The Hedgehog and the Fox

The Hedgehog and the Fox

In 2002 I was introduced to the book Good to Great authored by Jim Collins. Three years later I read it and wondered why it took me so long. In 2006 I read the prequel to Good to Great, Built to Last, also by Jim Collins. After reading the second book, I went back and actually studied the first. The time I invested in these two books, especially Good to Great, led me to an epiphany: You don't have to be Walgreen's, Wells Fargo or Kroger to need and benefit from a Core Ideology which defines your purpose as a company and sets core values from which you will never depart, no matter the economy.

It was a great pleasure for me to lead our management team through the exercise of developing our Core Ideology, throwing out the old Mission Statement. It took about six months. You'll find it on all our literature.

A second epiphany came as we put the finishing touches on our Core Ideology: Sandra Austin, our Relationship Manager asked this question: "Now don't we need a Hedgehog Concept?" If you've read the book you know what she was asking. The answer to her question is an obvious and resounding "Yes, we do!" So, off again we go in quest of our Hedgehog Concept. One big difference between your Core Ideology and your Hedgehog Concept is Core Ideology is based on what you decide to do and be. Hedgehog Concept, on the other hand, is based on what you understand from historical performance and industry comparisons that you can, or more importantly, cannot do or be. It takes years to develop a meaningful Hedgehog Concept, not just a series of meetings. So in about 5 years I hope to articulate to you what our Hedgehog Concept is. Meanwhile know that four members of our management team are diligently studying our performance and working on it.

At this point you might ask "what is a Hedgehog Concept?" To answer your question I would refer you to chapter five of Good to Great. Jim Collins articulates it much better than I do. I will leave you however with this quote from the opening paragraphs of this chapter:

In his famous essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox," Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." 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 the 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 defense 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.

The next time someone comes to you offering a "great deal" on a very personal service over a long period of time, ask him about his company's Core Ideology. Better still; ask him about his company's Hedgehog Concept. Chances are good he'll have no idea what you're talking about. Beware the fox. They are many. Embrace the hedgehog. They are few.

Joseph Hoyle
Elite Environmental Group