My seven year old daughter peered under my arm as I was reading Jim Collins’ Good to Great. With the enthusiasm of someone who has just cracked chapter books, she started saying out loud the words she saw: “the Hedgehog Concept… um, what’s that?”
I was on page 96, where Collins’ intensive study of high performing companies hones in on the importance of understanding your core purpose, The Hedgehog Concept.
Where the fox is clever and multi-faceted, trying many ways to catch the hedgehog, the hog has just one move – rolling up into a defensive ball – but in doing that one thing well, the hedgehog outplays the fox. Over and over again.
In Collins’ view, finding this core purpose, and sticking to its delivery, is often the key that unlocks an organisation’s potential. The answer lies in finding where the responses to three key questions overlap: What are you deeply passionate about? What can you be the best in the world at? What drives your economic engine?
By now my curious daughter had spied a Venn Diagram and was asking about ‘economic engines’.
It’s how you make money, I explained. Specifically, for an organisation, it is about understanding value through a single unit measure, such as profit per customer, or profit per outlet.
“Can we do the circles?”
Okay, yes, why not. So I asked, “what are you deeply passionate about?” This question is straight-forward, and again, the more specific the better, are you an organisation passionate about affordable healthcare, or an individual passionate about travel photography?
“Cats, definitely cats,” she replied.
What are you the best in the world at? Collins stresses that while this question sounds far-reaching, if you don’t hold belief that you can reach ultimate excellence in an area, then your offering will reflect mediocracy. Again, being specific is important.
“Pretending to be a cat,” she answered, twitching an imaginary whisker.
Collins says it can take years for an organisation to find their Hedgehog Concept, he recommends building a committed team of employees to thrash it out until consensus is reached. But my daughter and I seemed to be on to something.
And what drives your economic engine?
Gulp, completely true.
Alas, as I ponder implementing a pocket money system for feeding (or impersonating?) our pet cat, the difficulty in finding core purpose is clear.
As Good to Great shows, overlap in two of the three questions can make good, (and I have one happy friend of cats to testify to this), but greatness lies in a more elusive, and far more significant insight. A sweet spot where passion, excellence and value lie.
And one where the curiosity of a cat, and the honesty of a seven year old, can inspire.