What’s Your Hedgehog?
How to determine your ideal career path
by Darrell Baldock
I consider myself an expert when it comes to career development. Why? Because my definition of an expert is someone who has tried and failed several times. Let me explain:
Although I have had my share of successes, my career path wasn’t a straight line and at times wasn’t very fulfilling. It left me wanting more. It was good, but it wasn’t great.
In his book Good to Great,1 Jim Collins talks about the hedgehog concept, which states that the world is made up of hedgehogs and foxes. The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
The fox uses its cunning and speed to surreptitiously attack the hedgehog. But the hedgehog is a simple creature, spending its day searching for food and maintaining its home. When the fox attacks, the hedgehog rolls up into a ball and is protected by its sharp spines. The fox retreats to the forest to plan its next attack. This becomes a daily ritual and the outcome never changes—the hedgehog always wins. The hedgehog isn’t stupid. In fact, just the opposite—it understands the brilliance of simplicity.
In his book, Collins shows how the success of some great organizations is based on simple concepts. We can apply the hedgehog concept to career development by constructing a work life that meets three tests:
- Best in the world: Are you doing work for which you have a God-given talent and perhaps could become one of the best in the world (baby steps—maybe we start with your local geography) in applying that talent? Do you feel like you were born to do it? Think about your days in grade school and the subjects you liked or the ribbons you won. This should give you a few clues.
For example, I loved to read and preferred projects over tests. I won a couple of public speaking contests and was a finalist in the Ontario Greater Windsor science fair two years in a row.
But I ignored these clues while I stumbled through high school and instead took courses I didn’t like. I ended up getting a business degree, majoring in finance, even though math was my least favorite subject.
What clues are you ignoring?
- Economically viable: Can you be paid well for what you do? We should all enjoy the experience of thinking, “I get paid to do this? Am I dreaming?”
I remember working on a project where we flew in a consultant from Great Britain. He was the global expert for the inventory management module. We paid him an outrageous sum for a few days’ work. He earned it because he was the subject matter expert. Meanwhile, I was the generalist project manager, earning a fraction of that amount.
Is there a need in the marketplace for your skill set or a niche you can exploit?
- Passion: Are you doing work you’re passionate about and absolutely love to do? Do you look forward to getting up every morning and throwing yourself into your work, and believe in what you’re doing?
Later in my career, I pursued a career in law. I volunteered at the local courthouse and worked with the duty counsel. The duty counsel worked in the courthouse all day, and then went home at night and read law articles until the wee hours of the morning. He told me the laws and precedents were always changing, and he needed to stay current. I liked law, but quickly realized I would never have his passion for it.
However, I do have a passion for continuous improvement and can remember reading books by Wayne Dyer and Denis Waitley in university.
Today, my personal library includes books by Tim Ferris, Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Ray Dalio and Dale Carnegie, among others. I could spend every waking hour reading and practicing new ways of doing things.
This is where lean Six Sigma (LSS) comes in. I received my first LSS training about 10 years ago. I progressed through Yellow, Green and Black Belts, and recently became a certified Master Black Belt. I finally found my mission in life.
LSS has allowed me to learn from masters such as Taiichi Ohno and W. Edwards Deming. I take every opportunity to speak to groups to show them how lean principles can change lives. And although it is still early in my consulting career, I am confident that I can make a living by influencing others to adopt and implement LSS. Every day I wake up excited because there is so much unrealized potential. Now more than ever, we need this approach in business, government and even in our personal lives.
If you could drive toward the intersection of these three circles and translate that intersection into a simple concept that guides your life choices, then you’d have your hedgehog—the job you should work toward (see Figure 1).
I hope my experiences and the hedgehog concept help you make the right choices as you head down your career path. Don’t settle for a good career when you can have a great career.
- Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, HarperBusiness, 2001.
Darrell Baldock is the director of Lean Canadian in Ontario, Canada. He earned a master’s degree in business strategy from the University of Windsor in Ontario, and is a member of ASQ.