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How I'm Living in My Zone of Genius
Editor's note: This is a guest post by Cory Huff and part one of a series on Project Leonardo.
Last week I sat in the car with two friends. One of them asked how I choose to spend my time on various projects. His question comes as no surprise. In addition to founding The Abundant Artist, I’m helping found a game company. Last year I helped grow an online course company. I’m also an actor and writer. Later this year I’ll release my first novel. I truly embrace being a Creative Giant with my whole soul.
But I can’t do all of those things at the same time. In order to make them happen, I find partners to take over the stuff I’m not good at doing. I also figure out how much time I spend in my Zone of Genius.
Coaches and researchers call the Zone of Genius different things (I first came across the term in Gay Hendricks’ book, The Big Leap). Dan Sullivan names it Unique Ability. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it Flow. [fl_builder_insert_layout id="54821"]
Essentially though, the Zone of Genius happens whenever you execute at a high level. At those times, everything seems effortless.
The Abundant Artist (TAA) started as a side project to help me figure out how creative people made money. I had recently graduated from college and sought a way to escape the corporate grind while working a day job in internet marketing. Through blogging and podcast interviews with hundreds of artists, I started seeing patterns in how successful artists operate.
I started sharing, teaching, and coaching three activities that align with my Zone of Genius.
How Did I Discover My Zone of Genius?
In his book Unique Ability, Dan Sullivan teaches a discovery process that helps people find their Zone of Genius. He starts by advising you to email 10 of your closest friends and colleagues and ask them where they think you excel. The book also has several other exercises that I’d encourage you to undertake.
After completing those exercises, look at what gives you energy. What do people compliment you for? What work or hobby seems effortless? You’ll find your Zone of Genius somewhere in that mix.
Conversely, what sucks away all your energy? What do you avoid doing? Those things fall outside your Zone of Genius.
A wealth of quizzes and tests exists to help you find your Zone of Genius. Popular ones include Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, The Fascination Advantage, Kolbe, Strengths Finder, and others. Some of these quizzes have very little rigorous science behind them, but they can give you some ideas on where you might function best. I have found Kolbe and Strengths Finder to be the most useful.
After taking all of those quizzes, receiving feedback from friends and peers, and spending years pondering and applying the concepts to my work, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Zone of Genius is not skill based. You can be good at painting, performing, solving math equations, or marketing in many different ways.
For example, one engineer might be great at finding details that others just can’t because that engineer is patient and meticulous. Another might be a great engineer because they are great at conceptualizing solutions to problems most people couldn’t imagine. Both individuals possess engineering skills, but use completely different approaches that fit well with different problems.
I say all that because elevating yourself out of what you do daily is important when it comes to discovering your Zone of Genius. The Zone of Genius is more about process and personality than it is about certain skill sets. (Tweet this.)
Take me as an example. The number one piece of feedback I have received from friends, colleagues, and tests is that my core strength is enthusiasm. It took me a long time to see the characteristic as a strength or skill that could be put to tangible use. But it is a strength, and one that can be used to push myself further and help people grow. People tell me I’m fun to be around, inspire them to take action, and create momentum that gets people over the hump of whatever challenges that might be coming up with a project. I will also say things other people in the room are thinking, but are too afraid to say — for good or ill.
Beyond that, I’m a good communicator. I can communicate what needs to be done in written or spoken format, when it needs to be done, and how to do it in a way that involves everyone and lets them know where they stand. I’m also good at discovering or creating new ideas and explaining them to others in a way they can understand and get excited about them.
My primary work skill is marketing. My Zone of Genius undergirds it and manifests itself in a few key ways:
I’m very good at identifying the core story of a business. When I teach workshops, I am most in flow when helping creatives identify their one-sentence message for their audience.
I can effortlessly create marketing content. Whether it’s blog posts, videos, or downloadable PDFs, I create marketing content that is helpful and powerful. They’re not all winners, but my batting percentage is high.
