Designer
-—Video Game Programmer
-Music Producer/Audio Engineer

In the last few years:
—-Public Speaker
-Actor/Stand-Up Comedian
—-Board Game Designer

I’ve been to college 3 different times, for multimedia design, for entertainment administration and for business/finance.

I figured out before I learned of the scanner thing, that I had become a fast learner and a good self-study (or “autodidact”). I figured this out largely due to my rapid success with learning a second language a year ago. And then I taught myself how to use WordPress to make a fancy blog. And this site is clearly an example of the breadth and depth of information I absorb on a weekly basis. I’ve even been complimented that my blog is not boring because of the range of things I post about. Unsurprisingly, I spend a lot of time on wikipedia and google.

So, if you identify as a scanner (or whatever term you prefer), and have been struggling, what should you do? Well, I’m not sure how good of advice I can give, since I’m not necessarily a “Scanner success story”, but i’m figuring it out and doing alright for myself. I’ve done my best to find a way to make my scanner powers work for me (it’s tricky but doable), but I will say that Emilie Wapnick is the only one I think I’ve seen so far who has actually worked to build a supportive community. She created The Puttytribe, which is an offshoot of her blog Puttylike, and wrote “Renaissance Business” which is geared towards trying to help you make a business out of your passions, however eclectic they might be.

The Puttytribe is a gathering place for Multipotentialite with a variety of forums, and they do regular google hangouts and every few months they do a “Puttython”, which is basically a 2 day extravaganza for all “puttypeeps” to tackle some projects that have been on hold. I started this blog as part of the last Puttython. The tribe is really enthusiastic and helpful, of course many of them do run a renaissance business to satisfy their scanner needs. Pro tip – Puttytribe lets new members in for free for one day once every month. Watch puttylike.com for heads up on when that is. I believe you would have to pay starting month #2, but it’s certainly not uber expensive. You can also find a link to buy her book “Renaissance Business” on the site.

I don’t know that I want to try and make this into a business. I just like writing, curating interesting stuff, and my hope is that as more people find this blog, they comment on what is interesting to them, and share resources that they have found that relate. After all, I’ve got quite a bit of stuff on the resources page already, and I keep adding to it.

So, think of this site as kind of a journal, for scanners, by a scanner. Admittedly there are some things I am not (and may never be) interested in that you are, but if you enjoy learning and reading about all kinds of different things, I’m sure you’ll still enjoy this blog.

I am starting to look at ideas for more original posts, “helper” posts as it were (like my help learning a language or help learning wordpress or what’s the deal with polyamory ones), because I do enjoy researching a bunch of options, or research an issue or topic, and then do kind of a report on it to help you know what you need to know and where to start. I guess that is one strength of mine, absorbing a lot of info and then curating the most relevant and important bits and spitting them back out. But again, if someone tells me what to research and how to write it, I don’t want to. Fortunately I have a day job that pays the bills and isn’t completely awful! 🙂

Between “Refuse to Choose” and “Renaissance Soul”, I’d be more inclined to recommend the latter. Renaissance Soul features several exercises (kind of like the Renaissance Business book) to help you figure out what your top interests/values/passions are and tries to help steer you towards those to try and get you focused on a handful of hobbies that you can hopefully parlay into a job or career. Both books serve to try and calm the anxious scanner and provide examples that “it’s not too late” and to talk you off the ledge if you feel overwhelmed by everything. Refuse to Choose’s second half is just about different types of scanners (yes, Barbara breaks it down into multiple types!). So between the two books you get plenty of life coach type advice, you can figure out your “type” (if so you desire) and you get exercises and examples to help you direct yourself better towards a more unified goal. “Renaissance Business” is recommended if you want to go the modern, sophisticated DIY route and start your own web business. Or, like with me, it might just help you figure out a new passion project that you will really love doing and can pool more of your interests into, perhaps bringing together energy that was previously going to several other outlets, into one single one.

Refuse to Choose:
-life coach advice for scanners
-scanner sub-types (like subgenres of music)
-examples of possible scanner careers

Renaissance Soul:
-life coach advice for renaissance souls
-exercises to help unify your thinking (very helpful)
-examples of possible renaissance soul careers

Renaissance Business:
-exercises and advice for starting a web-based business around your multipotentialite passions

-a community for Scanner/Renaissance Soul/Multipotentialites, either just to talk, to share resources, to ask for tips or advice, to network, and to help with goal accountability.

Another Blog post I’ve written more recently: “The Never-Ending Career/Major Dilemma” aka INFJ problems, aka Scanner problems

I also recommend a few other books such as “The E Myth” about starting your own business, Tim Ferriss’ book “Four Hour Workweek” on productivity and lifestyle design/career hacking, and have been recommended some other books. There is also one called “The $100 start up” that I’ve been meaning to pick up.

UPDATE: Here is my presentation from Nerd Nite Toronto, on the subject of being a Scanner/Polymath:


Here is my latest project:

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Curious Origins

opening dayHi! Welcome to the site! I’m glad you found your way here, however you did.

Today is the birth of an idea, or perhaps more accurately, the birth of a home for ideas.

As you can read about on the about page, I started this site because I do a lot of reading, thinking and asking questions, I learn many things on a regular basis, and I like sharing these things with other people (and hopefully having a discussion about them).

I’m very naturally curious and as it turns out, also a Scanner Personality Type, fortunately for me I have become a good self-directed learner and have been able to learn about a lot of the things I am interested in.

This site exists to share ideas, knowledge and insight. I’m not going to pretend to be some all-knowing genius, I just like learning and I know there’s so many things I don’t yet know or understand so I’m just going to keep at it. The more you know, the better you can fare in everyday life. I have observed that many problems arise from lack of information, misunderstandings, or people believing things that they’ve heard but that aren’t actually true (such as peeing on a jellyfish sting is actually not a surefire cure – it could actually make it worse!).

I’ll be sharing what I learn on a wide variety of topics – natural sciences, self-identity and awareness, psychology/neurology, learning styles, sexuality, I even hope to help bust some myths and break some stigmas along the way!

So, I’m just going to share the things I learn in my travels here for you, and hopefully you’ll share what you know back in the comments and we can all benefit.

Hope you enjoy learning with me, and if you do, tell your friends to come learn with us too.