Is Your Genius At Work?

WhatToDoDick Richards’ new book Is Your Genius at Work? is designed for people contemplating a career change. Its focus is on helping people find their genius — the one thing they are especially and uniquely good at, and then finding application for that genius in the work world. Its audience is anyone who believes they are currently doing less than they could or should, both for their own fulfillment and to make a contribution to the betterment of the world. It’s especially valuable for those who are in need of an ego-boost — those who don’t believe they have genius, and don’t believe they are especially good at anything.

There is no rocket science to Richards’ process. It is essentially a workbook, in the vein of Bolles’ What Colour Is Your Parachute? but less focused on researching jobs at the intersection of What you love, What you’re good at, and What’s needed, and more on identifying and naming What you’re good at, and Why you’re here.

Like Parachute, Genius is full of exercises, and I worked through them to see whether they provided insights different from Parachute‘s. Richards seems to take it on faith that What you’re good at is congruent with What you love. I think that’s debatable, but perhaps it doesn’t matter — since the exercises get you to identify both, and then find ‘common denominators’, the result is one genius, one talent, that lies at the intersection between them (spaces 2 & 3 in my diagram above).

I particularly liked the ‘sales pitch’ at the start of the book for working through it. Many people give up too easily on self-discovery exercises like this because they’re not sufficiently convinced that the outcome is worth the effort. The arguments Richards makes for discovering and applying your genius are: (a) stronger sense of identity, (b) clearer sense of direction, (c) increased self-confidence, (d) language to communicate the value you can add, and (e) greater satisfaction and productivity in your work.

The four stage process outlined in the book is (1) discover (recognize) your genius, (2) ask yourself whether your current job/career makes good use of it, (3) discover your purpose, and (4) ask yourself whether your genius is being (or can be) applied to fulfill your purpose. Your purpose is your self-acknowledged reason for living, what you feel you were born to do.

Richards posits several ‘restrictions’ or ‘conditions’ to force you to narrow your (many) talents and passions to your one true genius:

  1. You have a genius.
  2. You have only one genius.
  3. Your genius has been with you your whole life.
  4. Your genius is natural and spontaneous.
  5. Your genius is a positive, rather than destructive, energy.
  6. Your genius is what it is, not what you would wish it to be.
  7. Your genius’ name consists of one gerund (word ending in -ing) followed by one noun.
  8. Your genus is unique to you.

When you’ve recognized your genius, Richards says, you’ll know it. Alternatives won’t improve the name you’ve given it. It will be specific enough to be truly unique (already directing your mind towards how that uniqueness could distinguish and fulfill you if it were properly applied). It will be powerful. And, while it may take some time to reveal itself and may evolve over time, it will prove durable.

If identifying your genius proves elusive, Richards recommends looking at the following:

  • Your disrepute: Things you do passionately that others criticize you for
  • Your frustrations: Things you are discontented with
  • Your elation: Things that bring you great joy and sense of accomplishment
  • What you offer: Things you give to others openly and voluntarily
  • Your interests: Things that pique your imagination and attention
  • Your successes: Things that worked well, that were easy for you
  • Images that attract you: Art and models that resonate with your perception of reality

The process for recognizing your genius is less rational and more intuitive and emotional than Bolles’ Parachute discovery process, more a process of self-realization than research and self-analysis. This works for me, since I enjoy that kind of exercise and am reasonably good at it. But I’m not sure it can work for everyone. If you really don’t know yourself, I can imagine you would find this book frustrating.

Richards spends only two pages on the second stage of the process: Asking yourself whether your current job/career makes good use of it, or could be changed to make good use of it. He knows, I think, that the people who will be attracted to this book will probably answer this question in the negative, and trusts each reader to decide for herself what to do about that.

For the third stage, discovering your purpose, Richards again suggests a set of ‘restrictions’ or ‘conditions’ to narrow the candidates and help you hone in on your one true purpose:

  1. Your purpose must be discovered, not invented
  2. Your purpose is directed outward — it is the specific, tangible way in which your genius, your gift, is given to the world
  3. Knowing your purpose allows you to be more intentional and effective in fulfilling it
  4. Your purpose gives focus and meaning to your life and directs your decisions on what to do

And, again, if identifying your purpose proves elusive, Richards suggests looking at the following:

  • Your strong emotions: What stirs you
  • What other people ask of you: How they see your purpose
  • Unexpected occurrences and turning points: Life events that might at least suggest what is not your purpose after all
  • Your suffering: What you have had the courage to survive and overcome
  • Meditation or prayer: Revelations that come from quieting your mind
  • Your family history: What your family has seen as its purpose, and has suggested, with their special knowledge of you, might be yours
  • Recurring ideas: Ideals and intentions and unmet needs and possibilities that have intrigued you for much of your life

And finally, redirecting your genius so it is focused on achieving your purpose requires, in addition to a lot of thought and energy and passion, a sense of personal responsibility, a sense of knowing your own heart, a sense of deep self-awareness, and personal courage. These personal qualities and capacities both emerge and find expression through the realization of your purpose by applying your genius.

