Rusty Divine

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Hedgehog Concept

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Do you feel a little bite of insecurity when reading a post about a new (to you) technology subject?

It seems everyone knows all about Ruby on Rails already, but I only just heard of it after becoming a Codesniper. I am quite curious about this new paradigm, and am woefully behind my peers. Isn't that just typical?

Doesn't Eric Sink say that to improve your career, you need to focus on the first derivative of Cluefulness - Learning? Shouldn't I find the next Ruby on Rails conference and take a long weekend to go learn all about it?

For my career, becoming proficient with Ruby on Rails probably wont benefit me as much as say, spending the same amount of time learning from that design patterns book that I've been using as a coaster. Oh, I listened to the Ruby on Rails 15 min. promotional video narrated by someone who sounded a lot like Emo Phillips, and I'll keep tabs on Ruby; I'll never grok it though.

My ambition is to have a truly great career, and I'll tell you how I am going to do it; that is, as soon as I figure out my Hedgehog Concept. Jim Collins wrote a #1 best seller, Good to Great, that examines companies that really kicked-ass over a long duration compared to similar companies that languished. His team found that the really great companies had many traits in common, one being that they had a crystal clear Hedgehog Concept.

The Hedgehog Concept is based on a Greek parable. The lesson goes that a quick and very cunning fox comes across this hedgehog every day that is lumbering down the middle of a forest path. The fox thinks that today he is finally going to make a meal of this dumpy little creature; the hedgehog thinks, "Here we go again." So, as the fox approaches, the hedgehog rolls up into a ball of needle sharp quills that stymies the fox who soon gives up and moves along. The lesson being that although the fox is a formidable predator, the hedgehog is very good at doing one very simple thing - defending himself.

Jim says you can develop a hedgehog concept for your business or yourself by considering the intersection of three principles:

  • What can you be the best in the world at?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • What drives your economic engine?

It is important to find the intersection of all three in order to be truly great; although, you can still be wildly successful by finding the intersection of the second and third.

Joel Spolsky has a Hedgehog Concept: To have the best (informational, entertaining) site on the web for discussing the art and science of software.

  • Joel on Software is arguably the best site for learning about good software and draws tens of thousands of visitors to read and discuss ideas.
  • Joel is passionate about improving software from soup to nuts; from concept, specification, development, user interface, deployment, marketing, and maintaining.
  • Joel profits by the exposure his site gets and as more people come to trust him, more people try out and purchase his software. His economic engine could be defined in terms of profit per unique visitor to Joel on Software.


Instead of taking a shotgun approach to professional development, we should narrow our focus to our own Hedgehog Concept. Figure out what drives you, what you can be better than anybody at, and how to leverage both to rev your economic engine. If your resume has a paragraph of jargoned technologies, some that you've only read about, replace that list with the three or four concepts you really know. Instead of listing HTML, JavaScript, CSS, ASP, DHTML, XML, Web Services, IIS, etc. put "Web Developer".

Why should you develop your Hedgehog Concept? Well, as Joel explains, when the economy is doing well, it doesn't matter as much, but when it turns to muck, you'll be able stand out from the crowd.

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