In business, we often hear the buzz phrase, Niche Market.” It’s a great concept,
filled with plans for having what Jim Collins called in his book Good to Great a “Hedgehog Concept.” There are challenges in finding a niche market and carving out your place there, as companies have found. It can also be a hard place to stay.
Coca Cola found this when they moved from their first and most lastingly popular seller, their Hedgehog Concept, Coke. Every other Coke followed. PepsiCo took advantage of Coca Cola’s failure to stay in their niche market, taking away huge chunks of market share Coca Cola has been working ever since to regain.
What if the niche market moves somewhere else? What if the market changes and the thing for which you are known becomes obsolete? Oftentimes, companies deal with these questions by diversification into other arenas. The problem can then become they lose their focus.
A good example of broken focus caused by diversification outside of the Hedgehog Concept happened when PepsiCo launched out of the soft drink industry and into the fast food market. For a while, it looked great. They had a guaranteed market arena for their products, with iron-clad agreements only PepsiCo beverages would be sold in these chains. Soon the soft drink side started to suffer from lost focus. It was PepsiCo’s own broken focus from their niche market that allowed Coca Cola to regain much of the market share lost during their own wanderings.
Individuals can learn from this as much as businesses. Too often, we find ourselves trying to be good at everything. We forget the enormous sums the world will often pay for unique specialization and knowledge. Even when we do things the world won’t pay well for, we forget doing what we know we are made to do makes us happiest and most fulfilled. We try to be everything to everybody, and forget that being faithful to who we are and what we are really good at is the better path.
“Di mi se mai fu fatta alcuna cosa (Tell me if anything was ever done.).”
Celebrated today as an artist, inventor, sculptor and thinker, many believe he is an example of a Renaissance Man. If the diversity from his niche market Da Vinci represented and eventually came to regret is the embodiment of being a Renaissance Person, that title may more considered epithet than epitaph. Even Da Vinci lamented he never completed much of what he started in his distractions. He dabbled in this, he experimented in that and he fooled around with endless rabbit trails. These led him away from the art in which he was uniquely gifted. There was so much more he could have created, he lamented, had he not wandered away from his niche market, his Hedgehog Concept in the art world.
Mother Teresa was a person who knew her Hedgehog Concept, found her niche market for herself and her missionary work. She then lived it and never forgot it. First, laboring in obscurity and poverty, Mother Teresa ministered to the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India. Later, as the world began to recognize her for her work and sacrifices, despite the fame and adulation, the most important thing to Mother Teresa was the work of ministry got done. The Pope beautified her after her death, the first step in the path of Catholic sainthood. This was due to Mother Teresa’s uncompromising commitment to what she always knew and believed to be her calling in life.
In Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote we need to be true to ourselves. There is endless and timeless wisdom in his words. Seeking our own personal Hedgehog Concepts and following them to our niche markets will make us happy, fulfilled, and productive and, in the end, successful.