The book is well-written, concise, un-preachy, illuminating, and down-to-earth, and I would recommend it not only because it can help you with your next career move, but more profoundly because it can help you to realize yourself, be happier and more fulfilled in all aspects of your life, and, in the process, make the world a better place.

What is your genius? What is your purpose? And is the former helping you achieve the latter?

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10 Responses to Is Your Genius At Work?

  1. Meg says:

    Wow — that’s a lot to digest. I think I might end up working through that…

  2. Cristosova says:

    thanks for that! it comes at a good time.

  3. Yves says:

    Thanks for this interesting digest!Finally, what is your genius Dave ? -apart from being the author of one of the most fascinating blogs of the Internet? ;-)

  4. Nimmy says:

    Thanks once again for another great post, Dave!

  5. Meg – Let us know how you “work through”. And, Dave, I’ll echo Yves — what is your genius?

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Hmm…I knew someone would ask me that. Let me start with my Purpose, because that I’m relatively sure about: It’s Provoking Change. I think I have several talents that lend themselves to that Purpose:(1) Appreciating Earth (in the larger and more active sense of ‘appreciating’) (2) Offering New Ways of Thinking(3) Designing Models of UnderstandingMy Appreciation Of Earth is a condition precedent for (2) and (3), but fails the ‘directed outward’ test, except to the extent I express that appreciation in my writing in ways that are (sometimes) infectious. This is the talent that to me is most heartfelt. But my passion is really more about (selfishly?) learning to appreciate than about the very difficult task of conveying that appreciation to others in intelligible and useful ways.The second of these (Offering New Ways of Thinking) is the outlet for my imagination and lateral thinking ability. This capacity has not been with me my entire life, however — I learned it through self-study in my late teens. It is what I am most often sought for by others who need a sounding board or are struggling to get their thinking ‘out of the box’.The third candidate (Designing Models of Understanding) is an expression of my desire to create something useful. Those models range from methodologies to conceptual models to poetry to more concrete models for Intentional Communities and New Economies. But I confess I lack both skill and passion for the detail, and once the models have been designed and discussed I am content to let others actually bring them to fruition, and to play only a peripheral role in their realization.I write mainly to think out loud, to get my own thoughts in order, to synthesize and integrate ideas for personal reasons. I’m delighted that my writing is considered valuable by so many others, but if it weren’t I’d still write, just not publicly. Perhaps Thinking Out Loud is my Genius, and (1), (2) and (3) are manifestations of it. But then that would be cheating, since in this context Thinking is a noun, not a gerund, and Out Loud is an adjective, not a noun. Maybe there’s some concise way to combine (1), (2) and (3), but I haven’t been able to come up with it. So perhaps I have yet to recognize my Genius.

  7. You have most definitely gotten the idea and the process, Dave. And your work to recognize your genius so far sounds a lot like my own, which means I have to be careful not to project my own genius and try to convince you that it is “just like mine.” Leave you to your own conclusions. Having said that, I found that my own model building, writing, teaching, and etc. all served the energy in me to create clarity for myself and others. Thus my handle for my genius — Creating Clarity. You are on the right track and, if you stay with it, the Aha! will come. One question. About “I’d still write.” What is it about you that would drive you to do so?

  8. Geo says:

    Hey, thanks for sharing, Dave. This is a germane subject for me right now. Really enjoy reading your weblog.

  9. I’m loving this whole post/comment/link thing. I will buy the book for my husband, but will probably confiscate it for myself at some point too. Thanks for posting your process, Dave. That actually helps, to read about it in somebody else. I’m excited by this concept… it’s a very timely one in my household!

  10. Magmak1 says:

    Thanks. I bought the book on the basis of this and “creating the jobs we want”. Being in desperate straits (lol), I googled “Creating Jobs” and, after wading through the computer operations tips, found your blog. You are the first I’ve seen to approach this on the basis of what is really going on out there. Thank you

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