One of the greatest books I read when I was in the early stages of being my own business was Good to Great by Jim Collins. One specific business strategy that he profiled caught my attention, The Hedgehog Concept. Though it is not its namesake, I believe it has helped build the foundation for The Hedgehog Worx.
Suppose you were able to construct a work life that meets the following three tests. First, you are doing work for which you have a genetic or God-given talent, and perhaps you could become one of the best in the world in applying that talent. (“I feel that I was just born to be doing this.“) Second, you are well paid for what you do. (“I get paid to do this? Am I dreaming?“) Third, you are doing work you are passionate about and absolutely love to do, enjoying the actual process for its own sake. (“I look forward to getting up and throwing myself into my daily work, and I really believe in what I’m doing.”) If you could drive toward the intersection of these three circles and translate that intersection into a simple, crystalline concept that guides your life choices, then you’ve got a Hedgehog Concept for yourself.
A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.
Much of Collin’s theory was built on the story of the fox versus the hedgehog, an ancient Greek parable that states: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Translation: the fox uses a variety of strategies to try to catch the hedgehog. It sneaks, pounces, races, and plays dead. And yet, every time, it walks away defeated, with a nose full of spines. The hedgehog, however, knows how to do one thing perfectly: defend itself.
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin took this parable and applied it to the modern world in his 1953 essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox.” Berlin divided people into two groups: foxes and hedgehogs. In his essay, he argued that foxes are sleek and shrewd animals that pursue many goals and interests at the same time. Because of this wide variety of interests and strategies, their thinking is scattered and unfocused, and they are limited in what they can achieve in the long run. Hedgehogs, however, are slow and steady, and people often overlook them because they’re quiet and unassuming. But, unlike the fox, they are able to simplify the world and focus on one overarching vision. It’s this principle that guides everything they do, and helps them succeed against all odds.
While doing a bit of research for this, I stumbled upon a site that argues against this theory. In an article named after the site, The Fox and The Hedgehog, Abraham Kamarck believes the fox to be superior:
The Hedgehog’s strategy is superior in a fixed environment. If hunted by a common predator, like a dog, a Hedgehog’s strategy (rolling up in a ball) will be successful 100% of the time.
While a Fox’s strategy of jumping, running, climbing, digging and hiding may only be successful 80% of the time. Sometimes the Fox will fail.
But, if the environment changes….if a new predator comes along, say a human, who is undeterred by the hedgehog’s ball-strategy – because the human can figure out a way to get past this single defensive move – then the hedgehog is in trouble and fails 100% of the time. While the Fox’s strategy, an adaptable strategy, is just as likely to succeed against the new predator as the old predator. The Fox will survive a changing environment. The Hedgehog will not.
I find this fascinating and extremely useful being a business owner. We have to realize that not everyone is or ever will be as focused as a Hedgehog. Even still, not everyone can be as varied and adaptable as a Fox.