The Simplicity of a Hedgehog

You may be confused by the title of this post. Since Fridays are typically our “Be More” and “Good to Great” days, why would I be bringing up a small, prickly creature and discussing its simplicity?

Just like Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay alludes, the world is broken into two categories – foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes with their elaborate plans, always trying to be crafty and to get ahead any way possible. Hedgehogs with their simple plan of action: rolling into a ball.

How many of you have been involved in a “fox” business – always using these elaborate plans and schemes to get ahead, to grow and get bigger and better. The equation that these companies have decided will work is growth=success. “If we acquire more businesses, that will help us grow and we will be successful,” “If we could just get more customers, that will help us grow and we will be successful.”

How do we correct this mentality in so many leaders? Welcome to Jim Collins’s “Hedgehog Concept.”

A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal, strategy, intention or plan to be the best, but an understanding of what you can be the best at. This can be quite a daunting task. Most companies, according to Collins, took approximately four years to completely understand what they are best at – their Hedgehog Concept.

A Hedgehog concept is a “simply, crystalline concept that flows from deep understand about the intersection of the following three circles:”

  1. What you can be the best in the world at
  2. What drives your economic engine
  3. What you are deeply passionate about

How could this concept affect other aspects of your life? Maybe you’re trying to lose weight, what is the best exercise for you? That’s what you should do! Maybe your kids are about to go to college and are deciding on a major – what are they the best at AND where does their passion lie? All three of the listed aspects need to coincide to achieve being a “hedgehog:” what you do best, how can you make money at it, and passion.

The Hedgehog Concept is not just about building on strength and competence, but about understanding what your organization truly has the potential to be the very best at and sticking to it. Whether it’s the concept you’ve been chasing since day one or a brand new path for your business, the key is to pursue that aspect only – stay away from those rabbit trails and stick to the hedgehog trails.

The Hedgehog Concept can and should be taken and applied to all aspects of our life – professional and personal. Once you discover what you’re best at, where your passion lies and the economic aspect of it all, the only way to remain great is to keep applying the fundamental principles that made you great.