I can identify trends in social media, search, and the culture at large. This knowledge allows me to position products and services for success.
It took me several years to learn those things about myself. But self-discovery is a process that never ends, I think. The more I live in my Zone of Genius, the better I get at using and applying it to different work skills.
Why I’m Changing Everything
At first, so much of The Abundant Artist required me to operate outside my state of flow. Because it was just me, I ended up doing a lot of things that are not in my Zone of Genius, like bookkeeping, arranging travel, and building my website. Even though I grew the business and found a decent amount of success, I soon discovered a natural upper limit to the kind of business I was running.
Dan Sullivan calls that limit the Excellence Trap. The Abundant Artist makes a good living for me. It has been fun. But it sometimes felt like a slog, despite the fact so many people have benefitted from it.
I’d gotten stuck in an Excellence Trap, and if I wanted to escape it and live in my Zone of Genius, I’d have to make some changes. And I did. I hired two team members this past year and added a third team member this year to handle day-to-day operations of the business. Doing those things has been super helpful, leaving me time to focus on higher level strategy and think about what I should be doing next.
As I spent time setting goals and strategies, I started to realize I’d been subconsciously hiding behind TAA. It lets me to use my excellent marketing skills but doesn’t really touch on my Zone of Genius in a way that grows a business. For example, I can do I do a lot of coaching and teaching on my own, but if I wanted TAA to grow, I needed to hire coaches and let them do the day-to-day coaching. This benefitted me and the business in two ways: feeding my desire for new things and helping me stay enthusiastic about current projects and workloads.
At the same time, with all of these new hires in place, I was able to deeply embrace some experiences that allowed me to live in my Zone of Genius. I started a side hustle doing marketing consulting for some startups. It went really, really well. I got to teach, build marketing strategies in new industries, interact with new people from new companies. (And it helped out a lot that a couple of those projects created wildly successful outcomes.)
What’s Next: Project Leonardo
The changes with TAA have been so successful that I’ve decided to continue testing my theory: I can do things, outside of TAA, that enable me to operate in this Zone of Genius in all aspects of life. I’m running the test publicly to keep me accountable and work things out with partners like you. Plus, my extroverted nature pushes me to work out ideas by talking about them, seeing how others react, and adjusting from there. All of that takes a certain amount of vulnerability, but I’m ready to take that on.
So here goes. My next project is called Project Leonardo. It aims to launch 12 websites about niche topics in a year, ideally at the pace of one website per month. We need the expertise of people like you to make this happen.
Why would you want to get involved? Well, niche websites are one of the fastest ways to turn a hobby or interest into a side income that eventually replaces your existing income. Create a website about a topic; fill it with interesting articles, videos, and other content around that topic; and begin to attract attention from Google and social media. Once you attract enough attention, you can begin making money with affiliate links, advertising, sponsorships, and original products like ebooks or courses.
But I can’t create all that content alone. I’m looking for partners to take this journey with me. Specifically, I want to share your knowledge with the world and turn it into a business that generates revenue for both of us. We’ll collaborate on content, with either you creating the content yourself or guiding my writing team. Once the content is created, my team will create the website and handle marketing, promotion, and affiliate and product relationships.
If you would like to learn more about Project Leonardo, I put together a deeper explanation at the Project Leonardo info page.
My Next Productive Flourishing Post
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks or so with an update on what’s going on. To give you a preview, I’ll say that people get REALLY excited about big, ambitious projects. As I’ve spoken with my immediate circle about this crazy idea, I’ve had some real enthusiasm reflected back at me. People have suggested over 40 ideas already, including joining with some businesses that are already generating significant revenue.
I’ve also met some resistance and criticism. Some well-meaning people want me to change the project to fit what they think it should be. In the next blog post, I’ll talk about how I’ve dealt with those conversations.
Got questions about Project Leonardo or the Zone of Genius? I’ll be in the comments. Feel free to ask away.