The Highlands Company Blog

Exploring Multipotentiality Using the Highlands Ability Battery

By K.C. Thompson, Ph.D.

Dr. K.C. Thompson, an experienced educational consultant, specializes in empowering high school students and their families on their journey through the college application process. With a focus on comprehensive college counseling and career guidance, Dr. Thompson integrates the Highlands Whole Person Model and the Highlands Ability Battery Aptitude testing program in her services.

Welcome to the inaugural article of an enlightening series where we will delve into how educational consultants can unlock new pathways through the Highlands Ability Battery and Whole Person methodology, blending scientific principles and artistic approaches, to foster authentic excellence and enable students to thrive. Join us as we explore deep into the intricacies of this innovative approach, uncovering its nuances and strategies to cultivate genuine growth and fulfillment in students’ educational journeys.

In her 2015 Ted Talk, “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling,” Emilie Wapnick explored the concept of Multipotentiality. She defined a “Multipotentialite” as someone “with many interests and creative pursuits.” She talked about how Multipotentialites get bored easily. They find an interesting topic, feel like they’ve finally found their calling, explore it deeply for weeks, or months, or years, but in the end they lose interest, and move on to something new that fills them with energy and engages their interest.

As a Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) Consultant, I often see people who are Multipotentialites, only, I didn’t know that’s what they were called until a student told me she resonated with the term after watching Emilie’s Ted Talk. Multipotentialites are part of a subset of a larger group of students I refer to as having a “multi-driver pattern.” These students have three or more of the five driving abilities in the high range. Even though not all students with multi-driver patterns are multipotentialites, they all share a common set of challenges. The multi-driver pattern is known to cause frustration because each driving ability, when high, pushes to be used and requires an outlet, a way of being expressed in the person’s daily life, or they can feel like something is missing.

Multi-Driver Pattern

People with multi-driver patterns are encouraged to have rich hobbies outside of their career which provide an outlet for all of their driving abilities. These people can often stay in the same “general” career area but may shift positions or change jobs within it. They are encouraged to view their career in terms of “expansion” using what they’re doing now as a launch pad towards the next opportunity. Additionally, the advice I give for each student is further refined depending on their scores on the other measures (e.g., whether they are extroverted or introverted, a generalist or a specialist, how far into the future they tend to plan and what the scores on their nine specialized abilities are). Once these students normalize the idea of shifting jobs as just what may be needed for them to find fulfillment, I see some of them experience a sense of relief and a feeling of hope for their future.

The benefit of the HAB for students with multi-driver patterns is the tremendous increase in self-awareness which allows a student to live more intentionally on a daily basis. Students are taught to take notice of how their abilities manifest in their daily lives and to notice the magic that happens when abilities are in alignment with the other seven factors of the Highlands Whole Person Model (i.e., skills, interests, personal style, values, family, goals, and career development stage). To give you a better understanding of how multi-potentiality is likely captured by the HAB, I will explain the aptitudes this assessment measures and then discuss the particular challenges and benefits that multi-driver pattern students and multipotentialites face.

The Five Driving Abilities

The HAB uses nineteen timed work samples to measure a person’s five driving abilities, nine specialized abilities and three “personal style” factors (introvert/extrovert, generalist/specialist and natural time frame for making plans). The HAB also measures one skill, Vocabulary. It is an aptitude assessment and not a personality or interest assessment. As such, it measures the underlying natural abilities of people which don’t need to be practiced and don’t decline with disuse. Each of the nineteen work samples are timed as a way to gauge whether or not the person taking it has a true aptitude. Natural abilities come easily and effortlessly to people who have them. Furthermore, when a person is interested in a particular subject, it provides additional energy (fuel) so that whatever they are working on is fun, effortless, and time may pass without them noticing. The results look something like the graphic below.

The five driving abilities are in the middle of the graphic, after the Personal Style Factors and before the Specialized Abilities. When I go over the results with students, I explain that being high isn’t “good” and being low isn’t “bad.” In fact, both high and low scores come with pros and cons but being in the middle can often be a “sweet spot” because the score is high enough to help do a job but not so high that it can bother you if you don’t use it.

