Have you ever felt like you had a special kind of skill, or a calling, or some bigger reason for existing on the planet? Have you felt like there is more to life than just working a regular nine to five job? Or being a struggling activist working for a pitifully low salary in a sweet but ineffectual non-profit?
Do you get that weird feeling that “there’s gotta to be more to life that this?”
I’ve had this feeling forever. I think you probably have it to.
I believe this feeling is a calling that is telling you that you are not operating from your creative genius zone, and that you really need to be.
I mean literally. Let’s start at the beginning of the universe.
The universe is expanding. It’s growing more complex. It’s been doing it since The Big Bang. That’s a basic fact of physics.
This phenomenon shows itself on our planet in the growing complexity of biological life. Until recently there has been an ever-expanding number of species, ecological niches, and complexity in food chains. Over millions of years, the planet’s life forms have been growing in intelligence. At some point they started to utilize tools. The evolution of tools has grown into what we know today as technology.
This story is told beautifully by Kevin Kelly in his truly awesome book, What Technology Wants. Kelly explains the relationship between biological evolution and technological evolution, hypothesising that there are more or less the same process.
Humans in particular have been getting better at using tools for quite some time. But it’s not just humans that use technology. Birds, chimpanzees, ants, octopus, and nearly all animals use a tool as their own technology.
This is a one-way flow of evolution. We can’t go backwards. We can’t sit still.
I see this flow of evolution as a universal law that also governs our own intellectual, creative, and spiritual growth. That means that for us to fully bloom in our time on the earth, we need to go full-tilt forward with the flow of it. When the world changes, we need to step up to the plate and change with it. This means not taking the easy road or reading the Ikea manual on life. It means making daily choices to dig deeper into our creativity, push harder in our technical pursuits and lean in to our emotional and spiritual development. It means asking the hard questions and taking big leaps.
The only way to discover our own enlightenment is to move into our flow of creativity, innovation and technology, not against it. We find our genius zone from within our unique creativity. That’s also where we are going to experience our greatest love and personal fulfillment.
It’s (probably) where the money is too.
But lolz, that’s not actually what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about how to get into your virtuous cycle of creativity.
It came to me while listening to Gay Hendrick’s wonderful book “The Big Leap”. He’s a PhD psychologist from Stanford University. He explains in his book that working within one’s genius zone is the key to happiness and enlightenment . . . and pretty much everything else good in life. He says everyone has a genius zone, absolutely everyone.
The book resonated with me so much, because I had always felt the same way, that I had a special creative genius zone that I was meant to share with the world. But voice of the genius zone can start to be crowded out by the cliche paradigms of ‘get a job’, ‘wear a corporate suit’ etc that are all competing for the day’s agenda.
But after my years living in Silicon Valley amongst some of the world’s most talented technology folk, and reading the bookWhat Technology Wants, I really saw how moving deeper into innovation and creativity was a natural progression of the universe, and we had the choice to lean in, or be left behind.
This is my take on the genius zone,
1. Everyone has a genius zone.
2. Your genius zone is part of making the world a better place.
3. Your genius zone also requires a free flowing pipeline of creativity.
4. You need to learn tools and technical skills in order to reach your peak creativity and make measureable impact on the world. (Like what I teach in my “Save the World with Gamification” course.) Knowledge begets creativity.
5. The skills you’ve learned will enable you to have real and measurable change on the world. You should find real change you affect in the world epically inspiring.
6. This inspiration, skills and real world change will help you move deeper into your genius zone, and explore more ideas. As you upgrade your knowledge and skills, you will become more creative and so the circle goes around and around and lifts you up into enlightened splendor.
The measurement based change you’re making links together the feedback loop to keep motivating you.
How to find your genius zone
1. What do you love to do?
2. What issues do you want to influence in the world? Who or what do you want to help?
3. What would your most creative solution be to this problem?
4. What skills do you need to learn to become really good at this?
5. How can you apply what you love to do to the cause you most care about?
Knowledge is the key ingredient to creativity
I explained this in the introduction of my video course “Save the World with Gamification”. Technical training and knowledge is critical to being effective not only at changing the world, but to evolving yourself.
I go into this in more detail in my other article “Why you should put measurement at the center of your creative strategy.”
Many people try and ‘find themselves” or “change the world” without studying just how to do that. But the more you study, the more creative you will be. Changing the world is a skill that can be learned. Don’t waste your life paddling in the shallows of your calling, and never really finding your genius zone.
I believe we are going through an era of massive planetary enlightenment. It’s not the first one in all of time, but it is unique to our time on earth right now.
We are shedding many established ways of doing things. Exploratory learning styles are evolving out of the old-guard of structured school curriculum. Computer programming jobs are superseding factory and routine office jobs. Internet businesses are taking over analog business. Old gender roles are being shed as people are seeking greater friendship and independence in relationships. As traditional religion is eroding, the scientific community are studying of spiritual practice through the lens of The Scientific Method.
Many people are desperately pursuing the search for meaning over raw cash or prestige in their careers. We are all yearning to find our special calling.
The work just isn’t there in the humdrum jobs anymore. The universe is beckoning us to evolve.
I did it
I spent three years living in Silicon Valley hacker houses learning to code with the most forward-leaning technology communities on the planet. It’s given me the ability to think about whole new paradigms of change and actually build technology solutions that I would not have dreamed of before. I wouldn’t have even thought them up.
Now I’m 36 years old, and I think I’ve truly found my genius zone. I did interesting things before, but I think I was always off-center a bit from my true nature. Now, I remain steadfastly committed to spending every day doing something that I feel utilizes my unique creativity in a way that changes the world.
It’s not always easy to take entrepreneurial or creative leaps in life. They often contain much suffering before the dawn. But one thing I do know is that I never, ever, ever, look at my life and sadly ponder “I had always wanted to . . .”. That’s a good enough reason for me, and maybe it is for you too.
Tell me about your genius zone
What is your genius zone? What do you want to change in the world? How can I help?
I want to see you jump on that creative upward spiral and do something with your life that makes you feel like you’ve given it your all, that makes your toes tingle when you wake up in the morning, and makes your heart flutter with excitement and eyes bulge at the thought of it . . . and made a difference to something that really matters.
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Check out the other articles in the 21 Days of Gamification series.