Perry Knoppert is the founder and CEO of The Octopus Movement—a global network, founded in 2021 in Amsterdam, that aims to get the world to recognize the gifts of non-linear thinkers. Its 2,600 members, he says, are people who often think very differently from the norm and bring unique creativity to problem solving. Sometimes, this is because they have ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and other diagnoses that bring neurodiversity. Many are contributing at a high level to entrepreneurship, the arts and other careers where free thinking is welcome.
Life can be hard for non-linear thinkers in a world driven by specialists who “want to put everyone into a box,” as The Octopus Movement puts it on its website. Knoppert chose the Octopus emoji as the icon of the group, after asking himself, “What is the symbol of a curious misfit?” But Knoppert finds that many who feel like misfits actually have “multipotentiality”—aptitudes across multiple disciplines—that allow them to tackle many problems in fresh ways.
The movement is growing, with members in 60 countries, according to Knoppert. The Octopus Movement runs a global think tank that is working on finding solutions to problems related to hunger, climate and other pressing issues.
Knoppert, who has dyslexia, counts himself among the non-linear thinkers in the group. His LinkedIn profile tells the story, documenting 18 very varied career experiences. They include consulting at marQuake, which helps organizations make sense of data from interconnected networks online; founding the European Cultural Centre in the Brussels area to showcase art from around the world; hosting a TV show on Wasai Media in Hong Kong about his experiences as “the first foreign taxi driver in China;” serving as vice president of animal-feed company Provimi and making films.
The seeds of the movement took shape during a period when Knoppert had no permanent home following a breakup. Disconnected from his previous life, he thought a lot about how linear the world of education and jobs really was— “There are a lot of unwritten rules,” he says—and how he didn’t fit into it.
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He also thought a lot about the value of non-linear thinking. “Non-linear thinking is thinking along unconventional, atypical lines or in a non-sequential manner,” as the group puts it on its website. “In non-linear thinking, people make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. Non-linear thinkers draw conclusions and develop ideas, solutions, and innovations from experience gained in a variety of different fields. And they are more likely to innovate in surprising and world-changing ways.”
Understanding the challenges that young non-linear thinkers often experience in traditional school systems, the father of three now visits classrooms to talk about multipotentiality. His goal is to help children who may have been told they “can’t do math” or otherwise perform to expectations to realize there are many paths to the same goals. “Later they discover a different route,” he says.
Eran Thompson, an entrepreneur, freelance writer and podcast host from New York City who lives in Sydney, Australia, helped Knoppert write The Octopus Movement Manifesto—which puts the network’s mission into words.
Diagnosed with ADHD as a young adult, Thompson says, “I had trouble with focus. I was interested in a lot of things but not necessarily succeeding in any of them the way I hoped.”
He found his way to Knoppert’s work after seeing a TED Talk by Emilie Wapnick, a writer and community builder who celebrates multipotentialites—people with “many interests, many jobs over a lifetime, and many interlocking potentials,” as she puts it. Her Ted Talk addresses why many multipotentialites don’t have one true calling.
“When I watched that talk, it was the first way I could make sense of the way my brain works,” says Thompson. “I used to think that being interested in lots of things was a problem and I should do less better. But what I discovered through this work is that we can do a lot. That was a real relief.”
Thompson says he sometimes envies people who have that singular focus, because the world is organized to support them. “I always felt different,” he says. “If felt like a failure, a misfit. I felt I was doing everything wrong from the way we were all supposed to do thing—doing one thing only until you become successful at it.”
However, the movement has helped him embrace who he is: a freelance writer/creative director with a background in advertising and marketing—who also started PowerProv, a corporate training business in Australia that brings improvisational comedy to corporate environments, and co-founded Song Saga, a game that helps people connect with memories and music that are important to them.
To get all of this done, Thompson built methodologies and embraced tools to manage his thinking and help with achieving goals. “One of the biggest ones is making lists—writing down everything I need to get done, prioritizing things on this list, calendar chunking,” he says. “I use that as a resource to constantly check: Am I going to be doing the thing I said I was going to be doing at the time I said I was going to be doing them?”
Yoga and meditation also help, he says. “It’s all the things we all know—mental health, physical health, fitness, diet, exercise—all of these things contribute to a better functioning mind,” he says.
And in the meantime, there’s the Octopus Movement, reminding him that there’s nothing wrong with the way he works. “Possibly the single most valuable thing the movement does is give people who feel like a misfit to find a voice that says ‘We see you. You’re fine. There are other people like you. We support you,” he says.