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Finding Your Hedgehog

Author: Arts Midwest

The most powerful place to invest your energy is your Hedgehog: the intersection of the work your organization does better than anyone, is most passionate about, and drives support through revenue. This article helps you find your hedgehog.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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A hedgehog is an animal that, at least in stories and parables, excels at one big thing. (Its opposite, the fox, is less focused so it does many smaller things.) Outstanding, healthy organizations tend to be more like hedgehogs once they find that one big thing that exists at the intersection of passion, ability, and resources.

Why is it important?

An organization that has found its “hedgehog” has identified the fundamental principle that unifies, organizes, and guides all its decisions. Leaders of these organizations develop a perspective that reflects penetrating insight and deep understanding. Finding your hedgehog offers an opportunity to focus on your core to build strength and a sustainable future.

Imagine the energy you can generate by doing work you are passionate about, that you are highly skilled in, and attracts support from your community, funders, and partners. That work is what we call your hedgehog.

How do you find your hedgehog?

Your hedgehog is the most powerful and strategic place to invest your energy and resources.

Let’s explore those categories in more depth.

The clearer you are on your WHY statement the more obvious this will be. You may need to look beneath the surface. For instance, you may be a dance group, but your passion is giving voice to women. Or you may be a choral group whose passion is showcasing contemporary composers.

Like your passion, your core competency may not be obvious. A group of talented actors, for example, may be best at building community and getting people involved with their work. If your organization has identified one or two competitive advantages this circle may be easier to fill. Note that this question asks you to dream a little, and think about what you could be best in the world at, not necessarily what you’re best at now.

What attracts resources (for example, funding, volunteers, or in-kind donations) to your organization? Money is an obvious part of the equation, and it can be helpful to understand your revenue mix. However, you may also consider less tangible or measurable drivers, such as skill at relationship building, a gift of communication, or your valued place in the fabric of your community.

Once those circles are filled, it’s time to identify your hedgehog. It’s the activity or goal that fits snugly into all three circles by fulfilling your passion, leveraging your skills, and generating resources. Your hedgehog is the fulfilling work you do that energizes all three of these circles.

Pro tip: Take the time to do this right.
Developing your Hedgehog is a process of honing, and can take weeks or even months. Set aside time for one circle at a time in board meetings, or perhaps use this discussion as the basis of a board retreat. The reward will be clarity about identity and strategic direction—infinitely useful in communications and funding development.

Title of the image grid content

See it in action (Click the icons to learn more!)

Hedgehog Image Grid

Theatre organization

Art at the intersection of identities.

Youth theatre organization

Doing work that centers process over performance, is inclusive of all identities, and provides a high level of support to kids.

Local arts agency

Creating, supporting, and celebrating projects that build community pride and connect to our scenic region.

Try it for yourself

Are you feeling inspired? It’s time to try it out using our worksheet. For your convenience, the worksheet is available in two formats: Word Document and PDF.

Download Worksheet – Word Doc

Download Worksheet – PDF

Step 1: Gather key folks
Think about whose voices are represented. Which parts of your organization, or programmatic perspectives, are included in the team that is putting this together? Is it your board, staff, leadership, external stakeholders? Diversity in this group supports more powerful and equitable decision-making.

Step 2: Discuss and list answers for each of the three questions
What are you deeply passionate about? What could you do better than anyone else? What attracts resources to your organization?

Step 3: Determine what falls at the intersection of the three circles
Create a statement that summarizes these three ideas and identifies the activities or goals that fit snugly into all three circles. How can you move towards doing this work more often? How can you use your hedgehog in strategic planning and decision making?

Explore related resources

Strategy Screens: Asking the Right Questions to Make the Right Decisions

Finding your hedgehog can help you make decisions about what sorts of work to pursue, and what to let go of. Add it as one criterion to your Strategy Screen.

Learn More

Connecting What and Why

Want more help to identify what your organization is deeply passionate about? This is likely closely tied to your WHY. Explore this resource to dig more deeply.

Learn More

Competitive Advantage: Knowing Your Value & Setting Yourself Apart

Knowing what you can be the best in the world at is likely very similar to your competitive advantage. Use this resource to explore what sets you apart.

Learn More

Revenue Mix

While what drives your resource engine may not exclusively be a revenue issue, considering your revenue mix can be helpful.

Learn More

Resources used in developing this tool:

Jim Collins: Good to Great and the Social Sectors

Jim Collins: The Hedgehog Concept

Jim Collins: Hedgehog Concept in the Social Sectors