How To Escalate Your Path To Greatness


When Jim Collins wrote “Good To Great”, he did talk a fair bit about the Hedgehog Principle. But what he stresses more on, is quite another concept called “Preserving the Core and Stimulating Progress”.
Why does this concept matter so much?
And how do you combine the Hedgehog Principle with this concept?
And where does the big, hairy, audacious goal fit in with everything? This article shows you how to tie all the elements together in a neat little bundle.

 1) Preserve the Core AND Stimulate Progress

Recently a client called Rosa wrote to us with a request.

“I would have preferred to read the series on Dartboard Pricing in ePub,” she said. She made it clear it was a request, not a demand. Which brings up a whole new set of problems for us at Psychotactics. Most business books are designed with text in mind and may contain a few graphics. Our books aren’t designed that way at all.

They have dozens of cartoons and under every cartoon is a caption. In The Brain Audit alone there are almost 100 cartoons and corresponding captions. In a PDF, this layout is easy-peasy. Create the book in InDesign and export it as a PDF and it maintains its design integrity. Try to do the same thing for an ePub and it’s like stepping in poo.

It’s a tedious, frustrating process to get all the graphics to align the way they should
The easier way is to just make a quick excuse, apologies and move on. After all, it isn’t like 90% of our audience is asking for an ePub. It’s just a stray request, isn’t it? It’s simple to ignore the request and get on with the important task of doing whatever it is we do. But that’s where the problem lies, doesn’t it? 

We’ve ignored the concept of progress. Almost all of us today read on a tablet or our phones. I know I do, my wife does, even my mother in law who ranted and raved about computers—she now loves her iPad. And PDFs work on tablet devices and phones, but they’re super clunky.

Sadly that’s not the only problem

Jim Collins talks about two elements: preserving the core and stimulating progress. And he goes to great lengths to stress the AND in between both of them. So all of us have to stand back and ask ourselves: 

What’s our core?

The core of Psychotactics has been the factor of “consumption”.

Any one can create attraction and conversion. It’s super-hard to get clients to consume what they’ve bought from you. Books, courses, workshops—we spend hours, days and weeks trying to figure out how to achieve a skill.

The cartoons, the captions in the book—they’re not just a design concept. They’re placed there as memory hooks; as a method of summary. They need to be exactly where they are in the books and courses. We could remove them and easily create an ePub like most ePubs, but that would fit in with our core. Collins says it has to be an AND. We have to preserve the core AND stimulate progress.

This principle is clearly frustrating and pulls in opposite directions.

When you’re starting out, you don’t have any legacy issues in place. You create a business the way you want to shape it. And the core and the progress moves along nicely. It’s when you “grow up” that you have to worry about how all the past has to fit in with the future. The longer you’ve been in business, the greater the past, and the more the past has to merge with an ever changing future.

Take Nokia for instance

You can almost hear the sound of the Nokia ring, can’t you? In the early 2000s, all of us would have at one point in time run into, or owned a Nokia. Nokia was no slouch in realm of being super-progresssive. They were into paper, then electricity and bounced from there to rubber, galoshes and finally were the most dominant phone manufacturer on the planet. In the early 1990’s they had a clear and accurate vision of the future. 

They saw the coming of the cell phone, dumped all their businesses and stuck with the cell phone. And then, just for good measure, they invented the first smart phone. That amazing device you take photos with, use to find your way around and yes, make phone calls—Nokia was on the ball way back in 1996. They even built a prototype of an Internet-enabled phone at the end of the 90’s.

And then they got stuck in a loop
They failed to see the link between their core—which was to make really simple phones—and the future. The future was software. The core of their legacy was hardware. They spent millions of dollars turning out failure after failure. They believed so much in their hardware that they just couldn’t figure out the software issues. And down they went, ring and all, finally selling their company to Microsoft.

To go from good to great we have to ask ourselves

  • What’s the core of our business.
  • What do we stand for?
What will we never change, never compromise on—and yet how will we step into the future when it presents itself to us. Most of us rarely have a problem with core values. Once we’ve spent enough time in our business, we know what we stand for, but what we fail to prepare ourselves for is the oncoming storm. We keep doing things the way we’ve always done.

The worst three words we repeat over and over, when faced with change is: I know that, I know that, I know that.

I thought I knew a lot about podcasts

After all I’d rode the early wave of podcasts when Apple first introduced them. And then in 2008/09 we decided to pull the plug on the podcast. When clients—and one client in particular—kept asking me to create a podcast, I’d ignore the comment. As far as I was concerned, podcasts were a thing of the past. I wasn’t ready to listen and the years ticked away while we busied ourselves with the core of what we’d always done.

Today, the “Three Month Vacation” podcast is one of the biggest joys in my day

I love writing, I love presentations, but it’s the podcast that connects me to a medium I love. And in turn the podcast connects us to our clients in ways that not possible on paper, or through books. The podcast is the closest we come to an offline workshop. 

