Hedgehogs and Emotional Self-Awareness
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Hedgehogs and Emotional Self-Awareness

I just read the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins.  I read another Collins book, Built to Last years ago but had never read this book.  Good to Great provides insights into why the greatest organizations perform so well, and other, good organizations, do not.

There is much to learn and apply from this book.  Today I want to focus on just one idea, the Hedgehog Concept, and how it can improve our self-awareness.  Collins applies the hedgehog concept at an organizational level.  However, we can also apply this at the individual level.  In fact, the framework of the hedgehog can be an excellent way to evaluate our own self-awareness which is the first step in applying emotional intelligence.

Let me explain a little about this hedgehog concept.  The hedgehog concept is a framework for how the best organizations focus their energy on doing one set of things better than anyone else.  It is based on an understanding of three key things about that organization and where those three overlap or intersect.  Understanding and applying those three things and the hedgehog concept, is one of the key differences between organizations that were just good and those that were great.

Those three things that the organization needs to understand are what they were passionate about, what they could be the best at, and what would reward them financially.  The concept is represented as a set of three overlapping circles for each question.  The intersection of the three circles is the area of the hedgehog – the one thing that the organization should focus on.

Collins discussed at length how the hedgehog concept applied to businesses and how the greatest companies used it.  He also gave one example of how this might be applied at a personal level and that is what I want to look at today.  The three questions he applied at a personal level were slightly different.  At a personal level, the hedgehog questions might be as shown in the figure below.

Hedgehog_v1_2 The more I thought about these three questions, I realized that this is self-awareness.  The hedgehog principal, when applied at an individual level, can help you to understand if you are doing the work that you should be doing.  Applying the hedgehog can help us to better understand ourselves and improve our self-awareness.

As you will recall from my previous posts on the emotional intelligence domain of self-awareness, this domain includes the competencies of emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self confidence.  The hedgehog concept is directly related to the second competency, or, our ability to make an accurate self-assessment.   In order to answer the three questions of the hedgehog concept, we need to have a strong sense of our own strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s look at each of the questions from the hedgehog concept and explore how each of us can best answer these three questions.

Question #1 – Does it Fire You Up?

The first question and circle is about passion.  Specifically, what are the things that we absolutely love to do?  How can we identify what we are passionate about?  Here are some questions to help you identify those things you are passionate about:
1. What are those things that you absolutely love doing?
2. What activities cause you to be in a flow state; where you lose track of time?
3. What are the things that you enjoy doing the actual process, for it’s own sake?
4. What things do you choose to do in your spare time?  What are your hobbies?
5. What would you do even if you weren’t going to get paid?  What do you volunteer to do today?
6. What are the things that you brag about the most, or the stories that you re-tell the most?

If you are like me, there are likely a lot of things that you do with your time or feel passionate about.  It is easy to discount these things or toss them aside without giving them much consideration.  Even if you believe you could never get paid for it, resist the temptation to ignore or reject these ideas.  Consider it like brainstorming.  For example, I love to cook.  In fact, I enjoy cooking, I love to eat, and I enjoy the process of preparing food.  I could spend hours at a time in the kitchen, relaxing, watching time fly by in my own little world.  My automatic thought around cooking is that no one will ever pay me to cook, or, I cannot make a living as a cook.  I recommend that you put those types of negative thoughts aside for the moment.

Question #2 – Can you be the Best?

The next question and circle is about being the best in the world at something.  What are those things we have strengths, gifts, or talents that others do not have?  This may be quite easy or readily apparent or it may be more difficult to assess.  Maybe you are like Warren Buffet or Lance Armstrong and have a clear strength that would make you a world champion.  More likely, you are like me and have a hard time determining areas of genetic or God-given talent.  Here are some questions to consider to better understand your strengths:
1. Is there anything you feel you were simply born to do?
2. Are there things about you that impress others but you take for granted?
3. What are the areas that people say, wow, you are really great at this?
4. Are their skills that seem to come easy to you while others often struggle?
5. Are there things that bug you about others?  This can often provide a clue about our own strengths and weaknesses.

Another way to get at your own individual strengths is through the Strengsthfinder tool.  I have blogged about this tool in the past.

The key to the strengths is to understand the talent or combination of talents that is going to make you the best in the world.  Not every talent or strength is going to set you apart.  A personal example of this for me would be my running.  I have been a runner for over 15 years.  In 2004 I trained for and ran my first marathon.  And now, nearly three years later I have qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:29:07.

