So, yeah, the gnarliest question of all: economic engines. Strap in kids, this is where the rubber meets the road, where the wheat is separated from the chaff, where… well, you get the idea. Mostly it’s where the difference between success and failure lives.
When I was eleven years old I was an avid reader of the magazine Boys Life. I wasn’t a boy scout and I can’t for the life of me remember a single thing I ever read in it, but I do remember being enthralled with the classifieds, filled with ads for muscle building with Charles Atlas and many ways for young entrepreneurs to get rich quick. In one issue, I saw an ad for selling Christmas cards door to door. I was convinced that this was my ticket to great wealth, so I mailed away for the samples.
When they arrived, I was impressed. It was a big catalogue with samples of all the cards pasted into the book, order forms and instructions. Best of all, I had a clear economic engine. Everybody needed Christmas cards right? I felt ready to go out and make my first million. Then came my first obstacle.
My parents told me that I couldn’t try to sell to the neighbors on my block or my relatives, as that would be imposing upon them. Fair enough, no problem I thought. This is suburbia, there are houses everywhere. So I gathered my materials, put them in an old briefcase my Dad gave me, put on my ill fitting suit, clip on tie and headed out into the July heat. Oh yes, my second obstacle. It was July.
Needless to say, after going to about 50 houses, half of which were on vacation, and the other half unable to hide their amusement at the early start I was getting on the holiday season, I walked home tired, dejected and very sweaty. So ended my one day Christmas card sales career.
In retrospect, the greeting card company and I had the same target customer: my neighbors and relatives. But, neither of us anticipated the strict government regulations (ie, my parents) or the effects of those regulations on the development of our empire. For people who will buy from you because they know you and feel beholden, a sweaty kid in July is no problem. However, relying on total strangers to buy from the same sweaty kid greatly diminished our economic engine.
So, how do you pick an economic engine when considering your business? There actually is an equation for this, that again I credit my favorite business source for, Jim Collins. In his book “Good To Great,” he asks you to consider the following questions when considering new endeavors. He calls it “The Three Circles of The Hedgehog Concept.” It goes like this:
A Hedgehog is a curious creature, much like a Porcupine with spiky quills covering its body, but with a difference: when threatened, it rolls up in a ball and becomes a sphere of thorns. Pretty good defense mechanism. But, that’s all this animal can do. It has one singular talent that it relies on over and over again. However the metaphor becomes a bit more difficult for reasoning beings. Reasoning beings can CHOOSE from various talents, that which they want to pursue. So, it comes down to PASSION. You and I only do things for two reasons, either we have to or we enjoy it.
That said, you need to first and foremost choose an something that you are passionate about. I mean DEEPLY passionate about. At eleven, I can’t say I was deeply passionate about greeting cards and admittedly still don’t get terribly excited thinking about them. So, really I never got past step one. Once you have identified your passion, you have to realilistically consider your potential level of skill. You need to believe that with very hard work, determination and tenacity, you can become the best in the world at your passion. Then lastly, but certainly not least, answer the question: how do I make money at this? This is key. If you can’t rationally answer that question, you don’t have a profession on your hands, you have a hobby.
Now, do you see that little red triangle where the circles overlap? THAT is your Hedgehog concept.
Simple exercise? Not really. But, very helpful questions to answer in moving forward. If you don’t, won’t or can’t answer them, yet are wondering why success alludes you….
As I write I keep thinking of the movie ‘City Slickers‘ when Billy Crystal‘s character Mitch is sitting around the campfire with the grizzled old cowboy Curly played by Jack Palance. Here’s the dialogue:
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.
The rest is about being a Hedgehog. I said that, not Curly.