Is Your Genius at Work? by Dick Richards is a fantastic book about discovering your genius and your purpose and identifying a career that fits well with both. This book was recently provided to me by the publisher, and it’s one of the few unsolicited books I received that I can enthusiastically recommend to others. Why do I say this? Because I personally derived a valuable result from reading this book – the identification of my own core genius.
There’s already a great review of this book written by Dave Pollard, so if you want to know what the book is all about, simply read Dave’s review.
Since I can’t add any value by writing the same type of review as Dave, I’m going to take a different approach and explain what specific benefit I personally received from reading this book and working through its exercises.
Genius makes the bold statement that every person has one and only one core genius, and that genius is unique. Think of your genius as your greatest strength. Long before reading this book I had developed a strong awareness of my key strengths and weaknesses, but I hadn’t given serious consideration to the idea that I might have only one “genius” from which all my key strengths could be derived.
As I went through the exercises in the book, I easily identified many of my own strengths. I’m able to learn very quickly. I’m good at understanding complicated concepts. I can communicate well with both humans and computers. I’ve developed great synergy between my logic and intuition. And so on. But when I listed them all out, I didn’t see any single root genius from which all these strengths could be derived. It was as if they were all relatively prime, with no single common denominator.
But Genius pushes us to think outside the box when looking for our core genius. For example, what’s the lowest common denominator between the numbers 9, 15, 21, and 30? It’s 3, right? How about 15, 25, 65, and 90? The LCD there is 5. Now what about 2, 10, 13, 29, and 300? The book says it’s the letter t, since all these numbers begin with a t. Very sneaky. It’s exercises like these that cause you to keep looking at the question of genius from different angles until you eventually find an angle where the common denominator becomes clear.
I spent about an hour working with the book’s exercises and eventually succeeded in identifying my core genius, from which all my other strengths could be derived. As stated in the book’s suggested terms, my genius is “Optimizing Results.” That’s something I’m uniquely good at. From that core genius I can derive my interest in personal development, productivity, self-discipline, technology, entrepreneurship, reading, writing, blogging, speaking, podcasting, exercising, exploring belief systems, generating passive income, conducting wacky growth experiments, polyphasic sleep, veganism, living consciously, etc. I often see life itself as an optimization challenge.
This is one reason I enjoy the ready-fire-aim approach to goal achievement. I like to just dive in and experiment, since my first attempts (often failures) provide me with a base from which I can begin optimizing. It doesn’t matter what my starting position is – I will always find a way to improve from there. For example, every month I review the stats and feedback from this web site, tweaking things behind the scenes to make the next month even better - more impact, more traffic, more revenue. That’s one reason I was able to raise the monthly income generated by this site by a factor of more than 90x from February to November. This kind of increase isn’t unusual for me. If you give me a stream, I will eventually turn it into a mighty river. I can’t really help it – it’s just my nature.
This idea of optimizing results also gives me a new perspective on my previous career choices. I was an employee for only six months before I concluded it was suboptimal. Then I worked as an independent contractor, which was an improvement on being an employee but still suboptimal. Then I started my games business… another positive step, but I lost money at first. Then I optimized the business model to make it profitable and to generate mostly passive income. Then I came to see that working in the gaming industry was suboptimal for me because it didn’t capitalize on my greatest personal strengths, so I launched this personal development business. And since then I’ve continued the process of optimizing this new business as I teach other people ideas for optimizing their own lives. And no doubt that five years from now, I’ll have found an even more optimal method of expressing my key strengths for the highest good of all. My life tends to get better and better year after year.
Once I discovered this core genius of optimizing results, the whole long-term pattern fell into place. No matter where I find myself, I express an insatiable drive to improve results. I’m constantly giving people ideas to improve their results.
Genius has given me a wonderful boost in clarity, and for that I’m grateful. I like the idea of thinking of my work in terms of optimizing results. That succinctly explains what I do, and it also helps clarify why I write on so many different topics – optimizing belief systems, optimizing relationships, optimizing time management, optimizing emotions, optimizing sleep, optimizing health habits, and so on. All of these factors are important in optimizing one’s results in life.
Although this book doesn’t explicitly address it, I also thought that perhaps all my key weaknesses can be derived from a single core anti-genius. For me this would be anything that interferes with the optimization process. This includes complacency, apathy, negativity, close-mindedness, laziness, inefficiency, tardiness, messiness, stupidity, and incompetence. (My children may have a rough time surviving their teenage years.) Those are the qualities I find most repulsive. “Encouraging chaos” or “increasing entropy” might be reasonable descriptions of my anti-genius, since optimization is a process of increasing order. Somewhat ironically though, I tend to be a disruptive influence on others, since optimization is inherently disruptive. Initially I often increase chaos as I break old systems before pushing things to a new level of order.
Genius also addresses the concept of purpose, although not with as much clarity and depth as genius itself. I honestly didn’t get much out of this part of the book because I’ve already been working with a clear sense of purpose for quite a while. You might, however, find the book’s exercises here valuable if your purpose isn’t yet clear to you. The book will help you choose a career that fits both your genius and your purpose.
The only thing that disappointed me about Genius is that I feel it stopped a bit short in its model of human behavior. While your genius and your purpose are two key factors in choosing your career, there are a couple of others that are equally important: passion and need. Your passion is what you most love to do. It isn’t necessarily the same thing as your genius, since passion is usually about the how while genius is about the what. Genius covers the topic of passion indirectly but doesn’t separate it out like it does with purpose. Need is what you must do, including earning enough money to pay your bills. You can work from your genius and know your purpose and be financially destitute if you don’t find a way to meet your needs. I think Genius would have been even better if it separately covered all four elements instead of just two: needs (body), talents/genius (mind), passion (heart), and purpose (spirit).
I’ve previously written about these four elements in a blog entry called Living Congruently. Stephen Covey presents a similar four-part model in his books.
I can’t really fault Genius for using a two-part behavioral model instead of a four-part one, since the book certainly accomplished its purpose in my case, which was to help identify my core genius. I’m fortunate that I already have a career that wonderfully balances my needs, talents, passion, and purpose, so I knew this book wouldn’t induce a major career overhaul. However, I am deeply appreciative of the new level of clarity this book has given me. That alone made it worth reading. It has assisted me in my own self-optimization process.
If you don’t already enjoy a career centered around your genius and your purpose, then working through this book will probably be more challenging for you than it was for me. Many personal development books contain miserably pointless exercises, but this book is the exception to the rule. Its exercises are intelligent, well-designed, and insightful. There are no pointless quizzes that force you to rate yourself on some arbitrary scale. I also liked that all the exercises are put into a separate section of the book, so first you can read through all the content, and then you can work through the exercises.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m very picky about which books I’ll recommend in this blog, especially those I receive unsolicited. But this book is one that I can wholeheartedly recommend. If you actually work through all the exercises (and none are very difficult), I think you’ll achieve a greater level of clarity. I think this book would be especially great for people in their 20s who are still uncertain about the right career for them.
Two thumbs up!