For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. – Jim Collins, Good to Great
In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins investigates the unique qualities that transform merely good companies into great companies. Through research on companies like Kroger, Pitney Bowes, and Abbott Laboratories, Collins and his team profile the roles of discipline, technological innovation, leadership, and other practices and values in guiding business success.
One idea stands out, however, and it probably could have been a topic for an entirely different book. Every company studied for Good to Great had a “fanatical consistency” for integrating all of its actions into a simple, coherent concept, one that united the passion of its team, its key drivers of profitability, and the skills that set it apart from every other firm.
This consistent framework for growth, called the “Hedgehog Concept” by Collins, turns out to be just as meaningful for individuals as it is for companies.
Why You Need a Hedgehog Concept
Young people especially are navigating career marketplaces that are increasingly impermanent. Everyone has to learn how to be a freelancer. Everyone has to learn how to be entrepreneurial. Every career must (in a sense) be treated like its own startup firm. If we want to be great creative workers, we have a lot to learn from what makes companies great.
With that in mind, we “startup founders” have to figure out sooner rather than later our answers to these questions: what is my hedgehog concept? What is my frame of reference for all decisions? What activity or strategy, if pursued rigorously, would allow me to produce the most, be the best I can be, and become better?
How To Find Your Hedgehog Concept
As Collins suggests, sticking to a hedgehog concept may be rather “boring” and “unexciting” (simplicity is the point, after all). On the other hand, discovering this key activity can be especially difficult.
As Zak wrote so well yesterday, finding that focus and that purpose which will define our futures is almost entirely a process of elimination. When we’re young, we’re presented with more options for our futures than we could possibly pursue. We have to learn to say no to most of these in favor of the few that complement each other in a coherent purpose. When we begin to find the actions and mindsets that consistently allow us to grow and master our work, we’re on the right track.
Scaling Fanatical Consistency
Once we really in get into gear with a unifying concept that captures our skills and passions while generating real value, our only limiting factor is our willingness to keep pressing on and getting things done. Though there are many distractions and “great opportunities” along the way (ones that have derailed good companies as well as extremely smart and able people), if we follow results and product instead of perceptions and categorizations from others, we tend to find our way to a real understanding of ourselves and our place in the world of value creation.
Does this seem challenging? Becoming a great firm or an individual is no walk in the park. As Collins points out at the close of his book, however, it often takes just as much (if not more) work to blunder through a mediocre career than it does to zero in on the integrity of mission that will make a life’s work lastingly memorable for others. Which would you rather choose?