Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

by Carly Juve

Leadership is about vision. Without vision there is no passion and without passion there is no drive toward success. In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he details why some companies plateau at being good and why other companies flourish with continuous greatness. After reading this book and reflecting on the real life examples, it comes down to the importance of being either a hedgehog or a fox.

Foxes can live in a variety of environments and can adapt to almost all climates. They either live in small groups or alone and their sole purpose is to hunt. They are quick on their feet and are aggressive when it comes to catching their prey. Although a fox maybe scattered and quick moving, it thrives off being strategic and sneaky in order to get what it wants.

A hedgehog is a small and detailed-focused mammal. With their thick coats and intricate spines, hedgehogs have a sturdy defense against any predator. In a moment of alarm or intimidation they can easily curl up into a spiny ball. The hedgehog only focuses on one thing, simplistic ideas.

Isaiah Berlin, a Latvian-British social and political theorist, separates people into two groups, hedgehogs and foxes. Foxes pursue many ends all at the same time and sees the world in all its complexity. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, if it does not relate somehow to the hedgehog idea it holds no relevance.

The Hedgehog Concept is step one in the process of becoming a good-to-great company. What is the Hedgehog Concept?

Collins outlines this concept in three intertwining circles. (see image)

  1. What you can be the best in the world at, but also what you cannot be the best in the world at?
  2. What drives your economic engine?
  3. What are you deeply passionate about?


    Image from: Yannick van den Bos

These three simple questions are how companies go from good-to-great. Easy, right? Well, to have a fully developed Hedgehog Concept you need all three circles, all the time. If you’re driven to make money at something you’re not the best at, you’ll have a successful company but not extraordinary. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing but it doesn’t make economic sense, then you might have a lot of fun, but you won’t produce prosperous results.

Good-to-great companies instill The Hedgehog Concept so well that when coming across new business venture they look at it this way,

“Anything that does not fit with our Hedgehog Concept, we will not do.”

Collins articulates that anyone, companies included, need to start a “stop doing” list. To meet deadlines, to execute objectives and achieve goals, we all seem to have a process in place. We may ask ourselves; “What do I need to check off the list to get to where I need to be? What are my daily, weekly, or monthly objectives? How do I get from point A to point B?”

Majority of us lead busy lives with endless “to do” lists. Focusing on doing, doing, doing. It seems we are always adding more to this list. But how often do we take the time to step back and get rid of the unnecessary chaos? Well, good-to-great companies are able to discipline themselves in a way that they can recognize the junk, shift gears, and successfully reach their goals by not wasting time on the wrong objectives.

To develop a “stop doing” list, think of it in terms of budgeting. Collins highlights the list like this, “In a good-to-great transformation, budgeting is a discipline to decide which arenas should be fully funded and which should not be funded at all. In other words, the budget process is not about figuring out how much each activity gets, but about determining which activities best support the Hedgehog Concept and should be fully strengthened and which should be eliminated entirely.”