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Big Ideas

Finding Your Work Sweet Spot: Genuine Interest, Skills & Opportunity

How can you make a real impact with your creative projects? The secret lies in the intersection of your genuine interests, skills, and opportunities.


There are two types of work in this world. The first is the laborious kind, which I call “work with obligation.” It’s work that we do because of a contractual obligation. The second – very different – type of work that we do is “work with intention.”

When we are working with intention, we toil away endlessly – often through the wee hours of the morning – on projects we care about deeply. Whether it is building an intricate replica model of an ancient ship, or pulling an all-nighter to write a song or map out an idea for a new business, you do it because you love it.If you can put “work with intention” at the center of your efforts, you’re more likely to make an impact in what matters most to you. So, how do we find (and foster) work with intention in our lives and projects?

Over the years, I have met many creative leaders and entrepreneurs that have made an impact in their respective industries. No surprise, they love what they do. But when I ask probing questions about their career paths, it becomes clear that their good fortunes were not predestined. Aside from lots of hard work, great creative careers are powered by an intersection of three factors: Genuine Interest, Skills, and Opportunity.

The same thinking applies to successful creative projects. The magic happens when you find the sweet spot where your genuine interests, skills, and opportunity intersect.

1. Your Genuine Interests

What fascinates you? What topic do you like to discuss the most? Most legendary creative careers start with a genuine interest in a particular field. Perhaps it’s film, coffee, or airplane travel. A genuine interest is not about what promises the most economic gain. On the contrary, it is a topic that trumps economic concerns because you love it so much.

While money is important, the drive toward remarkable achievements comes from a deeper place. To understand the symptoms of work performed without genuine interest, look no further than abandoned projects and the malnourished careers of middle managers that count down to 5pm. It’s not pretty.

Attempting greatness without a genuine interest in the field is like running a marathon after fasting. Remarkable achievements are fueled by genuine interest.

Attempting greatness without a genuine interest in the field is like running a marathon after fasting.

2. Your Key Skills

What are your skills and natural gifts? Do you have a knack for math or storytelling? Perhaps you possess a unique compassion for the human condition? Take an inventory of what you know or could easily learn. The skills you have are a helpful indicator for the opportunities that are most likely to flourish under your leadership. Of course, skills alone are insufficient. But, when paired with a genuine interest and a new opportunity, your innate capabilities can truly shine, opening the path to success.

3. Your “Opportunity Stream”

The third factor that plays into every successful career is opportunity. Unfortunately, this is often where we get stuck, discounting the potential opportunities that surround us as inadequate. There is no such thing as equal access to opportunity. Old boy networks and nepotism run rampant in all industries. And most opportunities are entirely circumstantial. As such, you must simply define “opportunity” as an action or experience that brings you a step closer to your genuine interest.Opportunity is less about leaps forward and more about the slow advance. Most folks I meet recall their greatest opportunities as chance conversations. This is why personal introductions, conferences, and other networking efforts really pay off. Just surrounding yourself with more activity will inherently increase your “opportunity stream” – the chance happenings that lead to actions and experiences relevant to your genuine interests.

Just surrounding yourself with more activity will inherently increase your ‘opportunity stream.’

Working at the ISO (Interest, Skills, Opportunity) Intersection

As you contemplate your next career move or a new project, you should take the intersection of your genuine interests, skills, and opportunities into consideration.

Contemplate the three circles of the Venn diagram above  –  one circle encompasses your genuine interests; one, your skills; and one, the stream of opportunities available to you. An intersection between just two of the circles doesn’t cut it. A love for basketball and a connection to an NBA scout won’t help you if you lack the skills to play ball. You need to find YOUR trifecta.When you engage with a project that finds this intersection, you’ve entered your zone of maximum impact. In such a state, you are a potent force of nature  –  your avocation becomes your vocation. You can work with full conviction, without ambiguity, and you can transcend your reliance on short-term rewards and societal approval.

When you engage with a project that finds the intersection, you’ve entered your zone of maximum impact.

As leaders, we must help our partners and employees find work at the ISO intersection. Legendary managers seek to understand the genuine interests and skills of their employees, and are constantly trying to create opportunities within the intersection.Want to change the world? Push everyone you know to work within their intersection. Mentor people to realize their genuine interests, skills, and to capitalize on even the smallest opportunities that surround them. When it comes to your own career, make every decision with a constant eye for work in the intersection.

A career of “work with intention” is the kind that moves industries forward. Do it for yourself and for the rest of us.

More Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (33)
  • essay help

    Thanks for useful information

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  • Matthew

    Most insightful post I’ve read all year. THANK YOU.

  • Jody

    sweet!

  • Leon

    Great post, actually i’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately, because i’m about to make a job switch. Thnx

  • Graphicdesignboss

    Such a great post. I know what my creative sweetspots are – typography (love it!) strategy and creative direction.

    I’ve also started to blog about another sweetspot where I hope to help designers who aspire to go out on their own and run a design business. http://www.graphicdesignboss.com It’s not a template design blog, but rather me sharing from my experience as a design ‘boss’.

    My sweetspot is to help people get their business off the ground without having to leave their passion of design behind. For all of us who run design businesses we know how challenging this can be because so other things compete for our time.

  • Jamie Mari

    Several months ago I took a few weeks off of my “work with obligation” for surgery. During many boring hours in bed afterward I contemplated just about everything covered in this post, thus my new business (http://www.bittybiz.com) was born! It’s very much in launch mode but it’s amazing the difference working with intention has made in my world already. Great post!

  • Drew C David

    I have heard people say, “if an opportunity presents itself it is too late to prepare.” If we are not aware of our interests/passions and don’t take the time to hone in on and develop our skills, even the greatest opportunity will be of no use to us. When we do prepare, even the smallest opportunities can be life changing.

  • Design Elements Blog

    great! “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius

    http://design-elements-blog.co

  • Anvisuals

    Hi, and thank you for the ideas… I’m at the beginning of my quest for right opportunities, hopefully I will get the most interesting ones. Or nice surprises 🙂

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  • Richh

    A building block guideline simplified in one concept…ISO. This is nice.

  • FletcherT

    The most unfortunate part of this is that we all can’t have the “work with intention” feeling that the lucky get. Mainly because we all don’t get paid to do what we love to do or we wouldn’t get paid enough to do what we love to do. The bold take that pay cut, it’s a matter of what you think you can do realistically.

    Fletcher T.
    email marketing solutions

  • Cassie Wallace

    This is truly one of my favorite articles I have ever read in the careerism/personal branding/development area. It just speaks to me for some reason.. maybe because I have spent a lot of time trying to find that sweet spot.

  • michbold

    Great.
    I’m working around that G-point on a daily basis

  • James

    This is such a good article. I have just finished a presentation on ‘Flow’ and this is right on the same lines. How can you be successful doing something where you dont havethe passion and the skills!

    Keep up the great work….

  • Dorothy LaRue

    This is such a useful distillation of the best work/life guidance, Scott. Thank-you. I particularly like your description of opportunities as always around us, if we are paying attention and open to them. I first read it as “a slow dance” instead of “a slow advance” and like the metaphor of opportunities/our journey as a dance (which is sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes funky, but always moving.) I also appreciate you calling on leaders (which we all are, in different contexts) to help others find their ISO Intersection. The more of us doing work we love and are great at, the happier and healthier, and more fun!, our world will be.

  • Stephen Gaudet

    Have you found it yet? I’m still searching for mine.

  • Sally

    This article is very insightful and encouraging. After quitting my job due to a knee injury and lengthy physical therapy I realized more than ever that I didn’t want to go back to my 29 year old career. My interest/hobbies have always included horses and taking photos. Neither one involves a big pay check but I’m honing my skills and searching for the opportunities. I haven’t found “the zone of maximum impact” but will continue forwards with my new business:
    http://www.sallygilesphotography.com

  • Simona Goldin

    This is a great concept, I’ve heard it before a few times and have applied it in my own business and while teaching/consulting. What I would add is that another key step is to find out whether the market wants it or not by researching and surveying. If you only combine your interests with genuine skills the market might not want your product/service. I see it very often: entrepreneurs spend endless time and money on something they define as a “sweet spot” only to enter into the market and be rejected. They are floored as to why it didn’t work out. Before you even begin the process you must ASK your market and only then DELIVER.

  • Michael Locke

    An amazing article. So on the point in every aspect.

  • Boise Skier

    Feeling fortunate to have run across this… Thank you!

  • Elkegigihardt

    Wonderful article! I have shared similar sentiments with my students over the years, as a career counselor and as an instructor.
    Something to consider: where do values and personality fit into the sweet spot?

  • dvkun

    As any model, we can try to inject new variables and enrich it. —but to be practical, I’d say they could fit into interest (values) , and skills (personality).
    The search and caring of values conforms a very first motivator, and personality is a ground for our aptitudes to play. 🙂

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