For example, the graphic below shows common problem solving tendencies of people who are either high or low in Classification. Although people with high classification ability are fantastic at noticing patterns among seemingly unrelated things, a potential limitation is the need for a fast paced work environment where there are a lot of problems to solve each day to avoid boredom. On the other hand, people who are low in classification are able to stay focused and have the patience to develop expertise in their field. These people are suited well to a regular office environment. Driving ability scores can also have implications for the college search. Students high in Classification ability may enjoy a larger college in a city with more going on as opposed to a small, liberal, arts college in a rural area.

The second driving ability is Concept Organization. People high in Concept Organization excel in solving problems in a linear and logical manner and are good at explaining the steps to others. Engineers and teachers tend to utilize this ability on a regular basis. People who are high in this ability tend to feel that there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to solve a particular problem. In addition, projects requiring planning and prioritizing require this ability. People who are low in Concept Organization can have difficulty explaining how they arrived at their solution.

The third driving ability is Idea Productivity. People high in Idea Productivity are known for their tendency to be good brainstormers and have a constant stream of ideas going through their heads. On the other hand, people who are low in Idea Productivity can focus on the task at hand without getting distracted and tend to focus on having quality ideas over quantity. The downside is that they may not be able to understand how other people can approach the same problem and come up with a different solution. People with High Idea Productivity make good salespeople and can persuade people as to the rightness of their opinions. They are also good at explaining the same concept in multiple different ways and as such can make good teachers. In addition to being

easily distracted by their own thoughts, another downside to High Idea Productivity can be difficulty committing to one solution because they have so many options to choose from.

The HAB measures two types of spatial reasoning: Spatial Relations Theory and Spatial Relations Visualization. People with high Spatial Relations Theory (SRT) excel at theoretical and abstract thought and can see the patterns and relationships within systems. People who are high in this ability might go on to get a Ph.D., go into medicine, or excel at diplomacy or architecture. In contrast, Spatial Relations Visualization (SRV) indicates a person’s ability to

mentally manipulate three-dimensional objects. The stronger this ability is, the more a person will want to work in something that is “hands on” and has a tangible and concrete outcome. In the college admissions process, a rule of thumb is that students that are high in SRV might enjoy going to a college that has a co-op program or strong internship program. Whereas students who are high in SRT might prefer a Ph.D. feeder school with a strong research program. However, all of these abilities interact and recommendations need to be made based on the student’s entire profile and how the abilities interact with one another.

Personal Style Factors

For students with multi-driver patterns, their work environment and role is just as important as the field they choose to work in. Fortunately, in addition to measuring natural aptitudes, the HAB measures three personal style factors: introversion and extroversion, generalist and specialist, and time frame orientation (number of months or years a person tends to consider the future outcomes of present actions). Two people can have the exact same driving ability scores but if they have different personal style scores, one might end up as a researcher on Arctic Tundra and another might be a class action trial lawyer.

Struggles Multi-Driver Students Face

Once told about having a multi-driver pattern, in addition to receiving validation, these students gain clarity about the challenges they face. Some of these students actively experiment with different strategies to maximize their time management each day to increase productivity and interest levels. All of these students present similarly when meeting with me, and I find myself changing how I normally conduct meetings to “cut to the chase” and move through material in a quick and concise manner which gives us extra time to go down a few rabbit holes. These students all walk a fine line between having enough stimulation and “input” and risking burnout. Some can have so many different interests that choosing a single major can feel impossible. Sometimes using a process of elimination works, other times embracing the intersections of different disciplines is the way to go.

I also help my students to understand that being a student is a temporary role and they have to develop strategies to get through it. Once they graduate, they can structure their work life differently to accommodate their preferred learning schedule, perhaps going deep in one topic at a time rather than juggling seven each day. Further, being a student can be a Generalist role (at least until the majority of classes are related to their major) so for my Specialists it doesn’t fit who they are. But there is a huge benefit in just knowing this. Students with a multi-driver pattern need to learn to manage the process of learning differently from other students. I’ve heard more than one of these students tell me that boredom is painful and to be avoided at all costs. These students, in particular, need to be aware of strategies they can employ to engage their interest and when and how they work best. For example, they might need to take frequent breaks and divide up their work-time throughout the day. Also, going down rabbit holes might increase their energy to finish a boring project by providing interest and “new” information. The multi-driver students that are also multipotentialites sometimes think they have ADHD because their ability to attend to what they are doing is so closely linked to their interest in the subject. These students benefit tremendously from the increased self-awareness the HAB provides.

