Jim Collins, best selling author of Good to Great makes reference to Isaiah Berlin’s essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox” to illustrate his point about simplifying what it is that:
- You are deeply PASSIONATE about,
- You can be BEST IN THE WORLD at, and
- Drives your ECONOMIC ENGINE
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 a 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, lightening 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 defence 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.”
Are YOU a Fox or a Hedgehog?
According to Berlin, people can be divided into two groups: foxes and hedgehogs.
Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are “scattered or diffused, moving on many levels”
Hedgehogs simplify a complex world into a single organising idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. Anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.
The Hedgehog Concept
How to Explore your Hedgehog Concept
Jim Collins suggests taking three bits of paper and listing separately:
- What you are TRULY PASSIONATE about – i.e. what gets you excited, motivated, or angry i.e. what really fires you up? What did you love doing as a child?
- What are you BEST IN THE WORLD at – i.e. what are you genetically programmed to do? Note: this list won’t always contain the same things as those on your deeply passionate about list.
- What drives your ECONOMIC ENGINE – i.e. how is that you measure value? It may not be financially, it could be the number people influenced, or the number of lives saved or improved.
Then he suggests you give the three bits of paper to someone independent and get them to identify the interception of your three circles. Finally Jim Collins highlights that know you are nearing the interception of these three circles when you can get up everyday and say to yourself:
“I feel that I was just born to be doing this”
“I get paid (by the economic denominator of your choice – see point #2 above) to do this? Am I dreaming?”
“I look forward to getting up and throwing myself into my daily work, and I really believe in what I’m doing”
What is your Hedgehog Concept?
Whether you are interested in personal development or development of your business, do this exercise with three bits of paper and see what you come up with. I’ve started my lists a couple of times, although usually I tend to leave the ideas floating around in my head… so this afternoon I plan to get everything down on paper, then ask a couple of people I trust to review them for me!
Remember, you are not aiming for the perfect intersection of the three circles in your first attempt. Instead, try the exercise to better understand each of your three circles (which can grow and change over time) so that you can work towards that intersection.
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