In 2000, the Dot-com bubble was mid-burst, and my business dwindled by 25%. We lost all our print, web and multimedia business, but the phone was still ringing for presentation help.

As a leader it was hard to know what to do or how to navigate the storm. This was a season when executives were using fog metaphors to describe their low visibility and inability to make bold decisions and commitments. Desperate for some guidance in how to navigate a downturn, I turned to Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, which had me make one of the most counterintuitive moves in my career. Instead of determining how to grow, I cut.

Collins suggested that leaders should think about their business by thinking about—of all things—hedgehogs.

Unlike other animals in the animal kingdom, hedgehogs have only one defense mechanism: they roll into a thorny ball. Hedgehogs do just one thing, and they do that one thing really well. Collins used that metaphor to help me imagine what Duarte could be best at.

I fell in love with the hedgehog concept so much, I collect hedgehogs and even have a pair of jammies with hedgehogs on them.

Collins’ concept has three principles to help you determine what you’re best at. It doesn’t help you make a specific goal, it helps you gain an understanding of what you can be best at. As I noodled notes on the model, I realized that I needed to commit to a niche and determine the one thing Duarte could do well enough to be the best.

Presentations

In a season when people were trying to diversify their business, attempting to do anything and everything to survive, I was saying “no” to queries for print and web, instead choosing to focus solely on what we were best at—presentations.

By narrowing our focus 13 years ago, we gained efficiencies and visibility that propelled us closer to the claim we’re best in the world at what we do.

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