Zone of Genius: What It Is and How to Find It

the Zone of Genius, a Venn diagram with four circles. The four circles represent what you love to do, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. The Zone of Genius is where all four circles overlap, and it represents the set of activities that you are uniquely suited to do

Have you ever wished you were a genius? What if I told you that, in your own way, you already are one? Everyone’s got a Zone of Genius. Your task is to identify yours and then live within it.

Your Zone of Genius is the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at and what you can get paid for. Why identify your Zone of Genius? When you work within your Zone of Genius, you’ll be really alive, and you’ll serve what the world needs.

What Is the Zone of Genius?

The concept of the Zone of Genius is the brainchild of Gay Hendricks. He wrote about it in his book The Big Leap.

So let’s start with Hendricks’ description of the Zone of Genius. He puts it this way:

“Your Zone of Genius is the set of activities you are uniquely suited to do. They draw upon your special gifts and strengths. Liberating and expressing your natural genius is your ultimate path to greater success and life satisfaction.”

When I talk about the Zone of Genius, I like to picture a Venn diagram with four circles. Here’s how I’d label them:

  1. What you really love to do
  2. What you’re good at
  3. What the world needs
  4. What you can get paid for

Right there in the middle, where all four of those areas overlap? That’s your Zone of Genius.

There’s a Japanese term that means something similar. It’s ikigai. According to leadership pro Michael Veltri, ikigai can be defined as “a reason for being.” In other words, it’s the reason you’re here — your purpose in the world.

This is the area where you’re really alive. When you’re in your Zone of Genius, you’re fully interested in what you’re doing. This realm overlaps with your natural talents as well as the skills that you’ve spent time developing.

When you’re truly operating in your Zone of Genius, you’re doing it in service of what other people find financially valuable. Your work also serves what the world needs as a whole.

Zone of Genius vs Zone of Excellence

Hendricks sets a distinction between your Zone of Genius and your Zone of Excellence.

In the Zone of Excellence, you’re really good at things, but they don’t come so effortlessly easy for you. You don’t feel like you’re coming alive when you’re living in that zone.

Let’s go back to that Venn diagram. The Zone of Excellence is a place where only two of the circles overlap:

  1. What you’re good at
  2. What you can get paid for

Sure, those two characteristics are involved in your Zone of Genius. It goes beyond that, though. In your Zone of Genius, things are effortlessly easy for you. They’re also incredibly valuable to the world.

Ask yourself this question: Is this something I’d spend my time doing even if I weren’t getting paid for it? If the answer is yes, then it probably falls within your Zone of Genius rather than your Zone of Excellence.

Zone of Genius and Your Life’s Work

“Find what you love to do, do only what you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” You’ve heard that idea before, right? The suggestion comes up a lot, but I find that people often don’t know what to do with it.

In fact, they may experience shame in not being able to find the key to that sort of lifestyle. They buy into the idea that there’s some sort of code they have to crack. Or, they surmise that they’re just not enough, and that’s why they don’t get to live in their Zone of Genius.

From my experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s an element of earning the freedom to do only what you love.

Getting yourself to that level takes the willingness to continue trying to live in your Zone of Genius. It also calls for continually honing and refining your understanding of what you are good at and truly love doing.

Yes, it’s a process and a commitment, but it’s worth the effort.

Working Outside of Your Zone of Genius

Working within your Zone of Genius is a delight. Working outside of it can be miserable. 

When you don’t love what you’re doing, work becomes a chore. Surely you know the feeling. We’ve all been there at one point or another.

To add insult to injury, working outside your zone tends to take a long time. You’re working against your natural inclinations and interests. That can be an uphill battle.

When you’re doing a task that you don’t care deeply about, you often don’t know the insider shortcuts. You don’t know how to be efficient at the job. It requires a disproportionate amount of brain power and can drain your energy.

The more time you spend on those tasks, the less you have available to you for the work that you really want to be doing.

Getting the Work Done

Operating in your Zone of Genius means that you get to focus your time and efforts on the work that energizes and invigorates you.

But let’s say that you light up when you’re networking with others. Should you focus only on that task and let bookkeeping and schedule management fall by the wayside in your business?

No, of course not! Ideally, you’ll be able to pay someone else to do those tasks for you.

Hiring those people takes money. Fair compensation for the work you’re doing within your Zone of Genius will help you earn that cash. (That’s one reason that figuring out how you can get paid for what you love to do is such a key part of this.)

Empowering Others

A great thing about approaching your business this way is that it allows others to live and work within their Zones of Genius too.

There are people who love to do the things that you don’t love doing. Your idea of drudgery is another person’s Zone of Genius.

You don’t love accounting? Okay, but there’s someone else who does. That person wishes they could spend every day in the accounting zone. They find great joy in working with numbers and spreadsheets, even if you don’t.

If you keep all those tasks on your own plate, even if you don’t love them, you’re making life harder on yourself. But also, you’re preventing someone else from having the opportunity to work in their Zone of Genius more often.

Working outside your Zone of Genius means actively taking actions against yourself and other people. Instead, we could all be working together. Finding and pursuing our Zones of Genius can allow us to do just that.

How to Discover Your Zone of Genius

So now for the million-dollar question: How do you find your Zone of Genius?

Let’s start by checking with the master. Gay Hendricks offers four questions that people can ask themselves as they dig into identifying their personal Zones of Genius.

  1. What activity do I love so much that I can stick with it for a long time? I don’t get bored or tired, even when I’m doing it for an extended span of time, because I love it that much.
  2. What’s my non-work work? Sure, it’s technically work, but it doesn’t feel that way because I enjoy doing it so much.
  3. What about my work makes me feel like I’m getting the best return for my investment? Even if I have only a small amount of time to devote to it in a day, I feel like I’m getting a lot of value out of that time.
  4. What’s special about my skills and abilities? I’m a unique person, and I have my own special set of talents and skills. I can contribute in ways that don’t come as easily to other people. When I do those things, I make a real difference in my organization or my community.

Another thing I’d encourage is for you to look back on your life. Following what you’ve always loved to do can provide a great clue into what your Zone of Genius things are.

How did you show up as a child? Spend time meditating and reflecting on that question. It can provide a lot of insight into what you love and how you’re hardwired.

If you can dig down to the root of what sort of things have always stirred your passions, there’s a good chance that you’ll start to identify your Zone of Genius there.

When you commit yourself to identifying your Zone of Genius — the thing you love and excel at that’s worth something to the world — you’ll have the privilege of living and working within that zone. Not only will you come alive, but you’ll get to empower others to do the same.

If you’re ready to take this concept to the next step, be sure to check out my “Working in Your Zone of Genius” article. It’s packed with practical tips to help you implement these ideas in your life and your business.
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