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Working without trying

One night my husband, Paul, and I are watching a movie. He does something extraordinary that we all do, but most of us miss it. The movie is a coming-of-age story about a kid who starts a business buying nuts at Costco and reselling them. Some sales and cost numbers are mentioned in passing. Paul pauses the movie, as we often do, to add our personal commentaries. 

Within seconds, he’s done the math and tracked the character’s progress, “At that rate, he’ll make $9,000 by June.” I stare at him blankly like he just did rocket science. This is funny because I’m the one with an accounting degree from one of the best accounting programs in the U.S.—and I’m a certified public accountant. Paul had one accounting class in college. What’s going on here?

When you understand what this situation reveals about applying intelligence, it will be exponentially easier to morph your work towards feeling more pumped at the end of the day. 

When it comes to intelligence, pretty much all adults can subtract one number from another. When it comes to making money by spending money, most adults understand the concept of coming out ahead. But what happened on the sofa that night within a matter of seconds illustrates something significant, and dare I say magical, about human intelligence. 

The engine of his intelligence deployed automatically. 

Paul wasn’t doing anything resembling work at that moment. In fact, he was taking a break from any kind of effort at all, and yet his intelligence naturally turned on and started working, without him trying. He would have had to stop himself to not run the calculations. This is one of Paul’s Native Geniuses. Native because it comes so naturally to him that he barely notices he’s doing it. Genius because it’s making a bigger impact than he realizes. 

Now let’s turn our attention to my intelligence when we’re watching the movie. Remember I’m the accountant in the family. And yet it doesn’t even occur to me to run those calculations. 

It’s not that I can’t; it’s that given the choice, I don’t. 

Even though my credentials put me toward the top of the heap regarding expertise in accounting, and even though these credentials prove that I’m “good at it,” I don’t do numbers naturally. This type of intelligence does not automatically deploy in me because the engine of my intelligence isn’t wired that way. In order to track progress with numbers I have to prod, cajole, and force myself to pay attention and do the deed. Intelligence that needs to be forced, prodded, and cajoled is Non-Native Ability. Intelligence that deploys automatically, insistently, and naturally is Native Genius. 


Automatic intelligence


Forced intelligence 

Because human intelligence can function and accomplish a task, we easily think, “End of story.” I learned to do accounting, I got decent grades in accounting, so I’ll be an accountant. We immediately turn our attention to the external product or results from the intelligence, rather than the inner workings of the intelligence itself. We don’t ask whether the intelligence was forced or automatic. 

These two types of intelligences—automatic vs. forced or Native vs. Non-Native—are the single most important thing to understand when it comes to being both successful and fulfilled at work. 

The key factor that distinguishes these types of intelligences is not skills, abilities, and credentials. It’s innate desire that propels your intelligence to operate of its own accord and with very little energy.

Now, my intelligence does automatically deploy in other ways. When we were watching that movie I was automatically thinking about how the character’s childhood trauma might affect him later in life. I could see that the character had Native Genius for making games of his self-assigned sales gig. I also wondered how his family living out of their car when they first immigrated to the U.S. might be swirled up in his ambition. Paul and I had the same information available, and yet we paid attention to and worked on very different elements of that data in the movie. Our intelligence was automatically deploying differently—his tracking progress with numbers and mine on the whys of human behavior and development. 

So if Paul is in a job where he can track progress, he will go to town to do it and think of even better ways to track that progress. Native means he does it all over the place—work, personal life, you name it. Therefore deploying it in his paid work will predictably be both very successful and very fulfilling. If I was in a job where I was spending much of my day tracking progress with numbers—which I’ve done—I’d be exhausted from having to use so much energy to force the engine of my intelligence to operate. 

Research from Gallup and the Corporate Leadership Council bears this out. When you’re using automatic intelligence you’re sixty percent more productive, seen as a better performer by twenty percentile points, and twice as likely to be thriving in your life. 

Now that you understand the importance of how your intelligence works—automatic vs. forced or Native vs. Non-Native—start looking for when your intelligence runs on its own. At first it might be tricky to spot because it operates so naturally, but that’s what makes it so important. 

Here are four quick tips to notice your Native Genius:

  1. Notice when you’re fascinated vs. bored. Fascinated means you’re using Native Genius. Bored means you’re using Non-Native Ability. 
  2. Sometimes an activity will both fascinate and bore you. That’s normal. Notice the nuance of which parts fascinate you and which parts bore you. 
  3. If it feels insignificant to you that’s a sign that you’re using Native Genius. 
  4. Native Genius won’t always feel easy, but it will be the type of challenge you want to stick with. 

The more you notice the difference in the way your intelligence works, the more you’ll be able to direct yourself towards work where you get that magic combination of success and fulfillment. 


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