Does this mean I have a talent for running?  Perhaps.  Can I be the  best in the world at running?  Not likely.  No matter how much training I did or outside support I enrolled, I would never be as good a runner as the other men my age.  I could perhaps make it into the top 20% in any particular race, but I am unlikely to ever win my age group or to be the best in the world.  I am just not genetically disposed to be a great runner.  Plus, I don’t have the dedication to run the 120 or more miles per week that it takes to be a champion runner.  Nor could I afford to spend that much time running, and that brings us to our third question.

Question #3 – Can You Get Paid For This?

The third circle and question relate to our ability to make money.  What are those things that you can do to earn money?  More specifically, what are the things that provide sufficient value to others in the market place that you are able to earn a good living?

I think it is important to qualify this as earning a good living.  Collins calls it an earnings engine which doesn’t sound like minimum wage to me.  I mean, I can go out and get a job as a cook tomorrow at a fast food restaurant.  That is not earning a good living.

I believe what Collins refers to as an earnings engine is the ability to earn abundantly.  I read a book some time ago called Do what you love and the Money will Follow.  I believe in this principle.  When we are doing what we are passionate about and best in the world at, we increase the likelihood that we are going to earn in abundance.

In my career, I have done many things that I have made money at.  Most of them are related to project management.  This seems to be the common thread that binds them all together.  I teach, write and consult on project management.  I perform quality assurance reviews for projects.  And I lead projects and programs.  It is hard to think of making money in any other way.  That doesn’t mean it is not possible for me to do something different and earn abundantly.  In fact, my ability to make a good living in my current career may be preventing me from seeing that I could make a GREAT living in another career.

Here are some questions to help you evaluate your economic engine:
1. What can I do to provide value to my company or to customers/clients?
2. What needs exist that my talents would satisfy?
3. Am I paid fairly for the expertise and value that I currently provide to others?
4. Is the service or job I perform unique to me or is it a commodity in the market?
5. What are the key measures that would help me understand how I am doing when it comes to my economic engine?

Pulling it all together – the Intersection

It takes considerable introspection and self-awareness to understand =where we stand with the three circles.  Once we become aware of each of the three circles, we need to look at the intersection.  The intersection of the three circles is where you are doing what you are passionate at, what you can be the best in the world at, and what earns money for you.  This is a very personal and individual thing.  Everyone will be different and have a different hedgehog.

Are you able to see any common areas across all three questions (e.g. passion, best, and economics)?  Do these match the job you are currently performing?  Are you able to see other potential pursuits that might be more appropriate for you and your particular talents?

The idea of having a personal hedgehog is that it can be used as a guide to those choices that will lead to success and a personal abundance.  The companies in the good to great study used the hedgehog as a decision-making mechanism.  If it was in their hedgehog, they pursued it.  If it was not in their hedgehog, they did not pursue it.  We can use the personal hedgehog in the same way.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Great post Anthony, I am intrigued by the ways you link what a person does well, and how that person is paid fairly for that capability and talent. I’d like to hear a bit more.
    Do you see that link as well known to most of the talented people you encounter, for instance. If, not what might they do to strngthen the connection here? Ideas?

  2. Hi Ellen, thanks for your comment. I am doing some digging on links between what people do well and how they are paid for that. I know that was a topic in the book, “What color is your parachute” by Richard Bolles. Unfortunately, I don’t have that book in my library anymore. Perhaps my friend Galba Bright who knows a lot about this topic has the book and can weigh in.
    Anyway, thank you for your comments and I look forward to exploring your work over at Brain Based Business.
    Anthony Mersino

  3. Hello Anthony:
    I strongly agree with your application of the Hedgehog Concept at the individual level. As you say, it requires introspection and it’s very worthwhile. The reference by Richard Nelson Bolles is What Colour Is Your Parachute. I used this book in 1992 to guide my journey into self employment. The book has a section called “How To Find Your Mission in Life.” The book has an associated website http://jobhuntersbible.com. Another good EQ resource for identifying ones passion is Get Out Of Your Ownn Way by Robert Cooper. He has a tool called The Workplace Passport. Yet another good book is Zen And The Art Of Making A Living. The associated website is http://empoweryou.com

  4. Hi Galba, it’s always good to hear from you. Thanks for the information on the Bolles book as well as the other resources. The Robert Cooper book sounds interesting and I think I will add that to my reading list. I skimmed his book on Executive EQ a while back but would like to go back and read it in detail.

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