What do we do for a living?

What do we do for a living?  That’s the question that Seth Godin asked in one of his TED talks.

What do the people that actually read (and write) this blog do for a living?

We might say that we write software, or design products, or create media, or sell solutions, but I want to take up Seth’s argument – that NO, we don’t do any of these things, we all do the same thing:

We try to change everything

Yes, everything.  We find a bit of the status-quo, the same-old same-old, something that isn’t quite right, doesn’t quite fit, something we don’t like and we change it, we try to make big permanent important change.


Try these three questions, share them, spread them, write them on a card, apply them every day:

  • Who exactly are you upsetting?
  • Who are you connecting?
  • Who are you leading?

If our primary job is to challenge the status-quo then we must be upsetting someone – someone who wants to maintain the status quo… why, what’s in it for them? Try and understand, try and get them on board with the ‘new’ status-quo you are proposing.

Yes you have an idea, but who are you connecting around the idea?   How are you connecting them, how are you making a tribe?

Who are you leading – the Beatles didn’t create teenagers, they were all ready there, waiting to be led,  who is your ‘teenager’ tribe?

Or abbreviate and try the three C’s, which I think this summarises versatilism beautifully:

Challenge, Connect, Commit


And one more thing…

I’m guessing that by now most people (at least most people who follow the world of tech) will be fairly saturated with what Steve Jobs supposedly bought to the world and you either buy into the hype of how he created a “dent in the universe” and changed several industries or you don’t (I do by the way).  However, in the spirit of Steve Jobs presentations when launching new products, I read “one more thing” that caught my eye this week.

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs biographer, was at IBM’s Impact customer conference in Las Vegas last week and was interviewed by Tod Watson here. Isaacson is working on a new book on the information revolution and was asked by Watson to share some of the themes of his upcoming book. Isaacson’s reply could have almost been tailor made for what we are trying to do with our ideas behind versatilism. Here is what he says:

“One major theme, which is the theme of the Steve Jobs book and everything else I’ve written, which is innovation comes where there’s an intersection between the arts and the sciences. When there’s an intersection between poetry and microprocessors. Where a great feel for beauty and design is connected with a great feel for technology and engineering.”

This is soooo nice, it sums up exactly what this blog is about and what we think versatilism is. Steve Jobs himself, in one of Apple’s product launches, stood in front of a screen with a picture of a signpost showing the intersection of “technology” and the “liberal arts”, something he believed in passionately and which he strove to follow throughout his life.

Another nice illustration of this idea is  this drawing by Hugh Macleod from his gapingvoid blog.

He calls it “the processor as an expression of human potential” and it is this nice combination of the processor as a piece of abstract art that really resonates. As Isaacson goes on to say in the interview:

“The computer and the Internet are the two most important inventions of the modern era. And yet most people don’t know how poetic, ingenious, and creative the people who invented those things were.”

Versatilism is about unlocking the innate creativity we all have within us and using it to create art for ourselves and for others. It’s interesting of course that the very things Isaacson mentions (the computer and the Internet) have also given us both the means and the medium for expressing and disseminating this creativity like never before.

Multiple Intelligences

In last week’s blog the question was raised: How do I become a versatilist?  What a fantastic question!

That got me thinking!  On re-reading the manifesto I began to notice that we are aspiring to cultivate multiple intelligences.  Intellectual intelligence will only get us so far, but it would seem that versatilist behaviour is also about cultivating and growing our emotional and social intelligence.

This is not a new idea, but is one we sometimes forget!  Howard Gardner has written about, and classified several other intelligences, including: linguistic, musical, and spatial-visual, and is a leader in the field of ‘thought-leadership’, especially education. Daniel Goleman has written and taught extensively about emotional intelligence and leadership, research showing that the highest performing teams are those with high emotional and social intelligence – not those with the highest IQ!

So maybe one approach to becoming more versatile is to focus on enhancing and cultivating our emotional intelligence and social intelligence and change the way that we connect in the world.

Making the right connections

Seth Godin recently blogged that all artists are self-taught. He says:

“…the ability to connect the dots and to make an impact–sooner or later, that can only come from one who creates, not from a teacher and not from a book.”

Someone I was speaking to a few days ago asked me “so how do I become a versatilist”? Unfortunately, at the time, I did not have a good answer. Do you read more? Do lots of different stuff? Gather more experiences? Mix with interesting people? Sure, all of these will help but they alone do not make you a versatilist. What I now realize, helped along by what I read in Seth’s post, is that the really important thing is making more connections. Anyone can acquire knowledge but its making the right connections that counts. As Martin Frost says here:

“Connections are the work of creation. Seek out those who seem wise and knowledgeable, but don’t leave your critical faculties (nor your cynicism) at home.”

Finally, just in case you need any more convincing of the importance of making connections, here’s Steve Jobs in his Stanford commencement speech:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Today we have the potential, with the web, of being connected like never before. We have the ability to reach out and connect with anyone and everyone. As long as we remember to hold on to our critical faculties (and some of our cynicism) we all have the ability to make connections and create like never before. So, go ahead and connect.