Good to Great as a Source for Daily Affirmation

In one of our CQIU weekly calls, Nishita and I agreed that we wanted the CQIU blog to focus on a couple of different things. We wanted to highlight personal stories of how CQIU principles have improved our own lives, as well as provide technical expositions of specific tools and methods that could be used personally and professionally (Quality Work, Quality Life!) to inspire you to do the same! This post is supposed to fall under the “technical tool” category. Naturally, though, I’m going to start with a story.

A lifetime ago, I was invited to attend the annual strategic planning retreat of the Medical Management Centre (MMC) within the Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. They didn’t know me, but my PhD advisor, Duncan Neuhauser, was an honored guest each year. His attendance at the retreat provided the two of us with an opportunity to meet in person to discuss my dissertation. By then, I was working at Heidelberg University in Germany, reformatting and gaining accreditation of their Master’s of Science in International Health program, and remotely finishing my doctorate in the the U.S. (Oh, and trying my best at motherhood and wifedom, but more on that, much, much later).

The strategic planning retreat was organized around the principles presented in the best-selling book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins. I did my best to provide an external eye to the planning process, asking MMC participants to clarify a suggestion or to consider another angle or position in their planning. (I think I helped, as I was independently invited back – at least until I returned to the U.S. in 2010). When the retreat facilitator asked us to work independently on questions, I was not able to analyze the organization. I was new to the group and had not prepared for this role. Instead, I turned the ”Good to Great” lens on myself at a critical time when I was deciding whether to stay in my current department and accept a new project focused on health insurance in Bukino Faso.

I used the time and structure to strategically plan my next career steps. The thought-exercises that were led during the retreat still bring positive energy to both my professional and personal life. That’s why Collins’ book has remained one of my top two recommended reads for over a decade. (I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve explained the concept of the Hedgehog Principle to students, colleagues, and friends.) I even have a blank copy of the Hedgehog Concept worksheet handed out in Stockholm all those years ago, still in my files.

One badass hedgehog that likely knows its eponymous concept.   Photo Credit: Unsplash, IG: @hedgehog90

One badass hedgehog that likely knows its eponymous concept.

Photo Credit: Unsplash, IG: @hedgehog90

Now for the technical details. Get a pen and a sheet of paper, or open up an app you can type in, and consider the following:

Pick a setting (work or personal life), and answer the following three questions (you can certainly do the exercise for both work and personal life!)

1.       What am I most passionate about?

It often helps to close your eyes as you try to remember, but please read the instructions first!

Thinking back, when were you most excited about a given activity or area of your work and personal life? Think of a time when you couldn’t wait to get back to the activity, when you were brimming with joy and anticipation, or when you were especially proud of what you’d accomplished. Jot down a few memories and ideas. If you’re just approaching work, what excited you most in your studies? Did you find any topics that were challenging yet “putting in the work” to complete assignments still felt fun and rewarding?

2.       Where do I excel?

As a mother, I think my children are above average in everything they do; as a pragmatist, I know there are some areas and activities in which they are statistically more likely to excel than others. So along with telling them they can be anything if they set their mind to the challenge, I most often chose to encourage areas that aligned with these first two questions. On the one hand, there is my older son Max - a gifted statistician - who loves his work and likely will have a long (and hopefully fulfilling) career in corporate America. On the other hand, there’s my younger son Leo - an amazing dancer - who will likely end up pursuing his art and teaching within a modern dance company, someplace outside the U.S. If they switched pursuits I would still be on the cheering lines, I’d just be surprised as !$%!@&!^@ by their choices.

3.       How can I create value?

Although we might be led to immediately equate this question to, ”What will someone pay me (or pay me well) to do?” the question should be considered more broadly.

How do our answers change when we word this question differently?

”How can I create a life, driven by what I value and by what I dream of experiencing and achieving?”

”How can I create a life that brings value to those I love?”

How can I contribute in a positive way to my community – or to life on earth, in general?”

In Good to Great, Collins relates a Greek parable about a fox and a hedgehog. The fox is smart; he can imagine, plan, and attempt to eat the hedgehog in any number of ways (think of the Coyote in the Wile E. Coyote & Roadrunner cartoons).

The hedgehog, however, knows:

·   What s/he is most passionate about (e.g., avoiding being eaten by the fox),

·   Knows where s/he excels (e.g., rolling into a ball, with an armor of needles that are painful to attackers, when threatened by the fox), and

·   Knows how s/he can create value (by staying alive and returning to support its prickle (or array - yes, these are the correct names for a group of hedgehogs).


From a Human Resources perspective, I know I’d prefer to work in an organization where I was encouraged and empowered to follow a collective and (aligned) individual Hedgehog Concept. For now, I’ll leave you with the questions:

·   What’s your Hedgehog Concept?

·   Are you currently giving your best efforts and moving forward with passion in the direction of your Hedgehog Concept?

There are other valuable lessons to be gleaned from Collins’ Good to Great. These lessons are still relevant today, even if some of the originally featured companies (e.g., Circuit City, Wells Fargo) fell away from the core Good to Great values and became mediocre, disgraced, or failed. (You can read more about these journeys in another book by Collins, How the Mighty Fall.) Remember when Toyota, a leader in quality management philosophy and operations, had a string of quality problems and recalls? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more on the lessons to be learned from Good to Great and my other favorite management tomes.

 Wishing you quality in work and life,