“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
The first part of this series, The Hedgehog Concept, was very well received. A few readers requested for some real-life cases to highlight this concept. Let’s begin this part with a famous case study, that of the bestselling author, Chetan Bhagat. But before that, just to refresh your memory, here is the diagram of the Hedgehog Concept once again. The person who learns to operate within the intersection of these three circles has (supposedly) truly found his Why, the One Thing, which will keep him happy, successful, and wealthy.
It is a no-brainer to ask what Chetan Bhagat is famous for. Obviously for writing bestsellers. Over the last 16 years, he has written 12 books, most of which have been bestsellers. Five of his books have been converted into blockbuster movies like 3 Idiots. It is evident that he has found his Why, the One Thing, his Hedgehog Concept, in writing, at which he has been reigning supreme for the last one-and-a-half decade. He must be deeply passionate about writing which is driving his economic engine and could be considered the best (at least in India) in his genre. You might be muttering, “What’s the big deal; it’s all pretty obvious?” Let me now unfold my argument.
Bhagat has had an illustrious history even before he became an author. At the young age of 19 years, he cracked the prestigious exam of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT.) A highly competitive exam where lakhs of children appear but the success rate is barely 2%. The very fact that Bhagat got IIT, Delhi, he would have been in the top few selected students. The fact that he chose Mechanical Engineering, suggests that he had a flair, a liking for things mechanical. Hmmm, please have a look at the Hedgehog Diagram again and try to place Bhagat. The only thing that I am sure of is that this qualification would have driven the economic engine for Bhagat – and rather well. The second circle, deep passion for mechanical engineering is rather suspect as immediately after passing out from IIT, Bhagat got into the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), through another tough exam. Well, IIT and IIM are as different as chalk and cheese with hardly any common strands, at least for a youngster.
The third circle, of being the best in the world, can’t be ascertained with any certainty for Bhagat (as a mechanical engineer) because he never worked in that capacity. I can hazard a guess here – he realized over his four years at the IIT, that he was not cut out for being an engineer. Mind you, as an IIT graduate, he would have still earned well, but may not have been the best, maybe the passion was missing. So, we could say that Bhagat made a good decision to switch his field of work to Business Administration, by joining the prestigious IIM. All good so far. Let’s now analyze Bhagat’s Hedgehog Concept, in his second chosen profession.
Bhagat was outstanding during his IIM, Ahmedabad, course. He passed out in 1997 as ‘The Best Outgoing Student’. If we look at the Hedgehog diagram again, we can say with conviction that at least two of the three circles were in balance for Bhagat at this stage. He was the best, in his college, which in turn is one of the best in the world and this qualification was going to drive his economic engine very well for the next 11 years. He shifted to Hong Kong with a job offer from Peregrine Investments Holdings, one of Asia’s biggest investment banks. This bank, however, soon shut operations but Bhagat had no problem in getting absorbed with Goldman Sachs, one of the iconic investment banks in the world. Soon, he rose to be the Vice President of Goldman Sachs. Bhagat was living a successful Indian Middle-Class dream with apparently his Why, the One Thing, and the Hedgehog Concept, well in his grasp. Or was it so?
Bhagat soon felt restless despite all the wealth, the luxurious lifestyle that he was leading in Hong Kong. Maybe the Why, the One Thing that he was searching for was still eluding him. He went back to something which had given him solace since childhood- writing. Bhagat began writing his book, Five Point Someone in the early 2000s when he was barely three years into his lucrative job with Goldman Sachs. He rewrote fifteen drafts of the book till the time he got satisfied with the outcome. Imagine being in a busy banking job and yet finding time for writing and rewriting – it can’t be done without serious passion. The problem was that even his best effort found little traction with the publishers who were not very enthused by this debut work. After a multitude of rejections, Rupa and Co. found his manuscript worthy of being published, but with due modifications. Bhagat had to eat the humble pie and accede to the diktat of the publisher and his book finally got published in 2004.
The debut novel of once-an-engineer, now a successful and bored investment banker, Chetan Bhagat, was a runaway success. It was later converted into a blockbuster movie 3 Idiots in 2009, which broke all the existing box-office records. In the very next year, in 2010, Bhagat was honoured by inclusion in Time magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People, a rare honour indeed. As I have mentioned before, Bhagat has maintained his pole-position as a writer since 2004.
Please pause and think about the three professions and indeed lifestyles that Bhagat dabbled with, in his life. Which avatar of his ticks all the boxes of The Hedgehog Circles? The engineer (barely one box ticked- Economic Engine); or the Banker (two boxes ticked- Economic Engine and Best At); or the writer (all the three boxes ticked- Economic Engine, Best At, and Passion For). Bhagat had the choice and option of being a mediocre but rich engineer or a banker but gave it all to follow his passion, in which he was good. In fact, he was so good that wealth was a natural corollary to his job switch. I hope this case-study does clarify the Hedgehog Concept.
