Whole-genome duplication (WGD) doubles the DNA content in the nucleus and leads to polyploidy. In whole-organism polyploids, WGD has been implicated in adaptability and the evolution of increased genome complexity, but polyploidy can also arise in somatic cells of otherwise diploid plants and animals, where it plays important roles in development and likely environmental responses. As with whole organisms, WGD can also promote adaptability and diversity in proliferating cell lineages, although whether WGD is beneficial is clearly context-dependent. WGD is also sometimes associated with aging and disease and may be a facilitator of dangerous genetic and karyotypic diversity in tumorigenesis. Scaling changes can affect cell physiology, but problems associated with WGD in large part seem to arise from problems with chromosome segregation in polyploid cells. Here we discuss both the adaptive potential and problems associated with WGD, focusing primarily on cellular effects. We see value in recognizing polyploidy as a key player in generating diversity in development and cell lineage evolution, with intriguing parallels across kingdoms.