But I wasn’t interested in the “future”. As far as I was concerned, podcasts were the distant past. And today we know those thoughts, that strategy was wrong. We see the enormous number of clients who find the podcast, then sign up to the newsletter. At our offline workshops over 50% of the audience listens religiously to the podcast. The podcast fit in so nicely with our core. And was the medium of the future.

Even so, it’s not possible to chase every rainbow

Technology moves ahead at a blinding pace. You can’t play with every new phenomenon. Which is why we have to go back to the Hedgehog principle. What can you be the best in the world in? What are you deeply passionate about? What drives your economic engine? In the subset of podcasting, we achieve all three.

And this is what you’ll have to do as well. 

Find your core AND stimulate progress, with your eye always on the passion. 

The passion is what drives your business today and will continue to do so in the future. If you don’t wake up crazy with happiness, then you’re not headed towards greatness. It’s the reason I moved on from cartooning back in the early 2000s. I wasn’t waking up happy as a lark—and so I had to find something else.

Which, interestingly, takes us to next element: The hairy, audacious goal—oh, it’s big too. That makes it the BHAG (pronounced: bee-hag).

2) The BHAG

Until the moment Greig Bebner set to work on his kitchen table with a glue gun and some kite material, the basic design of the modern umbrella hadn’t changed since 1928. They come in all sorts of colours, shapes and fancy gizmos, but the core elements of the umbrella are the same—and they don’t work. The moment a gust of wind comes along, you hear cursing, then more cursing and finally the umbrella being thrown on the pavement.

So Greg set about on a big, hairy, audacious goal—a BHAG.

He wanted an umbrella that would stand up to the crazy wind and rain on One Tree Hill.

Now if you’ve ever visited Auckland, New Zealand, you’re likely to have your hair tossed around wildly on a windy One Tree Hill day. It’s certainly no place to open an umbrella. Then to push that BHAG even further, he tested the Blunt at Force 12 (117 km/h) which is the maximum setting of the test wind tunnel. The umbrella stood up to the punishment with ease.

But why did the umbrella work so flawlessly?

It starts with the BHAG. It’s almost a Star Trek kind of goal—to go where no man gone before. It’s not a namby-pamby set of goals. It’s one overarching factor that scares the heebie-jeebies out of you as a business owner.

A windy day on One Tree Hill in the middle of a storm. That’s a good testing ground for an umbrella.

Sometimes this goal is restricted to your product, sometimes it’s a lot bigger.

Like Akio Morita, the co-founder and former chairman of Sony Corporation. He was working on a revolutionary product called the Walkman. Until the Walkman was introduced on July 1, 1979. Until the Walkman showed up, portable music players were non-existent. Even though the Walkman stuttered with disappointing sales in the first month, it went on to sell over 400 million units.

But Morita’s goal wasn’t just to sell a ton of Walkmans

His goal was a lot loftier. Before Sony introduced a ton of extremely sophisticated equipment, Japan was considered to be a backward country. It was associated with paper parasols and shoddy imitations. Akio Morita wanted to turn that perception around so that “Made in Japan” commanded respect and was associated with high quality. 

And he succeeded, with Sony at the forefront of his BHAG. In 2014, A Harris poll showed Sony was the No. 1 brand name among American consumers, ahead of American companies like General Electric and Coca-Cola.

At Psychotactics, we have a BHAG too

The goal is to get rid of information for information sake and replace it with skill, instead. We’re drowning in information, and yet every book, every course brings even more information to the table. 

But is that what we really want? Or do we want the skill instead. We want to write articles, create sales pages, be able to sell at higher prices. We want to learn to cook, draw, paint or acquire skills that make us look, feel and be smarter. A BHAG has to be hairy, audacious, and bigger than anyone thinks possible.

Starbucks had a BHAG too

It was to open up a new Starbucks cafe every single day of the year. But soon enough, Starbucks was running into trouble. Can you see why? It’s big, hairy and audacious to open up a Starbucks every single day, but does it inspire any passion? Does it feel like you’re somehow changing the world you live in, let alone the world around you?

The BHAG wasn’t to make Sony the star, but instead to make Japan and Japanese products top-notch once again.

Every business should have a BHAG.

Something that sits there in the corner challenging you to become better—not necessarily bigger—than you are. To create a Ferris Wheel or an Eiffel Tower. To create artworks of enduring magnificence as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt did. And the way to create that BHAG is to scare yourself. To know that everyone says there are things you’re not supposed to achieve. That these things are impossible.

And yet, you do it, because it’s the most inspiring thing to do!
Combined with the Hedgehog principle, preserving the core and stimulating progress, you have a system in place that can take your business from good to great. And even as you embark on this journey, you know that you will forever be on the road to making things better, not necessarily bigger, but always better.

Better—it’s a great place to be!
Sean d'Souza


15+ years ago, fresh out of college with a degree in accounting Sean de Souza joined an advertising agency where he *met* Leo Burnett, a man who had spent his lifetime in the hard trenches of communication and advertising.

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