Let us now move to the next part of this series and that is to compare the concept of Ikigai to the Hedgehog Concept and find similarities and application in real life for all of us. I would request you to please read the series on Ikigai once again. The diagrammatic concept is given below.
Just to reorientate, basically, Ikigai has four intersections as against three in the Hedgehog Concept – what you love; what you are good at; what you can be paid for and what the world needs? The commonalities between the two concepts may have already emerged-
- What do you love to do (Ikigai) or are deeply passionate about (the Hedgehog Concept)? Both of these concepts are alike.
- “What you are good at”, of Ikigai, is a slight variation of “what can you be the best in the world at”, of the Hedgehog Concept? Though the Hedgehog Concept stresses upon finding that activity where you could truly excel as against merely being good at as propagated by Ikigai.
- “What you can be paid for” of Ikigai, is akin to “what drives your economic engine” from the Hedgehog Concept?
The only thing which is an addition to the Ikigai concept is “what the world needs?” I think it is a very important determinant of ethical and moral living. Just to cite an example, a billionaire drug baron may tick all the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept. He is obviously very good at his job, that’s how he is so successful in his profession; he is deeply passionate about it too as running an international drug racket requires continuous monitoring and fine-tuning; finally, to state the obvious, it drives his economic engine too. Well, would we like to be in this immoral and unethical trade which is taking its toll on the younger generation? I am sure not and yet this person fits the bill of an epitome of the Hedgehog Concept. I could give similar examples of many other professions like the Porn or illegal arms Industry where people are earning billions without bothering about the moral quotient. This is the place where Ikigai becomes a more enduring and universal concept as against the Hedgehog Concept, which tends to favour the tangible aspects of success like wealth and fame.
Before wrapping up this series, let me also introduce another interesting concept to figure out your Why, The One Thing – the Golden Circle. This concept has been elaborated by Simon Sinek in his book, Start with Why?
Sinek argues that we should always think inside-out in the Golden Circle, i.e., we must start with Why? Any activity or task or endeavour that you undertake, always be clear of why you are doing that? Once you are clear of your Why, and if that aligns with your values and beliefs, go ahead and work out your How? How is the method of doing that which is your Why? There could be a multitude of ways to reach your goal but you should select what meets your aspirations and beliefs. Once you are clear of your How, move to What– what is the outcome that you are expecting by your endeavour?
So, the next time you start to binge-watch Netflix at the cost of quality family time or physical fitness or intellectual stimulation by reading a good book, ask yourself why are you watching it? The answer may well be- I am tired after a long day at work and wish to unwind and relax by watching Netflix, a very legitimate reason. But that can’t explain watching it for three hours flat without bothering to tick other parts of your Wheel of Life – family, physical, social et.al. So, while your Why and How are legitimate, the What seems to be awry. Ask yourself every time you do something, Why am I doing it? When you light that cigarette; when you pick up that extra drink; when you pick up the car key after that extra drink; when you press the accelerator pedal in an inebriated state; when you raise your voice in a discussion; when you switch off the alarm in the morning and go back to sleep; when you take another helping of the creamy sinful desert; when you act as if you are the centre-of-attraction in this universe and others are there to serve your whims; when you are immersed in your mobile while your spouse or children are trying to make a conversation with you. When … when … when … the list goes on.
Through my readings and experience, I have introduced you to the following concepts over the last few months including the current series-
Please do further reading on these simple concepts and find your Why, the One Thing, the Ikigai, the Hedgehog Intersection, your Raison Détre. I am requesting you to do some deep introspection today- are you contributing to a worthy cause while being successful? Bhagvadagita exhorts us to live in a spirit of Yajna, the only way in which we are not bound by the Karmic Cycle – the cause-and-effect relationship. Yajna is nothing but living in a spirit of ‘cooperative collaboration’, where what you do helps the others in society and vice versa. This is the only way to move not only the economic engine but also the spiritual engine of the world.
It does not matter whether you follow the model of Raison Détre or The Hedgehog Concept or Ikigai, listen to the little voice deep within you. This voice will always tell you right from the wrong; moral from the immoral; good from the bad, provided you don’t keep ignoring it. If you don’t listen to it for a long time, it just shuts up and you lose contact with the ‘Infinite Intelligence’. You are then prone to search for success in its tangible forms- money, fame, possessions etc. This path will soon lead you to be perpetually on the ‘Hedonic Treadmill’ where no matter how much you achieve or receive, you will always crave for more, better, bigger and so on. You will crave happiness extrinsically while forgetting the eternal joy that resides within you. The external world is forever in a state of motion, flux and change – this ever-changing and ephemeral world can never give you permanent and lasting happiness. The only thing that is immutable and infinite is real you, and that is the only one which can give you enduring happiness.
Whatever you do, always ask yourself “Am I living in a spirit of Yajna?” Whatever I am doing, is it going to be beneficial to at least one more person other than your immediate family? Is it aligned with what that little voice trying to tell me? Or indeed, is my little voice speaking to me at all? Listen now … be attentive, can you hear?
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