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What Is Zone of Genius?

I welcomed the CEO of Fuel to Fire, Midori Verity, and in our discussion Midori schools me on the “zone of genius”.


What is the zone of genius, why is it important, and why should an entrepreneur care?


If you are like me and have been living under a rock for the past 2-years producing a podcast from your basement, then “Zone of Genius” may be a new phrase to you as well.


The Zone of Genius was coined back in 2009 when Gay Hendricks wrote the book The Big Leap and laid out the framework of creating harmony between jobs and people. I have recently purchased and am reading through The Big Leap and plan to read The Genius Zone thereafter.


The book describes how to optimize oneself and others in specific roles to maximize performance and overall enjoyment, and it comes down to asking three questions:

  • What does the entrepreneur want?

  • What is the entrepreneur good at?

  • What need is being solved to achieve this goal?


Now again, I am just reading about this. However, I read The Manager’s Handbook by Alex MacCaw that describes the four zones pretty well:


There are four zones: Zone of Incompetence, Zone of Competence, Zone of Excellence, and Zone of Genius.


Zone of Incompetence


In this zone the most obvious misalignment between people and tasks is where there is a lack of talent or skills, according to MacCaw. In this case, the person should either be retrained, redistributed in the organization - meaning placed in a new role, or asked to find a better match outside the company, said MacCaw.


And this makes sense - I was taught there are three types of employees:


Engaged employee - someone that comes to work every day, enjoys their job, and has a sense of fulfillment in what they are doing


The RIP employee - this is an individual who is “Retired-In-Place”, they come do the bare minimum but they do not cause any trouble. They get their payout and they go home.


Lastly, there is the CAVE employee: Constantly Against Virtually Everything employees who really are disengaged and truly do not enjoy their role, organization, or colleagues.


Now I do not generalize staff constantly into these categories, and these are not meant to be derogatory. This is simply how an entrepreneur could view staff or how staff could view themselves.


I like RIP employees because I know I can get them to being engaged by finding a role within the organization that aligns with their skillset. I was an RIP employee for years! I sat at work and did the crossword every day.


It wasn’t until my director manger sought a role that she knew aligned with my goals and skill set that I became an engaged employee, and the rest is history. However, a CAVE employee can actually bring down the entire culture in an organization because they are constantly against virtually everything.


I hate the drive to work, the brand, the CEO, the color, the logo, and they are entitled to let everyone know exactly how they feel. It is ok to help them find other roles outside the organization, and it is ok to seek other roles outside of organizations.


Remember, you can work for an organization and still be an entrepreneur.


MacCaw continues to describe:


Zone of Competence


These are tasks that people are good at, but that other people can do better. Work that falls under this category should be delegated or redistributed to people more suited for it.


I feel I am pretty good at talking. I can spark up a relationship pretty well, so when I am tasked to build community relationships, I am tapping into my zone of competence. Building the relationships is the task I am good at.


MacCaw continues:


Zone of Excellence


It’s less clear when someone is talented and skilled in a particular area but the work doesn’t give them energy. They may be successful in the short term, but over time they will burn out. We call this the Zone of Excellence. It’s important to recognize when people are in this (or even better if they can recognize it) so you can do something about it.


In this case think of an artist or a scratch golfer for my sports junkies. Someone that is simply gifted with a unique talent. Although someone may be a talented painter, sculpturing may be their desired profession.


Lastly, MacCaw states:


Zone of Genius


When all talents, skills, and strengths are all aligned, we are in our Zone of Genius.

The things in your Zone of Genius are the things that you are uniquely good at in the world, and that you love to do (so much so, that time and space likely disappear when you do them). This is where you can add most value to the world and yourself. This is where you should be driving toward spending most, if not all, of your time. The same goes for your team; they're at their best when they're operating out of this place.


Listen I have no clue what my zone of genius is, and that is ok! In fact, my next guest Midori Verity, CEO of Fuel to Fire, is here to help find that inner genius with accountability groups for seasoned entrepreneurs and leaders.


Because at the end of the day, we’re just one entrepreneur in a community of entrepreneurs.

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