The Sweet Spot Exercise: Get Ideas for the Next Great Move in Your Career

If you’re at a place in your career where you’re wondering what you might do next, or how you could tweak your current job so it's more challenging or meaningful, I’ve got a fun and easy exercise that will get you closer to the answer.

It’s the “Sweet Spot” exercise. You’ll use a Venn diagram to discover the intersection of three things about you:

  1. What you’re good at
  2. What you love to do
  3. What the world needs (and would pay you for!)

This exercise's origins

The short answer is: I don't know! I first did this exercise during a retreat at work, and loved it. Basically what I've explained here is what the facilitator had me do -- the concept was so simple that it stuck with me.

With some further research I found that it may have originated from a concept in Jim Collins' 2001 book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't (a recommended read in its own right). A company goes from being "good" to "great," explains Collins (and his years of research), by consistently acting at the intersection of three areas:

  1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at).
  2. What drives your economic engine.
  3. What you are deeply passionate about.

Collins goes into more detail about this intersection, which he calls the "Hedgehog Concept," on his website.

Getting started

1. Draw a Venn diagram (three overlapping circles) on a large piece of paper or whiteboard.

2. Shut the door or do whatever you need to do to get into a loose, non-critical brainstorming mode!

3. Begin jotting in ideas for each circle. I've found that it's easier to fill in each circle one at a time rather than skipping around, but go with what feels best for you!

Tackle each circle

1. What you're good at

This might be the easiest to start with. One thing to keep in mind is that you don't have to like doing these things for it to go on this list. For example, I'm good at taking notes but I hate being appointed this task in meetings. In my case, I could still list "note-taking" here.

Prompts:

  • What are your strengths? Your talents?
  • What have you always been known to be good at? What have you gotten compliments for?
  • If you were to ask others what you're good at, what would they say? Co-workers, friends, family, teachers, church or other organized groups of which you're a part. (If you're stuck, you could even ask these people for ideas!)
  • What comes easy to you but might be difficult for others?

2. What you love to do

Let it rip here! Have fun. What are all the things in life that you absolutely love and could do all the time happily? You don't have to necessarily be experienced or skilled in this.

Prompts:

  • What are you passionate about? (Activities, ideas, subjects, causes)
  • What do you enjoy doing most in your spare time?
  • What would you love to learn more about or spend more time exploring?
  • Where are you and what are you doing when you feel great?

3. What the world needs (and would pay for)

Here you want to identify potentially profitable opportunities you've noticed for your career or in the marketplace more generally.

Note: If you love the company where you work and would just like to change your present role within it, you might try renaming this circle "What [company name] needs (and would pay for)." This might help you generate some ideas to pitch to your boss about a new or revised role.

Prompts:

  • Where do you see a need for a product or service that others might be willing to pay for?
  • What problems have you identified that you could possibly address (in your company or organization, or in the larger world)?
  • What have you heard from your boss or other people around you as an unmet need or gap in services?

Arriving at the Sweet Spot

Now's the moment to take in everything that you've put in your three circles and ask, where is the overlap?

Are there any recurring themes or ideas in your three circles -- or a way to make some combination containing elements of all three? Begin jotting some of these concepts down in the Sweet Spot.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Can you see a way to bring your current job closer to your Sweet Spot?
  • Do you see an opportunity to engage in a new line of work -- or even an extracurricular activity -- that would have you working from your Sweet Spot more often?

The benefits of this exercise

In writing this article, I went back to my old files to see what I discovered to be in my Sweet Spot that first time I did this exercise almost exactly five years ago.

In the photo I'd snapped with my phone, I see scrawled in my Sweet Spot:

  • Creative Problem Solving
  • Listening
  • Connecting with People
  • Writing

It made me smile, because these are the central activities of my work today as a life coach and online entrepreneur. Five years ago I never would have expected to end up where I am now -- but I see that my path here was already beginning to reveal itself all the way back then, even though I didn't realize it at the time.

I see now that there was a real reason why when I began to consider becoming a coach and start my own business, that everything about it felt like it naturally clicked. After all, I'd already identified it as my Sweet Spot. 

Use this exercise to discover what's in your own Sweet Spot, and you'll begin laying the groundwork for taking your own career from good to great.