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Posted on 22. May, 2011 by Julia Mitchell.
The Fox Knows Many Things, But The Hedgehog Knows One Big Thing” Archilochus (7th-century b.c.e.)
Which one are you?
The ancient parable of the fox and the hedgehog has come into increasing view in popular culture lately. And while its origins are somewhat ambiguous, the allegory has been applied to entrepreneurs, scientists, philosophers, playwrights, business leaders, economists, and even US presidents.
One of the fables goes something like this;
A fox and a hedgehog were strolling through a country path. Periodically, they were threatened by hungry wolves. The fox — being blessed with smarts, speed and agility — would lead packs of wolves on a wild chase through the fields, up and down trees, and over hill and dale. Eventually the fox would return to the path, breathless but having lost the wolves, and continue walking. The hedgehog, being endowed with a coat of spikes, simply hunkered down on its haunches when menaced by the wolves and fended them off without moving. When they gave up, he would return to his stroll unperturbed.
‘Are you a hedgehog or a fox?’
He continued: 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, lightning 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.
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, and never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision.
Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn’t matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple-indeed almost simplistic-hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.
What does all this talk about hedgehogs and foxes have to do with good to great? Everything.
Those who built the good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what we came to call a Hedgehog Concept for their companies. Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.
People are similarly divided into foxes and hedgehogs. But it is the hedgehogs that make the biggest impression because they simplify the complex into a single, simple unifying idea. Think of Karl Marx and class struggle, Charles Darwin and natural selection, These are people who have looked at a complex world and found a way of simplifying it. They are hedgehogs.
A Hedgehog Concept for yourself consists of three things.
- What you can be the best in the world at Think of this as you doing work using your God Given Talent Your thoughts to yourself are: ”I was born to be doing this’
- What drives your economic engine. Cash flow, you are well paid for what you do. You say “I can’t believe I get paid to do this, I love this so much”
- What you are deeply passionate about. Focus on activities that ignited your passion, you are passionate about your work. ”I look forward to going to work everyday, I’m believe in what I am doing and can’t wait to get started each day.”
To have a fully developed Hedgehog Concept, you need all three. If you make a lot of money doing things at which you could never be the best, you’ll only build a successful company, not a great one. If you become the best at something, you’ll never remain on top if you don’t have intrinsic passion for what you are doing. Finally, you can be passionate all you want, but if you can’t be the best at it or it doesn’t make economic sense, then you might have a lot of fun, but you won’t produce great results.
Excerpts from Good to Great, by Jim Collins and from www.inc.com