Native Genius FAQ’s

What is Native Genius?

It’s unique intelligence that’s innate to you. It arises naturally — it’s not manufactured or acquired. When cultivated, it has the potential to be exceptional. Most of us think genius should feel arduous, so we overlook what’s natural. Native Genius shows up in 3 ways.

1. Bite-sized actions you can’t not do

Native Genius is not one thing you do or are, it’s many things. It’s made up of many bite-sized actions that you do persistently in your life, relationships, and at work. In other words, we could put you anywhere and you’d be doing them. These bite-sized actions seem inconsequential to you, but they are very valuable to others. They are useful in a variety of different venues.

bite sized actions

I ask soul-searching questions. You can put me anywhere and I’ll be doing that — at a cocktail party, sitting next to someone on a plane, during a speaking engagement, in a workshop, in 1-on-1 coaching, and even with my partner before we fall asleep. I can’t not do it.

Asking soul searching questions feels like “nothing” to me — an action I might not notice as persistent and valuable because it comes naturally. So I like to say, if it feels like “nothing” to you, it’s a good chance it’s your Native Genius, because  . . .

Your Nothings are Your Somethings

These bite-sized “nothing” actions are mighty because you can apply them in lots of different situations. A client of mine does “calm & move along” when she facilitates groups, is with customers, and with her family members. When things get heated, she can’t not anticipate needs, calm people down, and help them gain forward momentum toward solutions.

This isn’t the only element of her Native Genius, but it’s one. The beauty of naming this bite-sized action is that it becomes more conscious. Then, my client can use it on the fly, create more opportunities to use it, and let others know she wants to do this more often at work. These are the kind of practices I teach to help individuals, and teams, find and live Native Genius.

2. Signaled through direct experience

Native Genius announces itself through our direct experience — specifically the feelings of innate desire, plus thinking you’ve contributed value or meaning, however small.

One way a client of mine contributes, is by making spreadsheets tell a story. He can’t not work on the visual elements to clearly communicate patterns. It’s meaningful to him — you’ll see his eyes light up when he talks about how important it is for his audience to glean key information in a few seconds. He has innate desire to do it, and he knows he’s contributing what he sees as valuable.

The feelings of innate desire show up in the mind and body when we focus on something with inquisitiveness, and we’re not making ourselves focus — we naturally want to put our attention there. We’re hungry to keep doing what we’re doing, and we feel satisfied. We tend to overlook the signals because we are not taught their value. Simply put, you feel these things . . .

ng signals

For example, a client of mine once said, “I have innate desire to hike — but hiking is not my Native Genius because I don’t feel that I’m contributing to something larger than myself when I do it.” On the other hand, an Outward Bound Leader or Forest Ranger, who loves their work, would likely say that hiking-related activities are an element of his or her Native Genius — because it expresses their unique contribution to the world.

3. A core aspect of your personality

The source of these bite-sized actions has always been in you. It’s persistent and relatively stable over time. The expressions of this core part of your personality will change over the years, but research has shown that as we age, we become more of who we already are.

Why is Native Genius so Valuable?

People who use it everyday at work are twice as likely to be thriving in their lives, 60% more productive at work, and six times as likely to be engaged on the job. When employees are engaged on the job, it leads to significantly better customer satisfaction, productivity, retention, revenue growth, and earnings per share (Gallup, Corporate Leadership Council).

What does Native Genius have to do with Ability?

Especially in the workplace, we focus on ability and overlook innate desire.  It gets interesting when we consider both at the same time:

ability 1

Consider the low ability zones along the bottom. If I have low innate desire and low ability — would you call that a weakness? Not exactly, because I don’t even want to get better at it. Likewise, for tasks that are low innate desire and high ability — would you call those Strengths? I hope not because I don’t want more of that kind of work, and I don’t want to be known for work in that zone.

ability 2

It’s more accurate to call the low desire zone: Non-Native Abilities. No matter how much you try to improve and like them, they feel foreign. Research shows poor ROI from trying to make yourself like what you don’t like — unless you change HOW you do the activity.  This is not to say that you can ignore Non-Native Abilities — we often need to be functional in these to perform well on our jobs. And certainly as parents, you need to raise kids who are functional in subjects like math, which may feel foreign to them.

By calling the low desire activities Non-Native, people accept their wiring and un-shame themselves. This frees up a lot of energy to focus on higher ROI activities that use Native Genius.

ability 3

Consider activities that are low ability, but high desire. I love singing but I’m no Adele, so those are hobbies.

The question is — where are we investing most of our time and attention? When we invest most of our time and attention on high ability and high desire tasks, we use our Native Genius. When we use our Native Genius, we’re much more likely to thrive and kick ass at the same time. You and your team can learn the habits and practices it takes.

ability 5


Here’s how Native Genius is similar, and different, to other concepts you may already know.

How is Native Genius different from strengths or gifts?

Native Genius gives rise to innate desire and strengths. Innate desire drives ability more than any other factor. Strengths tend to be more high level and descriptive of general areas of talent — that is, what we’re good at. Native Genius is specific and actionable. I’ve developed a simple method to find and live your Native Genius more, regardless of your role.

How is Native Genius different from intrinsic motivation?

It’s related because Native Genius involves motivation and desire that comes from within, unprompted, and not manufactured or conjured by an external motivating force — this is the nature of intrinsic motivation. Native Genius adds the element of feeling absorbed in the task and the task expressing an aspect of our unique contribution.

How is Native Genius different from calling?

Calling tends to be very high level, described as one thing, and often described in terms of service to others. For example, “To inspire and engage,” “To help with global warming,” and “To improve others’ health.” I find that calling often doesn’t take into consideration our experience or innate desire. Some lucky few were struck by their calling early on. For the vast majority of us, our calling emerges out of using our Native Genius again and again, for many years.

How is Native Genius different from Flow?

Native Genius is related to Flow, because Flow involves immersion. Native Genius also involves immersion, but has the additional quality of allowing us to think and feel that we are contributing something of meaning or value. For example, I can be in flow when dancing, but dancing is not one of the ways I feel called to contribute meaning or value to others. So, dancing is not an aspect of my Native Genius.

Flow describes an optimal experience or mental state where one is performing an activity and fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment — or full absorption with the task at hand. And one’s emotions are aligned with the task at hand. Flow was observed by Dr. Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi in his research beginning in the 1970’s at the University of Chicago. He was curious about the state artists are in when they get lost in their work — so he studied them. His work has been widely applied in education, the workplace, the arts, and sports.

The immersive quality of flow is often present when one is applying their Native Genius. Simply said, immersion with or without a feeling of contribution is Flow. Immersion with a feeling of contribution is Native Genius.

How is Native Genius different from passions?

The most succinct way I’ve found to describe the difference is with a personal example. I have a passion for eating healthy food, and I go out of my way to do it. It’s often a topic of conversation with my friends, family, and colleagues. But I don’t want to cook healthy food, make a menu about it, research it, teach others about it, or open a restaurant that serves it. It’s not my Native Genius, because I don’t persistently do related actions that I consider to be my contributions of value or meaning.

Why do these differences matter?

Native Genius calls our attention to a certain kind of experience we often overlook. When we pay attention to the specific attributes, it’s easier to spot and put into action.