Isiah Berlin’s parable “The Hedgehog and the Fox” describes how a hungry fox used many different tactics to try and catch a hedgehog which was busy rummaging his way through the forest. The cunning fox pounced, darted, snapped and pawed at the hedgehog in an effort to break its defences but after each attempt he skulked away – bloodied and defeated.
‘The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing’
The hedgehog, while slow and clumsy, had mastered the art of defence – rolling up into a ball of impenetrable spikes – making it impossible for the fox to make him his next meal.
Berlin’s parable served to divide people into two camps: foxes and hedgehogs. He argued that foxes are ‘scattered and confused’, active on many levels, unfocused and often attracted to the next shiny thing. Hedgehogs on the other hand simplify the complex and focus on a single overarching vision which they direct all their efforts into achieving.
Jim Collins further developed the idea in his best-selling book “Good to Great” where he argued those that built great companies were indeed hedgehogs. “They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what we call a Hedgehog Concept for their companies’”
Working with many clients over the years I’ve seen the power of the Hedgehog Concept in action. Once defined (and it can take a while to finally nail it) a company’s Hedgehog establishes the foundation of the business’s strategy – providing clarity and direction and becoming an essential framework for critical decision-making.
Companies creating their strategy to scale should define their hedgehog and then as Collins says in “Good to Great, “adhere to it with religious ferocity”
In my next post I’ll discuss the first step in discovering your Hedgehog Concept.