What Do Hedgehogs Know About Career Love?
Thinking about your career is always an evolving conversation rife with introspective conflicts: Should I chase the money? Will that make me happy? Why can’t I just get paid to do *insert hobby* all day? I can’t decide—why isn’t there a career where I get to do all (or none) of these things at once? How do I find a career that’s right for me?
No matter where you currently stand in your own career planning, there are mental models that can help bring clarity and an underlying sense of design to your career. At Startup Institute, we ascribe to The Hedgehog Concept, made famous by business consultant and leadership writer Jim Collins. At a high level, The Hedgehog Concept is a simple model that can be understood as three circles that overlap to create a venn diagram. What’s contained in the intersects is where the magic happens.
What can you be the best in the world at?
Even the words “best in the world” seem audacious. But, that’s exactly the point. Nowadays, most careers contain many micro careers, but this does not mean you shouldn’t have a common thread or focus, and it doesn’t mean you should stray from the path to mastery. Do one thing and do it well. This is where the name for the hedgehog concept comes from. In his book Good to Great, Collins shares a parable of a cunning fox and a simple hedgehog. The fox keeps coming up with new ideas to eat the hedgehog, but the hedgehog defeats him each time with his one trick: rolling into a thorny ball.
Do one thing well and let it be a cornerstone in your career pathing. The time you spend working should compound upon itself: thrusting your understanding, fluency, and expertise further downfield. You’ll know you’re on this path when you can take on challenges of increasing difficulty, especially ones that previously seemed out of reach. If you haven’t yet found your strength yet, start a side project or join a cross-functional hackathon with a diverse team that hasn’t yet set roles. Which duties did you leap to do (and succeed at)? Which did the team appoint to you, perceiving what they felt to be your forte? Usually, when these intersect, you’re onto something.
What are you passionate about?
Confucius said that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. What are the tasks that you feel you could do, even after a day of work? What are the experiences from past jobs that you enjoyed most and made what was a ‘meh’ job seemingly worthwhile? While your “passion” may seem like a hard thing to pin down, your internal compass always knows what this is.
Where can you make money?
This circle is what separates a hobby from a career. Money certainly isn’t everything, but it is does provide options, freedom, and a means to provide for yourself and family. Understanding where your skills and passions intersect with what the market, customer or company needs—and to what extent they’re willing to compensate you—is important. Note that as your skills increase—fueled by your passion and desire to improve—so will your ability to monetize your career, and that overarching ability is.
I invite you to take out a piece of paper out now. Draw your three circles. What will you put inside each? And what happens at the intersects? How much of what you see are you currently pursuing? Have you reached your destination—where your career aligns with the concept of the hedgehog? If you’ve already discovered the hedgehog, congrats—you’ve hit the jackpot. If not, be mindful of the nexus of your interests, skills and livelihood and look for opportunities to pull them closer together.