Hidden talents – are you a polymath?

You have to admire Leonardo da Vinci.

As well as being an accomplished painter, he was also a master of sculpture, architecture, mathematics, engineering, and cartography to name just a few. Which makes him a polymath.

Working in the media industry, it can be hard to find the time to master just one skill over and above the day job, let alone several. But scientific research suggests that mastering a new hobby can actually make you smarter.

‘Your brain, it turns out, isn’t a fixed mass that shapes behaviour. Your behaviour also shapes your brain. If a gardener takes up a serious interest in engineering, for instance, their neurons form new pathways between previously isolated regions.’

–          Fortune Magazine

So if we can spend some of our precious free time practising and getting better at something potentially totally unrelated to the world of communications, it just might make us better media practitioners in the process.

This all seemed to make sense, and so I was keen to find out what hidden talents were lurking amongst my colleagues at OMD UK; and to ask how these hobbies might be shaping our people’s performance at work.

This is what I discovered…

It’s fair to say that entrepreneurialism is alive and well at OMD UK. Richard Willis, an Associate Director, successfully ran his own coffee and sandwich bar with his wife in Romford, Essex for a number of years. They won several Best Sandwich Bar in Britain awards, and went on to develop a franchise model for other branches.

The business has since been sold, but Richard is unequivocal in his belief that the experience has made him better at relating to OMD UK’s clients: “It’s given me a respect for our clients’ businesses. I understand their motivations and realities.”

Toby Gunton, our Head of Innovation, is equally sure that the business he runs in his spare time is arming him with practical tools he can use at OMD. He runs www.lenderise.com, an online business founded on the principle of the sharing economy, where people lend everyday items to each other.

As well as getting a very practical understanding of the day to day realities of running a business, he has also borrowed from this world of start-ups to create a dedicated OMD Growth Hacking product for our clients.

“With Lenderise we have pretty much bypassed traditional marketing methods, and I’m trying to bring some of that agile, ‘test and learn’ thinking to our OMD clients through Growth Hacking.”

In a completely different vein, singing features large in the lives of many OMD’ers.

Elina Luca, an Associate Director in our Creative team, is second soprano in the Philharmonia Chorus – an amateur choir.

Her interest in singing was sparked at an early age in her native Latvia, where festivals of singing and dancing are popular. Two years after arriving in London Elina sought out a vocal coach, and then successfully auditioned for the choir.

When I ask her how her work and choral lives dovetail, she tells me:

“They are both just different types of creativity. They feed each other. When I sing I feel like an artist. And that’s a great feeling.”

Receptionist Lotte Uttley’s singing career began in Spain where she was spotted in a karaoke bar. This led to a 7 year singing stint in Europe, performing popular modern classics in hotels, restaurants and casinos.

Since returning to the UK and ably manning the OMD UK reception desk, Lotte has continued to sing at occasional evening jobs because she’d miss it if she didn’t.

“Singing has given me the confidence to think on my feet and to keep a smile on my face, even when everyone around me might be losing theirs. And that’s really important on reception.”

Then there is Nick Whitcroft, a Communications Planner. He has fronted rock bands as the lead singer since university, touring, recording and releasing albums.

“I think that anything that enriches your life does wonders for your work. Without singing I’d be a less rounded, less imaginative version of myself.”

And we’re also an agency of sporting accomplishments too.

There’s Rhian Feather, Implementational Planning Manager, and her love of kickboxing. Rhian’s commitment to the sport has built over time, now entailing three classes a week and a personal training session.

“I am so focused when I am kickboxing, that when I return to work the next day I am completely clear headed. It’s like starting afresh.”

Meanwhile Emma Batchelor, Digital Communications Associate Director, dedicates much of her free time to yoga, having completed her yoga teacher training and worked for a number of years in an Indian ashram. This love of yoga comes alongside a commitment to holistic wellbeing.

“Yoga makes me a calmer individual, and so my creativity has greater scope to surface in work.”

So it appears to be true; what you get up to outside of the office can make you a better person inside the office.

Of course another motivation for dedicating time to a particular hobby could simply be the pure joy that it brings. As Lotte so beautifully put it “I sing because it makes my heart happy.”


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