When people hear about my work, Native Genius, some smile knowingly—they “get it” without explanation. Others ask, “What is that?” I tell them, “It’s what it sounds like. It’s what comes naturally that has exponential potential. It’s kernels of intelligence and desire that insistently come out—like acorns growing into oak trees. We all have Native Genius—and it isn’t one thing, it’s many things.”
The two key elements of Native Genius are desire and ability. The Native part is desire and the Genius part is ability. If you think of one as the cake and the other as the frosting, you’d probably say that ability is the cake and desire is the frosting. Desire is the part we do, when there’s time, when the bills are paid. The frosting isn’t really necessary to a good cake anyway. I think it’s the other way around. Desire is the cake and ability is the frosting.
Graph it Out
Let’s get a little more technical than cake and frosting. Let’s use a graph, with ability on the horizontal axis with desire on the vertical axis.
When people see my graph, I often hear little gasps of air and a subtle surprised look because right there laid out in four squares is why they sometimes feel so tangled up inside. I hear things like this, “Oh right, there are things I’m good at that I don’t like doing.” And then comes the “no wonder” nod—the “no wonder this feels like crap even though I’m good at it.” And then the cascade of “shoulds,” “I should be happy enough with this. The rest of my life is great. We have enough to pay for….” It’s as if people feel handcuffed to the lower right quadrant—or worse, the lower left. And finally there it is—laid bare in a graph—why their work just doesn’t feel right.
How to Spot Native Genius
You know you’re in the upper right quadrant when your eyes are lighting up. I call this MELU™—My Eyes Light Up. It’s a universal human feeling we’re supposed to have while we’re working. “Yea work is over MELU” and “Yeah I got the raise MELU” and “Drink on the beach MELU” are different from “Native Genius MELU.” Native Genius MELU is when we feel focused without making ourselves be focused, curious, smart, insightful, creative, and challenged in a good way. If someone took away that challenge, we’d be disappointed because we want to do it. Research shows when people are in the Native Genius zone a lot, they’re far more productive, deliver better results, and are twice as likely to be thriving in their lives.
Don’t think Weakness, think Non-Native
When you’re in the non-native zone you feel MEGO™—My Eyes Glaze Over. Rather than thinking of this as a weakness or that something is wrong with you, think of it as a non-native. MEGO is when you have to make yourself focus. You’re bored, annoyed frustrated, and it feels like your brain cells are dying. Research* shows that when you’re in this zone a lot at work, you’re twice as likely to be stressed depressed, and have heart disease. When you’re in that zone, no matter how much you try to make yourself like it, you just don’t.
The fear is that if we let ourselves do our MELU, we won’t be able to put a roof over our heads or pay for the things in life that deeply matter to us. As soon as we let ourselves think, “Hey yeah, that’s right, my MELU matters,” a closet full of “Yeah-But’s” dumps out on our heads. “Yeah but, your MELU isn’t valued by the marketplace….Yeah, but you can’t make money doing that” and the torrent goes on and on. Here’s what to remember: the research is on your side. And every great inventor or leader or hero you admire—when you read about their lives, their greatness was fueled by their MELU: Jane Goodall (Primatologist) John Lasseter (Pixar Founder and creator of Toy Story), Travis Kalanick (Founder of Uber). The list goes on and on. The question is will you say yes to your MELU like they did?
Native Genius is about honoring our own true nature. The journey of being human is coming into accord with our own true nature. No one gets a free pass on that and we all grapple with it in some way or another.
Despite our best efforts to follow our MELU, none of us will ever be in our Native Genius 100% of the time, and none of us gets there in a flash—like winning the lottery. We take Tiny Leaps of Faith to get a tiny bit more MELU and a tiny bit less MEGO. Practice that every day with the people you work with and you’ll all get there faster together. Together you’ll morph to the upper right quadrant.
Being in accord with nature means that most of the time, we get to feel like we’re doing work that we’re meant to be doing. Nature has a lot to teach us about Native Genius. When we see a plant or animal thriving we know it’s doing what it’s meant to be doing. It’s healthy and well supported by its environment. It looks like the best version of itself and nothing else. Your MELU is telling you about your thriving place—it’s pointing to your Native Genius. Follow it.
Take-Home Value: A Simple Way to Get More Native Genius at Work
Regardless of whether you love or hate your work, here’s something you can do to nudge yourself to the upper right quadrant more. Make a list of the 10 tasks that take up most time at work. Write MELU or MEGO next to each one. Sometimes it’s both MELU and MEGO. If that’s the case, break the task down into smaller parts and identify each one with MELU or MEGO. Ask yourself, how can you do less of the MEGO and more of the MELU? Often you’ll have faulty “shoulds” or be blind to options, so ask a friend or colleague to help you. Better yet, do this in a group and help each other maximize your MELU’s and minimize your MEGO’s by redesigning or swapping tasks together.