The Working Genius Model
I learned this week, via a post by Alan Page, about a different type of personality and work-style assessment called Working Genius. This model defines six styles, then identifies two areas that fuel us, two that drain us, and two that feel neutral.
- WONDER: identifies the need for improvement or change
- INVENTION: confirms the importance of that need, and generates an idea or solution
- DISCERNMENT: assesses the merit and workability of the idea or solution
- GALVANIZING: generates enthusiasm and action around the idea or solution
- ENABLEMENT: initiates support and assists in the implementation of the idea or solution
- TENACITY: commits to ensuring that the idea or solution gets completed and that desired results are achieved
My Working Geniuses⌗
My top two areas were enablement and wonder.
People with this pairing derive real joy and energy from providing meaningful support to causes that align with their idealistic values and sense of belonging. They are often modest about their abilities, loyal, and selfless, proving to be extremely valuable, low-maintenance team members. Because of their depth and desire to please others, they can sometimes be overly deferential and often hesitate to initiate change, preferring to let others make the first move. We call this pairing The Idealistic Supporter.
I considered trashing this draft due to that “extremely valuable, low-maintenance” part. It feels very uncomfortable to post that about myself, perhaps because of that “modest” bit, but ultimately it does feel accurate. Multiple managers have rehired me, and I suppose that would not be the case if I hadn’t consistently demonstrated my value.
The selfless and overly deferential parts of the profile also ring true, although I’m working hard to discover a better balance. I’ve received much-needed feedback that I’m too quick to “do the needful” at the expense of my own growth and fulfillment. It’s no wonder I’ve felt lost in capability, neglecting my fire.
Wonder: The Art of Questioning Everything⌗
While I expected one of my top areas to be Enablement (up next!), I thought Invention or Discernment would rank higher than Wonder. After taking the assessment and reading the full profile, I realize Wonder does make a lot of sense for me under the proper conditions.
People with this genius derive joy and energy from thoughtfully observing the environment around them and wondering whether there might be a different or better way.
The benefits of this genius include asking big questions, prompting people to consider assumptions that may need to be questioned, and challenging the status quo.
While I’ve rarely felt this in my day job for the past few years, I’m slowly realizing that the problem might just be my choice of day job. Outside of my direct assignments, this sounds very much like me. I love to dream big, think deep, and ponder.
Given a problem set that I feel has real impact on peoples’ lives, the wheels can’t help but start spinning. Whether I’m frustrated with an inefficient system for reserving dining at a major resort (still want to blog about this sometime!) or seeing my team struggle to decide between 30+ options for a morale event (did a conference talk on this one!), I’m typically inclined to spend a few hours on a side project if it makes us happier. Those examples serve as a nice segue into…
Enablement: The Joy of Helping Others⌗
This did not surprise me at all.
People with this genius get energy and joy from providing others with the support they need to get something started, and by providing the human glue required to hold it together.
The benefits of this genius include higher morale and greater interpersonal appreciation and support.
Whether working as a tutor in college, driving team knowledge share initiatives, speaking at conferences and user groups, blogging, contributing to open source, pairing, unblocking, connecting people, or (as touched on above) volunteering too quickly for the work no one wants to do, I get tremendous joy and energy from assisting, often even more than from scoring the proverbial goal myself.
And it goes beyond the technical! I have been dubbed “Chief Lunch Officer”, with a personal mission statement “to connect people with their best lunch.” I don’t miss my commute, but I deeply miss the organic interactions with my team, the walks, the coffees, the lunches… I’ll openly share that I struggle to keep my own morale up when I’m not interacting with my team outside the scope of our job descriptions.
My Working Competencies⌗
Had these been my geniuses, the pairing would have read something like this.
A creative, intuitive, and confident generator of new ideas. Uses instinct and integrative thinking to solve real problems.
Identifying these as competencies feels true to me, and I agree that despite the competency, they are not the activities that energize me.
Discernment: The Wisdom of Patterns⌗
The Genius of Discernment involves making sound judgments relying on instinct and intuition across a wide variety of situations. It entails pattern recognition and integrative thinking
I’ve spent a lifetime training my pattern recognition and integrative thinking skills through gaming and working across so many industries, tech stacks, and company sizes that everything feels familiar despite seeing it in a new context.
Solving the same (root) problem so many times that I no longer feel any interest in my work has become a recurring theme in my career discussions. I appreciate how the Working Genius assessment reframes this as a competency. Rather than wallow in the sensations of tedium and banality, I can leverage my experience to offer discernment as a vehicle toward the energy source of enablement.
Invention: The Spark of Creativity⌗
Invention involves creativity and original thinking, often with little direction. People with this genius are confident and inspired by a problem that has no apparent solution, and they derive energy and joy from getting the opportunity to take a first crack at coming up with a new idea.
I do enjoy tinkering with problems that others have classified as unsolvable. It’s how I won my Lumia. It’s how I enabled my team to achieve consensus on morale events and lunch plans by creating a pairwise ranking aggregator. It’s how I got my family every Disney dining reservation we wanted by creating a system to monitor openings and text me if what we wanted became available.
I’m not sure why this fell to a competency rather than a genius, but I suspect that (as with Wonder), context matters. The examples above were all problems that I cared about solving. Maybe the act of solving a hard problem for its own sake isn’t that important to me. Maybe, again, what drives me is how my solution makes someone’s day better.
My Working Frustrations⌗
The GT pairing reads as follows.
A taskmaster extraordinaire. Willing to push and remind others, and dive in themselves, to ensure that things get done.
Yeah, this ain’t me (which is to say, I agree that these are my frustrations). I can do this. I have done this. I’m typically looking at job postings after doing this.
I’ve worked on some great teams that fully embraced shared ownership and cross-functional collaboration. Through the lens of this assessment, I realize that my heart team - this is borrowed from the term heart dog - may be my heart team precisely because we didn’t need anyone to play GT roles.
Tenacity: The Dreariness of Grit⌗
People with Tenacity derive real joy and energy from crossing tasks off a list and knowing that they met the standards for completion. They are also comfortable pushing through obstacles.
Put this way, I’d say that I do have tenacity. Moving work across the board, unblocking, and finishing strong all feel good. Robust standards, quality assurance, scalability, maintainability… all very important parts of solid engineering!
Maybe this becomes a frustration for me when an overbearing process gets in the way of the results. When I become responsible for checking in that others are keeping themselves on track. When our tooling gets in the way of an efficient feedback loop and breaks flow. When pushing through obstacles becomes a Sisyphean effort, alone, repeatedly, with little to no control over broken dependencies, with no end in sight.
Galvanizing: The Futility of Coaxing⌗
The Genius of Galvanizing is about rallying and motivating people, often around projects, ideas, or initiatives. People with the gift of Galvanizing derive joy and energy from inspiring and persuading others to take action to get things moving…
If someone doesn’t want to do it, I have very little desire to spend my time and energy changing their mind. I’ve worn the evangelist hat in the past but have long since outgrown it.
This doesn’t mean I won’t share my ideas, my perspectives, and my discoveries. It just means that once I’ve shared it, if someone doesn’t want it, I’m less interested in convincing them to care than in finding others who are already onboard. I’d rather go make things happen, or at least happy.
I like this model a lot. It’s helping me consider the different areas of my work through their impact on my energy instead of just strengths and weaknesses. I hope that sharing my assessment and reflections gives you enough understanding of the model to think through your own geniuses, competencies, and frustrations! For more information and to find the assessment, visit Working Genius.