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Future Tense: Crystal-Clear Without Crystal Balls

December 25, 2008 By:
Adele Sommers, JE Feature
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Are you wondering what the future holds for your business? Whether you want to predict your future or prescribe an outcome of your choosing, you'll have plenty of company.

Throughout history, we humans have tried many ways to predict the future, from reading palms to stargazing. Today, we refer to these as descriptive methods when we attempt to describe objectively what the future will be or could be.

On the other hand, prescriptive methods focus on determining what the future should be. These techniques can help us clarify our preferences and values so we can create a vision of what we would like to see in our lives, businesses or communities.

Once we understand what we would like the future to represent, we're better able to take the actions required to implement it. Ideally, that future will align with our passions, gifts and what we (or our companies) can really be the best at doing.

Here's a suggestion of a two-stage process for achieving that goal.

· Identify your "hedgehog concept." So, what can you be the best in the world (or at least in your community) at doing? This thought-provoking reflection is one of many from Jim Collins' Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't.

Collins' team examined 1,435 companies to see which ones made substantial gains in profitability and sustained those improvements over 15 years or more. Since the 1970s, only 11 companies had risen from mediocrity to greatness and stayed there -- topping many other prosperous firms that lacked the same staying power.

Of eight characteristics these companies shared, all held an unshakable adherence to becoming the best in the world at whatever they did. Each company committed to doing only those things, and nothing else. That sometimes meant dropping their core businesses to pursue other things at which they could become the best in the world.

Collins and his team coined the term "hedgehog concept" to reflect a single-minded determination and focus that, similar to that of the hedgehog animal, attempts to do only one thing really well, such as curl up and roll. A hedgehog concept actually represents the intersection of three areas: What you're most passionate about; an understanding of what you could be the best at doing; and a metric that drives your economic engine and helps you measure results.

Keep in mind that, according to Collins, this concept is not a goal, strategy or plan, but an understanding of what you can and can't be the best at doing. Until you develop your hedgehog concept, you won't know your true vision, mission, or purpose.

· Define your "business success criteria." Do you have a crystal-clear idea of the types of business undertakings that align with your gifts, talents, passions and strengths? In that same context, have you thought about whether your business can be the very best in the world at doing those things?

If the answers are "yes," you are in an excellent position to choose the ventures that can give you the greatest satisfaction and results.

If you're not yet totally clear about the answers to these questions, developing a set of "business success criteria" can enable you to select worthwhile endeavors with much-deeper insight, and thus set the conditions for successfully pursuing them.

A hedgehog concept thereby represents part of the formula you can devise to identify and choose among your very best options.

Why is this so important? It's not uncommon for people to wander into businesses, projects and professions opportunistically, which means that they often select the next available and convenient thing that comes along. At times, this may be necessary for financial reasons.

But unless we understand our underlying success criteria, we might not recognize the options that truly fuel and inspire us -- those that are best suited to our passions and strengths.

Some of your criteria could be practical considerations, and others more lofty ideals. But all of your criteria will be essential to achieving balance, fulfillment, prosperity and a higher contribution in your life.

In conclusion, a set of carefully crafted success criteria fueled by a potent hedgehog concept provides an unbeatable strategic advantage, and an excellent direction-finder for prescribing your future.

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is author of "Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance: 12 Ways to Profit from Hidden Potential." To learn more about her book and sign up for more free tips like these visit her site at www.LearnShareProsper.com.


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