The Hedgehog Concept

It is so sweet that my mom still worries about me. Specifically she worries that I work too hard.

During my last visit, I tried to explain that there was a blurry line between my work and my leisure because I enjoy what I do so much.

Not sure that I had dispelled her concerns, I finally blurted out, “Work just makes me happy”!

I went on to explain that I don’t expect everyone to enjoy working as much as I do, but I am simply a much happier person when I produce. I’m not a workaholic as I don’t feel driven to work; it is instead something I consciously choose to do because it brings me deep joy and fulfillment.

On the other hand, I’m not so good at taking care of myself.  Musing out loud as to why I too often choose work instead of working out, my husband insightfully suggested, “Because your work is more fun for you”?

He’s a wise man and exactly right.

Both conversations got me thinking. First of all, I was reminded how blessed I am to have work that I enjoy so much.  Secondly, and especially because my career roots are in recreation leadership, it made me think about the importance of leisure education in our lives.

By that I mean helping people developing an appreciation, as well as the skills and opportunities, to use their leisure time in a way that is personally rewarding. For sure, how we choose to spend our free time contributes to our individual quality of life.

A common denominator for ensuring both work and leisure that is joyful is being able to zero in on what brings out the best in one’s self.

While I think I lucked into much of what I do today, Jim Collins has refined a simple and profound set of three questions that he calls the “Hedgehog Concept” for those who need help.

The essence of the Hedgehog Concept is to attain clarity about how to produce the best long-term results in your life. It’s based on Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox” where, based on an ancient Greek fable, he divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes.

The message is that the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

In addition to being a tool for helping to determine how to live one’s best life, Collins also recommends the hedgehog concept for those wanting to build great organizations and businesses.

The concept is brilliant in its simplicity in that it is about you answering three questions. He suggests you use one sheet of paper for each question and initially address the three independently.

The first question is, “What am I deeply passionate about?” Think about what it is you love to do.

The second is “What am I genetically wired to do”? In other words, what are you good at? What fits your psychological makeup and capabilities? It’s also what you think you may have been put on this earth to do.

The third question is what are the possibilities for making a living? Of course, this one will be much easier if finances are not an issue for you.   

Once you’ve answered the three questions, the idea is to find or create a practical intersection of the three circles to determine what you can be the best at doing.

It may be that you won’t be able to come up with that intersection on your own. If so, give copies to others who know you well to get their perspective on where the three circles intersect.

Once you sort out the intersect it can become a filter or compass for navigating your life and keeping you on track.

As a starting point, make an inventory of your activities today and determine the percentage of your time that falls outside the three circles. Collins suggests that if it’s more that 50%, then it might also be about creating a stop-doing list rather than a to-do list as well as exercising relentless discipline to say, “no thank you” to opportunities that fail the hedgehog test.

Just as a great piece of art is as much about what is in the final piece as well as what is not, finding joy is often about having the courage to discard what doesn’t fit. It may mean cutting out parts of your life that have already cost days or even years of effort. Ultimately though, just as it is that choice that ultimately sets the truly exceptional artist and beautiful art apart from others, so too will it delineate a mundane life from one that is truly joyful.




Posted on 04-27-08

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