Students with multi-driver patterns also all struggle with time management to one degree or another. For many of them, it is a challenge to say no to demands placed on their time and they are overextended. I remind them that “just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.” With high achieving students that are anxious about “doing enough” to impress admissions officers, I have them create an activities resume and remind them that the Common App only includes room for ten activities.

Further, to increase self-awareness and joy skills, I have students keep a planner and at the end of each day, put a smiley face next to any activities that energized them or sparked joy and a frowny face next to anything they found draining. By collecting this data and reviewing it periodically, they have a basis for making decisions about which activities to deepen involvement in and which ones to gently let go of. I also guide students about how to “go deep” in areas of interest. This might mean conducting an independent literature review, joining a research lab for the summer or it might mean starting a club, creating their own business, publishing a novel or creating a video game. The list is endless and yet very specific to each student, their ability profile, interests and values. These experiences are strategically selected to help them explore potential majors and career options suggested to them by the HAB. Having students interview or job shadow local professionals also helps them to narrow down their options if they have too many. For most students, exploring two to three career options gives them the benefit of having a “competing hypothesis” as a way to gauge interest without feeling pulled in too many directions.

Another struggle these students face is the need to be intentional about how they use their time all day long, not just when in school. Since they have multiple driving abilities, if there are abilities not being used by their schoolwork, they need to intentionally choose extracurricular activities and hobbies that will allow them to express their other abilities. Furthermore, in addition to driving abilities, they also need to take their nine specialized abilities into account. Fortunately, the HAB presents them with “Ability Blend” profiles that show them how these abilities combine and what jobs are best suited to people with their combination of abilities.

The Whole Person Model

One of the most rewarding aspects of this work for me is watching my students bloom once they have clarity about what works best for them. In addition to the HAB results, students are taught about the eight factors of the Highlands Whole Person Model.

The results of the HAB gives all of my students a criteria for making decisions about every aspect of their lives from whether or not to do a particular activity or take a class all the way to the career and work environment they are best suited for. The benefit of the Highlands Whole Person Model is that students can put their abilities in context with the other seven factors. In addition to abilities, evaluating potential careers through the lenses of value alignment, work environment (personal style factors), interests, skills, family and goals all lead to a sense of purpose and fulfillment in a person’s daily life. There is a feeling of usefulness that accompanies day to day work life that makes it all feel worth it. Helping students become familiar with these eight factors, learning to recognize the hallmarks of their presence or absence each day, can prevent future burnout or feelings of emptiness.

Each year it seems that admission rates decrease and the brass ring is moved further out of reach for high school students hoping to attend college. The more that all students can use their time in high school to learn more about their “whole self” – their abilities, interests, values, skills, goals, personal style, and family messages, the better chance they have of selecting a career they find fulfilling rather than draining. For multi-drivers and multipotentialites, they can either oscillate between stress and boredom or choose to consciously embrace the process of continually rediscovering who they are. For all of my students, the Highlands Ability Battery gives them a criteria for making big career decisions in the future and an awareness of their “whole self” and the importance of incorporating all eight factors into their decision making process as their best path towards finding fulfillment and a sense of purpose and meaning.

As a Highlands Consultant and the founder of College Wayfinders Educational Consulting, Dr. K.C. Thompson is dedicated to helping students and adults uncover their natural talents and find environments that align with their unique strengths.

A respected member of IECA, PNACAC, and SACC, K.C. brings a wealth of expertise to her practice. Trained in the renowned College Essay Guy methodology, she offers invaluable assistance with college essays, guiding students towards authentic self-expression.


K.C.’s commitment to staying at the forefront of college admissions trends is evident in her frequent campus tours, conference attendance, and participation in professional development workshops. Her approach is deeply rooted in authenticity, prioritizing self-awareness and personal growth for her students.

With a Ph.D. in Cognitive Studies in Education from the University of Pittsburgh and a UCLA College Counseling Certificate with distinction, K.C. boasts a strong academic background. Her tenure as an educational consultant with the College Board and evaluation consultant with Apex Academy has honed her skills in curriculum development, assessment refinement, and program enhancement. Notable accolades, including the National Council for Geographic Education First Place Dissertation Award and the Laura Fruchs Award for Excellence in Teaching, underscore her dedication to excellence in education.

Through her multifaceted experiences and unwavering dedication, Dr. K.C. Thompson continues to make a profound impact on the lives of students, guiding them towards fulfilling academic and personal journeys.

College Wayfinders Educational Consulting