The curse of competence

Do you have the curse of competence? What it is, and how to get out of it and into your zone of genius.

To understand the curse of competence, let’s use an imaginary person, Sarah, as an example. Sarah is a writer who also happens to be decent at photoshop. One day at work, she gets asked to photoshop a quick image for an article. She does it efficiently and makes no fuss. She gets asked to do just one more photoshop task, and she gets it done. Before you know it, Sarah is knee-deep in tiny photoshop tasks that are outside of her job description and taking time and energy away from what she actually wants to be doing. Sarah is suffering from the curse of competence. It seems harmless until you realize it can slow you down from reaching your full potential and keep you stuck in the weeds.

I have been talking about the curse of competence for over 20 years and just recently was introduced to ‘The Genuis Zone’ by Gay Hendricks via Suzy Batiz, which puts it all into perspective. Hendricks breaks it down into four zones. 

  1. The Zone of Incompetence: You are no good at this, and it is pretty clear. Like me trying to be a project manager dealing with a million moving parts and deadlines. My macro brain gets scrambled in this zone.
  2. The Zone of Competence: You are capable, but just as capable as the Joe Schmo at this. Nothing special. 
  3. The Zone of Excellence: You are significantly better at doing this than other people, and it is evident. This is where I often find myself.
  4. The Zone of Genius: Forbes Magazine states, “in this zone, you capitalize on your natural abilities which are innate, rather than learned. This is the state in which you get into “flow,” find ceaseless inspiration, and seem to not only come up with work that is distinguished and unique, but also do so in a way that excels far and beyond what anyone else is doing.”

Yeah yeah yeah, the zone of genius sounds amazing, but how do we get there? Well, what comes so effortlessly to you that you find it hard to believe when it is difficult for someone else to do that exact same thing? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a cut-and-dry job like being a carpenter or a writer, it can be more abstract, a skill or talent applicable to a variety of areas.

I remember always sitting in meetings with an endless slew of ideas swirling in my head. You just give me one thing to riff off of, and the ideas never stop flowing — this is me in one example of where I am in my zone of genius. Every individual has their own lane where they are able to tap into their genius and move towards their full potential. Where are you, like Sarah, doing things that are in your zone of competence, and how can you begin to let those go? If we can get ourselves into our zone of genius more often, we may just find that work doesn’t have to feel like trudging through mud — it can even be enjoyable, rewarding, exciting, and…feel like play 😉