Finding your Hedgehog

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great talks about the importance of finding your hedgehog. The premise comes from an essay by Isaiah Berlin that contrasts the fox that sporadically does many things with the hedgehog who focuses on doing one thing really well.


You could be the most amazing speaker in the world, but if you don’t have something that differentiates you, a hedgehog, no one is going to know about you or care.  You’ll just be one of thousands of other speakers out there talking about “whatever”.

98 percent of real estate agents sell to anyone and everyone. They’re a dime a dozen. The agents that are very successful know precisely what they sell and to whom. They have a hedgehog- a single driving idea that gives clarity to what they do.  I know a real estate agent who introduces himself as the realtor who finds great garages attached to homes for those who love cars. That is clear! I know precisely what he does and can refer him wholeheartedly when the time comes.

Identifying my hedgehog has been an agonizing journey.  I remember telling my wife I’m  a really good speaker but what do I speak about? What is it that sets me apart from other speakers?  My unique style of delivery is a hedgehog, but I needed a topic. I am interested in so many things that it was paralyzing to think of picking just one topic and market. I thought it would limit myself.

But  just the opposite is the truth. When you focus on a precise area within a defined market, you become more content and garner more business. You know where to focus your efforts so nothing is expended without a purpose and everyone knows exactly what you are about.  They can easily “sell” you.

My professional hedgehog has three identifiers

  • I am a subject matter specialist on resilience
  • I am a motivati0nal speaker that melds substantive content with humor
  • I target meeting planners of trade associations

How did I come about discovering that? I asked three questions.

  1. What in my experience made me a specialist on a topic. It takes 10,000 hours of concerted effort to become an expert in anything. I realized that one of the only things that helped me thrive in spite of the ramifications of bipolar disorder was resilience. I know a thing or two about bouncing back and thriving in the midst of extreme change.
  2. What do I do by accident? In other words what gifts and skills do I bring to the table? I have been able to speak well in public and make people laugh and no one can do it like I can. That is my unique delivery for the subject of resilience.
  3. Who would benefit the most from what I know and who I am?  Who can I serve to make their lives easier and more rewarding? I have worked extensively with trade associations in the past and know their purpose and challenges well. They would be my main market. In particular I need to reach meeting planners who schedule events and speakers for their events. I could narrow the hedgehog even further by choosing a particular industry such as health care.

From a professional point of view, do you know what your hedgehog is? What precisely sets you apart from the competition? Discovering your hedgehog will help you clarify your mission, enhance your efforts, and free you to be as influential as possible in the profession you have chosen. It will free you to serve those who most need what you can provide.

Posted in Miscellany

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Jeff Vankooten is a speaker and author focusing on the power of resilience to effectively engage the challenges of change. He helps leaders, businesses, and organizations develop the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly unpredictable business environment.
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