Productivity: The Personal Hedgehog

In my last post, we discussed how productivity—efficiency at doing things—must be balanced with planning to be maximally effective. There are a lot of great books, blog posts, magazine articles, and podcast episodes discussing how to be more efficient. However, not as much attention is given to understanding what we should be doing or developing frameworks for evaluating longer-term goals, clarifying aspirations, or evaluating new opportunities. For the next few weeks, I am going to unpack a two-dimensional framework that helps make sense of where you are right now, where you want to be, and what you should be doing. It starts with the Hedgehog Concept.

I first learned about the Hedgehog Concept in Jim Collin’s book . In that book, Collins reports on the results of an exhaustive study into what factors allow some corporations to go from average to exceptional performance compared to their peers. One of the key components was a relentless focus on what their company could do best. Collins illustrates this by analogy to a hedgehog—which is not a particularly fast, strong, cunning, or dangerous animal. However, the hedgehog does one thing very well, and does it over and over again when confronted by threats: It rolls up into a prickly ball.

Collins’ selection of good-to-great companies consistently identified their one “best” thing at the intersection of three elements:

  • What the company was passionate about.
  • What the company could be best in the world at.
  • What drove the company’s profit engine.

The profit engine question relates to a larger point Collins’ makes about finding the unique formula or business proposition that unlocks superior profit-making potential; while making money is necessary for continued corporate growth, it is also the primary metric he uses to evaluate performance.

In his accompanying monograph , Collins adapts this third element by reframing it as the “Resource Engine”, which he defines as what provides time, money, and brand (the three components to allowing a non-profit organization to be most effective).

I use this same concept to evaluate new opportunities and hone in on what I should be doing with my time and life.

Competence: What are you best at?

Your competencies lie at the intersection of my God-given talents and the skillsets you’ve developed over course of your life. Each of us can be good at a number of things; this question digs deeper: What are you best at? Framed another way, what could you potentially be the best in the world at? Very often, the answer to this lies in combining two different skills, interest, or experience sets. Discovering the answer to this question takes time, personal reflection, and pursuing opportunities to improve your skillset, add tools to your toolbox, and explore new things. Here are some exercises I have found useful to explore this concept further:

  • Use a book like , which despite the cheesy title is an exceptional resource to understand what your core talents are.
  • Take a personality test. Myers-Briggs tests are useful, and I’d highly recommend 16Personalities—they have a vetted test and provide a great guide to your personality that is well worth  the $33 for their complete profile.
  • Reflect on what you’ve done well at in the past and write it down. Then go through and ask “Why was I good at that?”
  • Aim to find the golden thread that ties together multiple successes and abilities. In my case, I’ve discovered four core competencies that lie at the heart of everything I’ve been good at, whether it was in computer programming, non-profit leadership, or emergency medicine.

Interest: What are you deeply passionate about?

Hard work does have a place, even if it isn’t enjoyable. However, if you can align your pursuits with what you enjoy doing, you will be better at it and you will have a higher quality of life overall. At first, this question seems to imply that you should only do what you love. However, passion goes further, and implies not just enjoyment but also long-term interest.

Finding the answer to this question involves the same kind of reflection and self-questioning described above. It may take time and experimentation to find out what you really are passionate about. And, it may be several different things. That’s okay—the more, the better! Just be sure that they are your deepest, most significant passions. I love coffee, but I am not deeply passionate about it.

This question must also be tempered with an understanding that not all work is enjoyable in the moment—but if it ultimately contributes to what you are passionate about, it is worth it. Case in point: I am deeply passionate about EMS. I love my field, I think about it literally every waking hour, and I cannot imagine walking away from it. And yet, some of the work I do in EMS is really not even remotely enjoyable. I am not passionate about checking off my ambulance’s supply inventory or reviewing patient charts to ensure the right checkboxes were marked. I do it, however, because it is an essential component of my overall passion.

Fuel: What drives your resource engine?

Our goal should not simply be making the most money. Rather, like the non-profits Collins studies in Good to Great and the Social Sectors, our mission ought to be focused on less tangible outcomes. However, we still need resources—especially money—to make those goals. Scripture makes it clear that providing for my needs and my those of my household is non-negotiable. Responsibility requires that I work to pay my bills, put food on our table, keep a roof over our head, and have money to give to those in need. I rely on and expect God to provide for our needs as I seek Him and put His kingdom first. However, my general expectation is that he will most likely provide those needs through opportunities he grants me to earn it. The Word does not endorse lazily sitting around waiting for a bag of money or bread to be dropped in my lap.

There are other resources I am looking to maximize as well. Several guests on Tim Ferriss’s podcast have mentioned the idea of taking on jobs and projects with the explicit aim of learning new skills or developing new relationships. With this mentality, even if a project fails, one at least walks away with some added value.

Evaluating Opportunities by Understanding Yourself

Using the Hedgehog Concept is an iterative process; as you regularly reflect on your experiences you will gain deeper insights into what you are good at and what you enjoy. As you review your current activities (something we will be discussing in a later post), think about them through these lenses. If they are meeting that intersection of providing for your resources—financial or otherwise—and what you are passionate about and good at, keep doing them. If they fail at one of these three tests, consider making a change.

This concept is also valuable for evaluating new opportunities. Does this new opportunity capitalize on your competencies? Is it something you are passionate about? Does it support your needs? If not, don’t keep considering it. If it does, then you need to see how fits with your current commitments and adjust as needed.

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