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6 minutes reading time (1229 words)

Making Money Making Space: Creating space to move from good to great

One of the wonderful realities and paradoxes about being a piano teacher in 2017 is that a good idea is only one click away. The proliferation of good piano teaching ideas and the increased connectivity that we have through email, social media groups, and websites means that there is never a lack of creative ideas, games, and teaching techniques. Add to this local piano teaching workshops, conferences, and online resources, and it's easy to see why our profession has joined other professions in entering a state of "information overload."

One significant issue this presents for professional piano teachers is that we become so distracted by all the new, shiny ideas that we lose sight of our "hedgehog concept," one of the elements that can move our business from good to great. When we fill our time with quick solutions (even if effective), this can crowd out time for more strategic reflection, analysis, and planning which is necessary to help our business become great.

Jim Collins uses the hedgehog concept to illustrate a key business principle in the book Good to Great, where he writes about his extensive study of businesses that moved from good, or even mediocre, to great. Though first published in 2001, it continues to be a best-selling business book and contains valuable insight for moving our teaching, accompanying, or composing careers from good to great.

Here's the story Jim tells of the hedgehog and the fox:

The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog's den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek, beautiful, fleet of foot, and crafty—the fox looks like the sure winner. The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix-up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.

The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox. "Aha, I've got you now!" thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, "Here we go again. Will he ever learn?" Rolling up into a perfect little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The fox, bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.1

The hedgehog always wins, but he doesn't do it by trying to become fast like a rabbit. He doesn't to it by checking his Hedgebook every day and reading all the new ideas that are posted. He doesn't do it by trying out seventeen new skills he learned at a conference. He does it with focus and by doing his one "hedgehog" thing better than any other animal.

In chapter 5, Collins proposes that you must discover three things and how they intersect in order to determine your hedgehog concept that can move your business from good to great. These three things are:
1. What are you deeply passionate about?
2. What can you be the best in the world at (and what can you not be best at)?2
3. What drives your economic engine?

1. Passion in piano teaching
What gets you excited when you are talking with a bunch of music teachers? What gets you excited during lessons? Is it innovative fingering? Is it recital etiquette? What about technique, repertoire, finding duets, siblings who play together at the piano, arranging music, children with special needs, iPad apps for students, or music therapy? What gets you really excited and ignites a fire within you?

2. Being the best in the world
Collins cites Warren Buffett's comment about his $290 million investment into a major financial institution: "They stick with what they understand and let their abilities, not their egos, determine what they attempt." So while it would be nice to put on amazing pop music recitals, have students win concerto competitions, and compose music to sell online, it is impossible to be the best at all three of those things.

What is truly the thing at which you could be the best in the world? Is it teaching children with Down syndrome? Is it organizing piano literature in a way that makes it easier for teachers to find? Is it composing, arranging, accompanying, developing technique, teaching contest winners, teaching preschoolers, teaching adults to play without tension, or using puppets while teaching? Unfortunately, as Buffet's quote indicates, the sky is not the limit here. What do your current abilities say that you do well?

And what if you have no desire to be the best in the world? Collins maintains that the concept works on a small scale as well.3 What is the thing you could be the best at in your community?

3. Your economic engine
What is the economic engine that brings the most profit to your business? Is it profit per student? Is it profit per lesson (group vs. private)? Is it profit per class? You may not initially have enough data to determine this easily. Keep in mind that in Good to Great, Jim Collins mentions that the companies he chose took approximately four years to discover all three things. Discovering your economic engine may simply be profit per student, but thinking through other possibilities is important.

Pulling it all together to find your hedgehog concept
Collins explains that the intersection of these three areas is where your business can move from good to great. Defining these areas and then finding their intersection may take years, but here is an example of one piano teacher who has done this.

Kristin Yost, a prominent piano teaching business owner, has become passionate about teaching pop music, inspiring students with pop music, providing exciting opportunities for students to play with professional pop musicians, and teaching teachers how to do these things as well. She is also a gifted pianist, teacher, and adjudicator. But, the focus that she has put into the intersection of her passion, skill set, and economic engine means that she is becoming the best in the world at combining solid piano pedagogy and teaching students to play, perform, and be motivated by pop music.

Finding your hedgehog concept will take serious reflection, analysis, and time. But don't let shiny new ideas get in the way of moving your piano business from good to great. Though it may seem geared toward helping large companies, the book Good to Great can give piano teachers ideas for achieving this same status. Above all, give yourself ample time to think and process these elements of the hedgehog concept out loud with friends, colleagues, and even your piano students and families!

1 J. Collins (2011), Good to Great, (Harper Collins).
2 For an interesting short read on a related and immediately applicable principle, see http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/best-new-years.html
3 See Chapter 9 of Good to Great under the heading "Why Greatness?"

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