The hedgehog concept is a beautiful example of a process that helps you get a clear picture of your goals. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins wrote about an exercise that helps you uncover what you can be best in the world at. And in turn, you can become a better version of yourself and your mission. You do this by identifying your skills, passions, and marketability. Then you review how they compliment each other to find your best-in-the-world characteristic.

Why is it called the hedgehog concept?

Collins explains this concept more by highlighting the story of The Fox and The Hedgehog, by Isaiah Berlin. In the story, the fox makes repeated attempts to eat the hedgehog, but is unsuccessful. This is because of the hedgehog’s one unique trait that was reliable in foiling the fox time after time. What was the trait? The hedgehog simply curled up in a ball to protect his vulnerabilities with his quills.


hedgehog in grass

Likewise, the hedgehog concept can help you see what makes you or your company stand out. It is a diagram that contains three overlapping circles and helps you identify key points that make up your greatest virtues.

Who is the hedgehog concept for?

The beauty of the hedgehog concept is that it works for all businesses. I’ll have instructions on how use it below, but let me preface it with the following. You may feel like you only have one or two elements to list within each section of the hedgehog concept. That’s okay. Don’t get hung up on completely filling out each circle at once. Fewer items on the list means it can be easier to put a name to your hedgehog in the long run. Besides, personal development exercises like this tend to reveal things along the way. In fact, it’s best to expect that you’ll go back and forth between circles to document new epiphanies.

What are the pieces to the hedgehog concept?

We’ll start by naming the four sections. The three circles represent your Passions, Marketability, and Skills. And in the center of the diagram, where all three circles overlap, is your hedgehog.
Now let’s talk about the three circles and the elements that represent them.
As you’re filling out the hedgehog concept, you may feel conflicted about where to list an item. It might be because it seems to belong within two different places. Or maybe it’s because the item is more philosophical or vague in some way. Regardless the reason, it’s important to list an item in only ONE circle of the diagram. It’s up to you to decide where it fits best.
To illustrate, let’s imagine someone who wants to include “photography” in their diagram. But they’re struggling with whether it belongs under Passions or Skills. They might ask themselves what it is about photography that makes them want to include it? Is it the artful side of taking photos? Or is it the technical side? If it’s the former, then “photography” would probably belong under Passions. But if it’s the technical aspect of working with camera equipment, then it might go under Skills. To take this further, they could put related elements in other circles to further expound. Does it have something to do with working with people? Is it about accomplishment? If photography went under Passions, then something like “composition” could go under Skills. If the opposite were true, then the idea of creating something new could go under Passions. Make sense?

What do I do with these sections?

The first of the circles is your Passions. As a business, you could also think of this as your company mission. Passions would be things that you find joy in and that add value or fulfillment to you or your culture. These are things that are inherent in your DNA. They make you “you” and have nothing to do with financial gain. They are a part of your personality, your character, and you love them without condition.
The second of the circles would be your Marketability. You can also think of this as your economic drive. These are things that are unique to you and/or your company. Things that make you stand out or are otherwise helpful to your cause. Sometimes I like to think of this as the fuel that gets your business running. An example of economic drive might be a personal connection with someone in your industry. Or it might be valuable intellectual property. Or some sort of achievement or accolade. Even a proprietary process. At its most basic, marketability is any asset that you have that others do not have and cannot easily get.
The third and final circle of the hedgehog concept is Skills. I define this as things you have some form of competency, education, and/or proficiency in. As mentioned before, the line between passions and skills can sometimes be blurry. So you might think of your skills as the vehicle by which you act on your passions.


Hedgehog concept three circles

What if I’m missing something in one of the circles?

One worth pointing out what happens when only TWO of the principles meet instead of all three. Without all three ingredients, we find the results end up with a different definition:
  • Passion and Marketability without any Skills is only a dream and wishful thinking.
  • Skills and Passion with no Marketability winds up being a mere hobby.
  • Marketability and Skills devoid of any Passion is just a job.
With each of the three items filled out, you can begin to evaluate how they compliment each other. Start mashing one element from each of three sections together and see if you learn anything. With practice, your hedgehog will begin to take shape!
Now let’s get to work on your own hedgehog concept. Click here to get our free Hedgehog Concept worksheet sent to your inbox!
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