Are You Living In Your Zone of Genius?

By David Hassell

At 15Five, we believe that everyone has a zone of genius. This belief is one of the core philosophies that guide us every day. Everyone’s zone of genius is unique. It is the physical and mental space where your interests, passions and skills converge to make you unstoppable.

It’s no coincidence that the companies that are constantly two steps ahead of the competition are the same ones who have recruited star talent and built their organization around maximizing their potential.

Living In the Zone of Genius

Your zone of genius is your unique power. It is a one-of-a-kind quality that you bring to your life and to your work and lets you do certain things better than almost anyone else. Often times this is at the intersection of your innate talents and passions and is often difficult to distinguish in yourself as unique or special because it comes so naturally. While we might share common skills, interests, or work styles with others — your zone cannot be replicated by anyone else.

You know you’re in your zone of genius when the work leaves you energized, you can and want to improve forever, and you experience a sense of timelessness and flow. Operating in your zone of genius in service of your WHY is a surefire way to produce the best results and attain the highest degree of sustained satisfaction in your life. Uncovering this zone often comes with understanding your innate talent, something most of us neglect to identify.

“Typically, people equate talent with what they do–singing, playing a sport, or performing surgery.  But true talent has more to do with how you approach your work,” explains Laura Garnett in her write up for With talent falls passion, “an activity that you could do for countless hours with joy. This is not always straightforward, but can be embedded in your psychology and linked to your personal journey.” Combine your passion with your talent and you have found your zone of genius.

Now imagine waking up every day in this zone. Who would you be as the highest-performing individual you could be and how would your organization benefit? What if your co-workers were performing at that level as well? What would you accomplish?

While living and working in your zone of genius won’t always be comfortable —  it often involves pushing your boundaries for a time, in order to get to the next level where working in your zone of genius becomes effortless — there is no question that harnessing your true potential leads to greater productivity and satisfaction.

The Economics of Purpose

“Forget about the fast lane. If you really want to fly, harness your power to your passion. Honor your calling. Everybody has one. Trust your heart, and success will come to you.” – Oprah Winfrey

We’ve all read the studies: healthy, happy employees make for successful, profitable companies. And while it’s (fairly) straightforward to support physical health and wellbeing — how do we create a culture of happy, purpose-driven employees?

The solution, again, lies in the zone of genius.

When an organization is set up in a way that facilitates individuals reaching their highest potential, they can expect three key benefits:

Happy Workers

When we are not only allowed, but encouraged to explore our unique talents, strengths, skills and interests, we are taking important steps towards a fulfilled life. Not only does personal fulfillment do wonders for retention and productivity, it also improves overall physical and mental health. The truth of the matter is that happy workers are productive workers, and true happiness comes from having the opportunity to live out our calling in a meaningful way.

Innovative Thinking

Embracing the zone of genius might mean veering away from job descriptions and strategic plans, but if you’re willing to take the leap, you’ll be rewarded with ideas that will breathe new life into the organization. As business strategist Barry Boltz explains, staff “are less worried about the day to day tasks and can dream of new possibilities” and “become more resilient, less risk averse and can more easily bounce back from failures”.

A Stronger Team

When individuals are performing at their peak, that power will have a ripple effect throughout the company. They feel more energized and excited about their work and the work of the company, and enthusiastic about moving shared goals forward. They are also likely to have increased confidence, which makes them more likely to take on leadership roles and support their teammates.

Facilitating Serendipitous Genius

‘Facilitating serendipity’ sounds like an oxymoron. I mean, how can you facilitate something that just happens naturally? But in order to reap the full benefits of a workforce operating within their zone of genius, organizations must create a culture and an organizational structure that makes it easy for this to happen.

The truth is that there are many simple, affordable things that any company can do to help their staff live and work in their zone of genius:

First and foremost, leadership must provide simple education and help in distinguishing their zone of genius. Once employees understand their zone of genius, maximize the amount of time they spend IN that zone by creating environments that facilitate that type of work. This includes flexible, comfortable work arrangements that ensure that staff needs are met, allowing them to focus their intellectual and creative energy on their work. Whether it’s allowing staff to work in the hours in which they are most productive, or providing healthy lunches and snacks so that team members aren’t limited by their (lack of) nutritional intake, taking care of their basic needs allows them to focus on what you hired them to do.

Finally — make sure everyone knows what each others zones are, so that they can act as a team making sure the right people on the team take on the right projects and tasks that leverage their genius.

The great irony with the zone of genius is that one of the most common barriers to attaining this natural state of flow is realizing that it is something that comes naturally to each and every one of us. Most people don’t even see it so they keep pushing and trying to improve their weaknesses, instead of discovering and owning their genius, and putting that to work.

As a manager, the best thing you can do to help create a culture centred around living in the ‘zone of genius’ is to find your own.

Have you ever experienced working in your zone of genius? What was it like?

Learn how 15Five is helping over 1,000 companies bring out the best in their people.

  • Liam Parker

    I agree a lot with the statement of instead of trying to improve your weaknesses, do what you are already good at.
    It’s funny how much business mimics life sometimes, or is the art that is doing all this to us?

    I wish this information was around 10 years ago. I love how with technology comes a new way of doing business and managing employees comes into play. Leveraging your “zone of genius” is creeping into even the most mainstream workplaces.

  • Ashley Wells

    The “zone of genius” that you describe is exactly what Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi refers to as the “state of flow”– the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Sir Ken Robinson dubs it the “element”–where natural aptitude meets personal passion.

    Different fields have their own unique phrases to define “flow” and “element”: Athletes get in the zone. Bass guitarists are in the pocket. Computer programmers enter hack mode. Surfers get stoked, and pool players are in dead stroke.

    I wonder whether it may be a misnomer to call it a “zone of genius”. In her February 2009 TED Talk, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, addresses this issue of “being” a genius versus “having” a genius.

    “It is exceedingly likely that anything I write from this point forward is going to be judged by the world as the work that came after the freakish success of my last book. It is exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me.”

    She points to ancient Greek and Roman conceptions of genius. They did not believe that creativity came from human beings. Creativity was a divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable sources, for unknowable reasons.

    Greeks called them divine attendant spirits of creativity, daemons. Socrates had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar.

    Romans called thise disembodied creative spirit “genius”. They did not think a genius was a particularly clever individual, but rather a magical divine entity that breathed creativity through a human medium. The entity came out invisibly to assist artists with their work and shape the outcome.

    This protected ancient artists from narcissism as they couldn’t assume all of the credit for their works and equally offered a psychological construct to protect them from the results of their work–if it bombed they were not entirely to blame.

    It wasn’t until the Renaissance when human beings were placed at the at center of universe that creativity was thought to come completely from the self. Thus having a genius evolved into being a genius.

    So perhaps essential to finding the “zone of genius” is merely discovering one’s element and finding flow, and architecting an environment that attendant spirits are likely to visit.

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  • Andrea Robinson

    David Hassell – you and I are ‘cut from the same cloth’ so to speak. I’m glad to have come across this article. This is exactly what I do for a living – I provide ‘whatever it takes’ to help access that zone of genius. I have literally used those same words. My term is The Powerspace, and everyone can have one. I believe there’s a bit more to it than passions and talent, but yes yes yes – i Love this article.


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