The Hedgehog Concept

What can a minimalist learn from a Corporate America consultant?  Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, provides a framework for organizations to succeed in the business world called the “hedgehog concept.”  I believe this framework is very much applicable to individuals as well, especially those seeking self-employment opportunities.

Collins’ hedgehog concept provides a basic structure for determining how one can live a fulfilled, economically-sustainable lifestyle.  One need only contemplate about the intersection of the answers to the following three questions:

What are you deeply passionate about?

What drives your economic engine?

What can you be the best in the world at?

 The key word in that last sentence is “intersection.”  It does no good to say my passion is skiing in the beautiful Colorado mountains unless I can find a way to make enough income to support my skiing lifestyle.  Similarly, even if I passionately love skiing and somehow find a way to make money doing it (backwoods winter natural photography?), if I’m a terrible skier and find myself falling down all the time I won’t be able to sustain this lifestyle because someone who is a better skier-photographer will competitively push me out of the market or I will flounder into a deep pile of snow that I can’t get myself out of.

The challenge is to be honest with yourself as you’re answering, and then eliminate the items that aren’t complementary across all three questions.  Let’s further discuss each:

What are you deeply passionate about?  Entire libraries have been written on living a passion-filled life, so let’s keep this short and simply drop this link:   Discovering Your Passions.

What drives your economic engine?   Essentially, this boils down to determining how you can make enough money to keep doing your passion for as long as you want to.  Have you ever seen the white-water rafting tour guides that absolutely love what they do, but live in a tent next to the river for years on end?  This may seem like a great lifestyle for a few summers, but imagine trying to raise a family like that later in life!  In this scenario, the economic engine isn’t robust enough to support the passionate lifestyle.  On the contrary, we all know people that are in a high-paying job but are miserable doing it, so they’ve found an economic engine that works, but likewise they aren’t living a passionate, fulfilling life.  The crux is monetizing a passion so it can meet your lifestyle’s financial demands. 

What can you be the best in the world at?  This is the piece of the triad that will keep you relevant, competitive (so your economic engine doesn’t run out of steam), and proud.  For Elon Musk it may be applying his engineering, financial, leadership and visionary skills in order to be the first entrepreneur to Mars.  For a small-town plumber it may be he is the best technician in the immediate area so all the town’s plumbing needs get rectified by his hands.  For the majority of us living “normal” suburban or urban lives this area will really make you scratch your head and do some soul-searching.  It is difficult to find this answer, and at first may make you really frustrated or depressed since you’ll inevitably be measuring yourself against a huge amount of people that you can point to and think they are more talented, more connected, more skilled, more anything; you’ll think your attributes simply can’t compete.  Keep searching and I’m confident you’ll find something.  Look into niches of your skill sets, passions, and connections. 

Here’s an example:  that quirky couple that sell hot dogs together from a food truck next to the metro station.  Maybe they are passionate about spending their time and sharing the joys and stresses of operating a small business together, and are passionate about talking face-to-face with their clients—seeing their smiles as they chomp down on a steaming-hot meal they just cooked up.  Maybe they are making enough money to cover the cost of the truck, the supplies, their apartment, their daughter’s college tuition, and even making a bit extra to stash away for a once-a-year vacation to the Caribbean.  And finally maybe they have a competitive advantage because they wake up early every day to set up shop right outside the metro station and they are known by all the regular morning commuters as having the best breakfast sandwich on the five minute wait between the metro and the bus. 

Now its time for you to do some soul-searching and find the intersection of answers to the three questions of the hedgehog concept. 

Bottom Line:  To brainstorm your fulfilling, economically-sustainable lifestyle, find the intersection of the answers to these three questions: What are you deeply passionate about? What drives your economic engine? What can you be the best in the world at?

Did you find this post interesting?  If so, check out our website at www.minmylife.org.  If the subject material of this blog post caught your attention, I recommend reading our post on the minimalist vision

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