Find Your Unique Ability.
I knew a young man once upon a time who was really struggling at school. He didn’t get great grades, he spent the whole time bored and frustrated, working on homework tasks he spent hours on, and he hated every single class.
Apart from one. He loved music. And, honestly, he was absolutely incredible at it. He could sing beautifully – and play the guitar like no-one else I’d seen. But the important part was that he loved it. Spending hours on his guitar, or performing on stage, made him the happiest you would ever see him.
Unfortunately, we’ve all known someone like this – and we may still do. Someone who spends hours – either because they have to or because they feel they have to – doing things they hate. Someone who spends hours doing that thing even when there is something they are quite simply a genius at – something they should be doing instead.
This person could even be you.
The truth is we all have something at which we’re really bloody brilliant – we just may not know that.
But the point is that we don’t need to be like this young man then, who spent years of his life doing something when he wished he could be exploring his genius. As business leaders, we can instead dedicate our lives to that thing we love – and forget about everything else.
That young man went to music school and has since lived the dream. Find your zone of genius and follow in his footsteps.
The Zones of Ability.
Dan Sullivan, the author and motivational coach, sets out a framework that characterises all human activity into four categories. These are the Incompetent, Competent, Excellent, and Genius zones.
Everything we do falls into one of these zones. But the key, obviously, is to spend as much time in the zone of genius – or the ‘Unique Ability’ zone – as we possibly can. The problem is that most of us don’t. Only one percent of us do, Sullivan surmises. Rather, we frustrate and exhaust ourselves by sitting in the zones that we resent.
Let’s take a look at the zones in detail.
The tasks that sit in the zone of incompetence are those that bore us, tire us out. They are those that we have no desire or intention to ever improve at. For the guy I knew from above, these were those ‘academic’ subjects which he simply couldn’t bear.
Yet, it’s not just a question of like or dislike – and there is absolutely no reason to think that this guy was just lazy. These are, rather, tasks and activities that drain your self-esteem, that switch you off, that bring you no joy at all.
In the competent zone, there are tasks which you are okay with doing, but that don’t provide any sort of positive inspiration at all. You’ll find them boring – and you won’t find that your performance is even remotely exceptional. Honestly, other people will probably do them better.
You’ll probably know what these tasks are for yourself. And you may also be spending more time on them than you’d like – and than you’d like to admit.
The excellent zone harbours those tasks that you know you’re good at – and that other people know you’re good at – but that bring you no particular spark of joy or passion.
Whilst it’s known as the ‘excellent’ zone, Sullivan also refers to it as your comfort zone. As such, these are the tasks that you are not needing to cultivate to excel at, nor do you even care to. Despite its name – and despite your excellence at these tasks – there is an air of stagnation about this zone.
Of course, then, the zone of genius is where you want to focus your attention.
This involves the tasks that bring you joy, that give you energy, at which you want to thrive and which you want to develop and develop and keep developing. They make you really happy – like music for the young man above.
In all likelihood, these are the tasks at which you are going to be better than anyone else.
Focusing on Your Zone of Genius.
Do you remember my article on doing less? The tasks in the genius zone are those over which you need to obsess, those for which you need to clear as much space as possible. As others have argued, this isn’t going to just make you happy, but it will also positively affect your business’s bottom line.
So, how do you clear that space? Sullivan’s framework gives you an easy answer to this.
Outsource and Delegate.
Those tasks in the zones of incompetence and competence, you need to stop. Simple as that. They should be outsourced or delegated to others. Any resistance to this may be a problem of over-control in your business. You know that you are no good at these things, that you hate them, and that others could do them better.
Systematise and Schedule.
The things you are then left with are the zones of excellence and of genius. You needn’t let go of the former. However, to give the latter the space that it requires, you need to systemise it, contain it: you should not be spending all your time in your comfort zone.
The zone of genius needs space to flourish. And for it to have that space, you need to give it that space. So limit your excellence to what is necessary and schedule time to indulge your genius and thrive.
HOW to Find Your Zone of Genius: Action Points.
- Get conscious. You need to start being aware of the things that make you tick – and the things that really don’t. Start to be conscious of when you are bored or frustrated – or when you are having a whale of a time.
- Write all these down – and be prepared to act on these findings.
- Start getting rid of those tasks you hate. Outsource them, delegate them, or find a way to automate them.