I’m currently trying to figure out my Hedgehog Concept.
The Hedgehog Concept comes from Jim Collins’ book Good To Great. His book explains how good businesses become great businesses. However, his idea is exactly what INFPs need to achieve personal success.
The Hedgehog Concept
Our Hedgehog Concept is what we should be doing.
In the parable of the fox and hedgehog, the fox goes from one thing to another, trying new ways to try to catch the hedgehog. He attempts to catch the hedgehog with different tricks without success. Meanwhile, the hedgehog does the one thing that it excels at. It curls up into a ball, pointing all its quills outward. The hedgehog knows what it’s good at and sticks with it.
INFPs behave like foxes. We go from one shiny thing to the next. If we don’t succeed on our first try, we find another passion. We never become as successful as those who stick to their Hedgehog Concept.
Our Hedgehog Concept must meet three requirements:
1. something we’re passionate about
2. something that we can be great at
3. something that drives our happiness engine
Why passion alone isn’t enough
General career advice says we should do what we’re passionate about. This advice assumes that what we are currently passionate about today will continue to be what we’ll be passionate about tomorrow.
Life shows this to be untrue. INFPs change majors frequently. We graduate only to go back to school. We lose our passion after working in our field. We become disillusioned, disinterested or just bored and our passion wanes until we latch onto our next passion.
I’ve spent large parts of my life changing my mind. I latch onto a passion and set goals. At first, the goals are new and exciting. It’s all I think about. I forget to eat regularly. I fall asleep thinking about reaching my next goal. After a few months, I develop a comfortable routine. Then as I move closer, I start realizing that reaching my goals will not be as perfect as I imagined. That’s when I lose interest and begin looking for a new passion.
What it means to be great at something
To be great as something requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, a book about success, cites a study by psychologist Ander Ericsson that concludes that it requires 10,000 hours to become an expert in any field. 10,000 hours is an average of 2-3 hours a day for 10 years.
The Beatles became experts playing in Hamburg. Where most bands got an hour or two of stage time periodically, the Beatles played 5-6 hour sets almost every night for 2 years. When the British Invasion came, they were the experts having performed 1200 times in front of a live audience.
Bill Gates had access to a terminal that connected to the local university computer at his school in the 60’s. He had daily access to program where most university professors didn’t have that type of access. Between the 8th grade and high school, Gates was programming 20-30 hours a week. So when the first personal computer arrived in 1975, he was an expert that could write an operating system for a personal computer.
The 10,000 Hour Rule has three important ingredients:
I’m never going to be a doctor. My brain doesn’t have the capacity to process and retain the sheer amount of information required for medical degree. We can’t all become Olympic athletes with just practice. There’s a level of genetics that determines athleticism and recovery time needed for Olympic level training.
However, most endeavors requires hard work over aptitude. Aptitude makes learning easier, but not having the aptitude doesn’t mean not having ability.
The Beatles had the opportunity to play in Hamburg when other bands did not. Bill Gates went to an exclusive school that had access to a computer. As children, Olympic athletes usually resided around training centers and schools run by former Olympians.
We need the opportunity to put in 10,000 hours and sometimes that’s not possible. It’s hard to become a concert pianist if you don’t have regular access to a piano. However, just because we don’t see opportunity currently in our life doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Opportunities are found if you know how to look.
3. Deliberate Practice
Deliberate means practicing to reach a goal, to purposely become better by the end than we were at the beginning of practice.
Our natural tendencies keep INFPs from systematically practicing our art. We write, paint or play music when we feel like it, when we have an inspiration. Inspiration rarely overcomes expertise.
John Scalzi, a bestselling author and Hugo winner, wrote two novels before he was published. Brandon Sanderson, another bestselling fantasy author, wrote 5 novels before he wrote the one that became his debut novel.
Inspiration doesn’t overcome the perspiration needed to become an expert.
The Happiness Engine
What drives our happiness engine is the single factor that fuels our happiness. Examples of things that drive our happiness engines are:
- helping others
- peak experiences
- building relationships
My happiness engine runs on learning. Even when I’m learning something that I don’t like, don’t care to know and probably will never use again, I’m still happy during the process of learning it.
I like helping others, but sometimes I want a thank you. If helping others drove my happiness engine then never getting thanked wouldn’t matter. Learning is why I’ve been in computers for so long. The industry changes so quickly that there’s always more to learn.
Finding our happiness engine is difficult because lots of things make us happy. We have to comb through our happy experiences to deduce the common factor in those activities. My suggestion is to start by examining experiences where everything went wrong. Nothing happened as you expected, but you were still extremely happy in the end.
All or nothing
If what we do fits into one or two categories, that activity will not be sustainable.
If an endeavor has our passion and drives our happiness engine but we’re not good at it, we’ll stick with it until we decide that we want recognition. Recognition requires expertise which requires 10,000 hours.
When we do work in a passion that that we’re good at, we get recognition in terms of monetary compensation. The top 20% in any given field make 80% of the money in that field. However, if that work isn’t part of our happiness engine than despite the high income, we end up feeling that we should be doing something else.
The Hedgehog Concept buffers us against failure. Failure is not getting a desired outcome.
Passion and expertise at doing something that drives our happiness moves our happiness to the process instead of the outcome. When we fail, we can try again more quickly. Our expertise tells us what we did wrong. Our passion will make us try again harder. Knowing that this endeavor is part of what drives our happiness engine gives us a sense that we are doing the right thing which keeps our passion from waning.
The bad news
Finding your Hedgehog concept may take years. In Good To Great, Collins says that the great companies took 2-5 years to figure out their Hedgehog Concept.
In personal development, finding our Hedgehog Concept could take longer. It takes time to know what we can be good at. It takes time to obtain enough education to understand the money, resources, activities and ability needed for those 10,000 hours.
10,000 hours isn’t easy for an INFP. I have 2000-5000 hours in many different things because I never stuck to one thing long enough.
In my 20’s, I thought natural aptitude would somehow circumvent the need for 10,000 hours. So I became a dilettante never deliberately practicing. I never became good enough to understand what it meant to be great. At 40, the 10,000 hours becomes a hurdle because I’ve already built a lifestyle that may not allow me to start over with a new brand new endeavor that I have no hours invested.
The Hedgehog Concept and INFPs
Using the Hedgehog Concepts solves two INFPs issues:
1. Too many possibilities
2. We never seem to get great at anything
INFPs live in possibilities. We tell ourselves that we can do this and this and this, and if we have time left we’ll do this too. What we discover as we try to do everything is that we don’t have time. We have to pick and choose, but we don’t know where to start. Our Hedgehog concept can help us narrow what we focus on.
INFPs tend not to stick with things when it stops feeling right. The Hedgehog Concept keeps us on things that drive our happiness engine. Our happiness engine is where we get the sense that were doing the right thing.
As long as I’m learning something that I can be good at then I will stick with it. This could be writing or computer programming. I’ve been doing both for years. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I’m passionate about either. I just have a ton of hours into both.
I’ve been analyzing those activities that I’ve gained large amount expertise hours to see if any fit my Hedgehog concept. The difficulty is that I might not see monetary compensation (i.e. I won’t be able to do it for a living) until I’ve put in 10,000 hours. In the meantime, I need to maintain a job, care for family and meet other obligations before I can deliberately practice each day.
Knowing the Hedgehog Concept helps. I stopped wondering why sometimes I like what I’m doing and sometimes I don’t. It’s because some things I do I have part of my concept but not all. The Hedgehog Concept is the starting point for moving a life from good to great.