This is a survey that helps people discover their highest values, passions, and talents

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • Pen and Paper


  1. Ask all of the participants to take 15 to 20 minutes to write down the answers to these questions: What activities did you most like to do when you were a kid?;What did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?;What would you do if you had no fears about money?;What do you most love to do? (You love it so much that you can do it for long stretches of time without getting tired or bored.);What work do you do that doesn’t seem like work? (In other words, time passes quickly and you find yourself engaged, motivated, and absorbed, really interested in what you are doing.);In your work, what produces the highest ratio of impact and satisfaction to amount of time spent? (Even if you only spend a few minutes on it, something may spring forth that leads to huge value.);What is your unique ability? (These are special skills that you’re gifted with. These unique abilities, fully realized and put to work, can provide enormous benefits to yourself, to your organization, or to others in the community. While it’s certainly a virtue to be humble, this question asks you to identify where you are relatively stronger compared to most people.)
  2. After everyone has finished answering the questions, tell this to the participants: “You should now have a sense of what are your ‘genius qualities and skills’ – the things on which you should be spending the most time. It’s similar to the theory of competitive advantage in economics: There are certain things that you can contribute to the world that most others can’t. That’s where you should be spending most of your time.”
  3. Have people get together in pairs to share their answers. Afterwards you can get the entire group together to discuss what they found.
  • This exercise works best if you do it after doing “The Time Audit" activity.
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Ask people how they liked this exercise. Did it shine light upon their priorities? How did it connect with their time audit (the previous activity)? Did people find that they spend most of their time doing what matters most? Or do they find that they are always busy spending time on things that don’t really count. In other words, do they find that they are killing time? (Thoreau famously said that one could not kill time without injuring eternity. He also said, “It's not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?”)

The research is clear: We should spend our time in your zone of genius – doing what we love, and playing to our strengths! We will be far more productive and happy.

Of course, some participants will retort that this is difficult, if not impossible. We all have to do a lot of chores that we don’t like, and which we’re not good at. That’s why the statement above is meant to be a north star. People should strive to spend as much time in their zone of genius as possible.


According to MacArthur Genius Angela Duckworth: “Psychologists have found that asking people to reflect in writing on their core values has miraculous effects on motivation.” For example, a study by Stanford Professor Geoff Cohen and UC Santa Barbara Professor David Sherman suggested that having students write about their values significantly increased academic performance, relationships, and health for several months – or even years – afterward! This is similar to findings about the benefits of reflecting on your strengths and talents. As author Tom Rath says, research from Gallup “reveals that people who focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to have high levels of overall life satisfaction.”


This comes from Becky and Christine Margiotta at the Billions Institute, inspired by Kathryn and Gay Hendricks. We have adapted it slightly here.

Additional Readings

Cohen, G. L., & Sherman, D. K. (2014). The psychology of change: Self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 333-371