How to unlock your ‘zone of genius’

Marlo Oster
June 21, 2022
6
Minutes

When was the last time you felt “in the zone?” Which work tasks or activities make you excited to jump out of bed in the morning? What aspects of your work actually leave you feeling energized instead of tired and ready to call it a day? These activities make up your zone of genius—when you’re so caught up in and enthralled by the task at hand that everything else falls away. 

In this article, we’ll break down what a ‘zone of genius’ is and discuss how you can find and utilize your own zone of genius.

What is the ‘zone of genius’?

A ‘zone of genius’ is a concept described by psychologist Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap. According to Hendricks, there are four zones of function: 

1: The incompetence zone

This is your worst zone. The tasks that fall into this zone you don’t feel skilled at and you don’t enjoy. Your general lack of know-how and interest in this zone leaves you feeling bored and unfulfilled. This zone is different for everyone. For example, do you mind doing the dishes, or do you leave them to pile up every time because you find the task boring or otherwise disgusting? Do you like assembling IKEA furniture, or does it drive you insane? Can you easily do math in your head, or do you always leave it to your partner to calculate the tip or handle your bills? 

Which tasks or hobbies do you absolutely loathe? They belong in your incompetence zone.

2: The competence zone

The tasks that fall into this zone you’re perfectly adequate at performing, but you don’t really enjoy or find very interesting. You get the job done, but you don’t bring anything new or innovative to the table. For example, consider singing. You may be able to carry a tune, but you’re far from the next Beyonce—and that’s fine with you. You can sing in the choir, but you’re not the soloist, and you have no interest in being the soloist. 

Which tasks do you feel meh about? Any tasks you’re perfectly capable of performing but could take or leave belong in your competence zone. 

3: The excellence zone

The tasks that belong in this zone you’re exceptional at performing, but they still take effort. You have enough practice and experience with these tasks that your friends, family, and coworkers regard you as an expert—and you feel the same way too. While you’re great at the tasks that fall in this zone, they’re not necessarily where your true passions lie. You may be a great cook, but you have no plans of opening a restaurant and devoting your life to it. You may be a great singer, but you’re not quitting your day job. You’re the best basketball player you know, but you’re not about to be scouted by the NBA. 

Your excellence zone is also your comfort zone. Which tasks are you great at and perform regularly? These tasks belong in your excellence zone. 

4: The genius zone

The genius zone is where the magic happens. This is where your deepest passion meets your natural talent and abilities. The activities and tasks in this zone make you excited to get out of bed in the morning. They don’t even feel like work; you are excited to perform these tasks or participate in these activities regardless of whether you’re paid for them or not. The act itself is more fulfilling than the paycheck. 

What abilities are unique to you? What tasks do you love most? Which activities can you participate in ad nauseum without experiencing much of a dip in your enthusiasm? Which activities leave you feeling energized instead of drained? These things belong in your zone of genius. 

The genius zone is the only zone of function in which you can experience “flow.” According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, considered one of the founders of positive psychology, finding your flow is when you’re in the zone; you’re so deeply and completely immersed in the task at hand that you don’t even know time is passing. It’s not that the task is completely effortless—it’s that you don’t mind the effort. Flow occurs when your skill level and the challenge at hand are equal.

Your zone of genius is totally unique to you, and you can find it at the intersection of your innate talent and your passion. When your employees find their own zone of genius, they’re happy and fulfilled with their work and deeply invested in your business. They want to continue to work for you because they get to do what they truly love every day. 

Finding and utilizing your ‘zone of genius’

When were you last in the zone?

Think back on the last few weeks or months to remember times when you truly felt in the zone. What were the circumstances around this event? What led to you feeling in the zone?

What details can you remember about that moment? Where were you working? What time of day was it? How long were you performing the task uninterrupted? What time of day was it? Are there any details you can remember that will help you recreate that moment again?

If you’re struggling to recognize moments when you last felt like you were in your zone of genius, take a step back and think more broadly about what makes you feel fulfilled. What was a moment in which you felt completely fulfilled by and at ease with the task at hand? What were the circumstances around this feeling? 

What tasks, skills, and activities do you excel at?

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and most of them will fall into your first three zones of function. But which activities does it feel like you were born to do? What work would you do regardless of pay or even praise? What work doesn’t feel like work? Take time to deeply reflect on this. We all have a number of different skills and abilities, but only a select few will fall into your zone of genius. 

It’s important to be selective. Many of the tasks you perform exceptionally well may actually be better classified under your excellence zone. What do you feel most passionate about? You may be an excellent public speaker who gets told all the time how charismatic and insightful you are in front of a crowd, but does the act of public speaking leave you feeling energized or drained? If you dread performing the task, it doesn’t matter how good you are at it—that task does not belong in your zone of genius. 

It’s also important to consider the skills you most want to excel at, as this is where your passion truly lies. What skill can you practice for hours without growing bored? 

As you’re determining which activities to classify under your zone of genius, think about how you can utilize these strengths more frequently. How can doing more of what you love, enjoy, and excel at help your team succeed?

Discuss your ‘zone of genius’ during one on one meetings

You can best capitalize on your zone of genius when both you and your manager are on the same page about where your skills lie and which tasks you enjoy most. 

Utilize one on one meetings to discuss which tasks make you connect with your zone of genius and produce a state of flow. How can your manager help you find more of these moments? How can you use these moments to better assist your manager and the team as a whole?

One on ones are the perfect opportunity to speak about these personal development topics. In the end, it’s in the best interest of the business and your manager to support you in finding and cultivating your zone of genius. It’s in this state that you’ll be your most productive, efficient, and fulfilled. 

📚 Curious how to optimize your one on one meetings? Learn more from our manager's guide to one on one meetings and our employee’s guide to one on one meetings

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