In his essay The Hedgehog and the Fox, Isaiah Berlin divides the world ‘s creatures into hedgehogs and foxes, based on an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Jim Collins picks up on this idea in Good to Great when introducing the Hedgehog Concept. He describes it as “a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles…1. What you can be the best in the world at (and equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at)…2. What drives your economic engine…[and] 3. What you are deeply passionate about.”
At this point, I should note that several of Collins’ ideas in Good to Great have been widely misunderstood, notably his suggestion to get the wrong people “off the bus,” get the right people “on the bus,” and drive them to the right destination. Interestingly enough, Collins offers an important clarification on Page 98: “A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy 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 critical.”
Near the conclusion of Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t, Kevin Maney recalls a moment while reading Good to Great when coming upon the discussion of the Hedgehog Concept. “It’s the notion that great companies figure out what they can do better than anyone else in the world, and then relentlessly focus on that. But the Hedgehog Concept doesn’t just apply to companies – it can apply to an individual, too.”
Maney then recalls a conversation with Collins. “He said that there are two ways to get to the top. One is to climb an existing ladder, which can be a bit crowded. The other is to make your own ladder, and put yourself at the top. It’s a twist on the Hedgehog Concept – if you can’t be the best in the existing category, figure out what you can be best at, and create a category that fits.”
So, here are two questions. First, “Do you have an understanding of what you can be the best at?
Also, “Given that understanding, how passionate are you about doing it?”
Tags: Good-to-Great, Isaiah Berlin, Jim Collins, Kevin Maney, The Hedgehog and the Fox, Trade-Off