A couple of years ago I wrote a book about technology and philanthropy called “From Survival to Significance”. In it, I focused on the hedgehog concept*, the idea that you should dedicate your life to whatever craft that lies at the intersection of your talent, passion and economics.

 

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What makes money?

 

What I didn’t realise at the time, was that I was writing the book for myself, in order to try and discover what that meant for me. I had no interest in “building my personal brand” or seeing my books lining the shelves (or discount bins) of my local book shops. I managed to sell a few thousand copies (and donated a few thousand hours of coding lessons to kids in the process), but it was the process of writing the book that helped me to discover what I wanted to spend my life doing.

 

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I love teaching good marketers about better marketing, I seemed quite good at it, and it put food on my table and a roof over my head.

 

Result.

 

Food is one of my favourite things. I like food. I like making money so that I can eat nice food. But I’ve never experienced the kind of food I saw in one of my favourite documentaries this afternoon. I could perhaps have saved myself two years of writing, trying to discover my inner hedgehog, if I had just spent more time being inspired by the star of the film, an 85-year old Japanese sushi chef called Jiro. Jiro owns a small sushi restaurant, hidden away in a subway in Tokyo. It only has 10 seats, doesn’t serve appetizers, most meals only last 15 minutes and doesn’t even have a bathroom inside the restaurant.

 

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But despite all that, if you want to eat there, you need to book months in advance because it is the only restaurant of its kind in the world to be awarded 3 Michelin stars. The ultimate accolade of any restaurant. To put that in perspective, restaurants with 3 Michelin stars are held in such high regard, that people often travel to a country just to eat in one.

 

Jiro is the hedgehog of all hedgehogs.

 

Of course he’s making some money and he’s clearly an incredibly talented chef, but more importantly he loves going to work every day so much so that he doesn’t like going on holiday and has no plans whatsoever of retiring. (Did I mention Jiro was 85?). If you watch the movie you will see that he has an incredible focus, a love of simplifying complexity and a great deal of self discipline. He is a perfectionist who is never satisfied with his work. He wants every next dish to be better than the last, and it’s all he seems to think about from the moment he gets up to the moment he falls asleep. Jiro dreams of Sushi.

 

 

So what’s Jiro’s secret of success?

 

One of Jiro’s best friends, a celebrated food critic, explains that there are 5 reasons why Jiro is so unique, and suggests that these 5 attributes could be adopted by anyone wanting to be the best in the world at their craft.

 

  1. Take your work seriously. Make sure that you always perform at the highest level. There is a lot of drama in a sushi restaurant and the chef is very much life a performer. There are no short cuts. It might take you 10,000 hours to be in the top 5% of your profession, but it will take a lot longer than that to go from good to great.
  2. Always improve your skills. Never stop learning. No matter how old you are. Jiro has a few years under his belt and still goes to visit the rice merchants and specialist fish sellers to perfect his understanding of how his industry is changing.
  3. Focus on the details. Work in a tidy environment and keep a clear head. Chaotic work spaces and messy desks make romantic stories for billionaire entrepreneurs, but for the rest of us, cleanliness and tidiness are more likely to inspire success. If your workplace doesn’t feel nice, others won’t feel nice either.
  4. Lead. People like Jiro are incredibly at what they do because they are leaders, not collaborators. Today’s socially driven society loves collaboration, but if you’re one of the best in the world at doing what you do (and want to get even better), chances are you’re not going to be working with many other people on your level. Jiro is stubborn and insists on having everything his own way. (NB: Michael Jordan’s trainer Tim Grover speaks about this a lot in his book Relentless – one of the best books I’ve ever read on elite performance).
  5. Passion. When you are deeply in love with what you do, everything else finds a way of slotting into place. It doesn’t matter whether people are trying to steal your ideas, copy you, disrupt you or ignore you, if you are passionate enough about your chosen profession, you’ll usually find a way to rise above everyone else.

 

 

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In retrospect, this reads a bit like one of those “Success” posts that I hate seeing in entrepreneur magazines or on Inc.com, but given that these attributes where directed towards Jiro, I don’t mind so much.

 

Anyway… go and check out the film if you’ve not already, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

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  • You can read about the Hedgehog concept in Jim Collin’s superb book ‘Good to Great.

Evangelist @IBM • IBM Watson • Travel Around Talking about AI, Big Data and the Future of Marketing • Lover of Old Business Books and Good Bourbon • Based in London, UK.

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