What is a Polymath?

Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Polymath’s Almanac. To kick things off, I thought we’d take a moment to lay some groundwork, define some terms, and set a foundation for where we are headed.

As I mentioned in the announcement email, the vision for this newsletter was to send out a weekly, curated collection of resources and commentary that I hope will spark your imagination and curiosity about things in the world you may or may not know exist. All with the end goal of strengthening our love for this wonderful and intricate world we live in.

Before we start exploring, I want to take a moment and look at what it means to be a polymath.

The word polymath comes from the Greek word Polymathēs, which means “having learned much.” Many times, you will hear or see the term “Renaissance Man” in the same context. The simplest definition I can think of is it is someone who is interested in and studies (usually self-directed) a variety of topics.

Some of the more famous polymaths in history include Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin who not only accomplished amazing things in their lives but seemed to have an undying curiosity about the world around them. They studied everything from science to politics and were autodidacts who followed their curiosity, wherever it took them.

Investigators At Heart

For those of you who have heard about or studied the Enneagram, I fall squarely within the realm of Type 5 - The Investigator. That probably tells you all you need to know about me and this newsletter. I’m a prolific consumer of information and have a deep yearning to understand things at their deepest levels.

If I were to make a bet, I’d probably put my money on the guess that most polymaths lean heavily toward being Type 5’s as well. They are investigators at heart and are always looking to learn and understand the world around them the best they can. They want to know how and why things work the way they do.

Of course, not everyone ends up as brilliant as Leonardo da Vinci, but those of us who feel drawn to understanding the world around us live at a point in history that is unmatched. With the invention of the Internet, we have an almost unlimited amount of information to explore.

That’s both a good and a bad thing. Let me explain…

Feeding The Curiosity

A vast amount of information is available at the click of a button. I’ve learned everything from how to lay floor tile, to replacing the bulb above my tag light on my car, to understanding the common structure of novels, to how to solve many software development problems for my job, to how to set up and install an encrypted high-speed wireless bridge from our house to our shop so that we can have internet, to how to grow potatoes in an environment where it rains a lot in the spring. The list is endless.

Those of us with a high appetite for knowledge and information will often find ourselves scurrying down rabbit hole after rabbit hole in our web browsers. The pace at which we can find what we are looking for is greatly increased and even some of the most obscure information can be found hiding in the deepest corners of the web. With services like Amazon, we can have almost any book we can think of at our door in a matter of days. We really do live in an amazing time in history.

But our curiosity shouldn’t stop at the obtaining of information.

Turning Curiosity into Action

One thing that is notable about the traditional polymath is that they are not merely consumers of information. They experiment and put their knowledge into some sort of action. For example, Leonardo voraciously studied human anatomy by dissecting corpses, not so that he could simply rattle off his newfound knowledge at the next office party. Rather, he took what he learned and painted some of the most beautiful artwork the world has ever seen. He used his scientific investigations to design new inventions. His pursuit of understanding wasn’t without purpose.

And this is the central idea for the week - feed your curiosities, but then take the knowledge gained and use it to push the world toward a more positive and unifying direction.

Reading the poets and how they expound on the idea of “Love” or “Beauty” only goes so far. It’s when you use those ideas as inspiration in your own life to love those around you at a deeper level that knowledge then becomes wisdom and is a catalyst for change.

So, I want to leave you with a few questions. My hope is that they will inspire you to not only embrace your curiosity but to use it to build the world you want to see.

  • What topic, problem, or story is currently on your mind?
  • In what ways are you learning more about it?
  • What do you hope to understand or gain from studying the topic?
  • What plans have you made or can you make that will put what you are learning into action?

Next Issue Preview

In the next issue, we’ll take a look at the second part of the title of this newsletter and everything that surrounds the idea of curating an “almanac.” One of the things I’ve come to appreciate recently is the idea of recording all the little steps along the way. A digital (and physical) paper trail of discoveries and insights, if you will. Next week, we’ll take a deeper dive into what that looks like, the benefits of it, and tips on how you can begin recording the defining moments and discoveries in your own life.


If you want to learn more about cultivating your curiosity and embracing the idea of being someone with a wide range of interests, the following list of resources might interest you.

YouTube Channels With Varied Topics

Ted Talks on Polymath

Articles & Websites