We should only do those things that we can get passionate about. —Jim Collins

What do Great Leaders Want?





Chapter 5: The Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity Within the Three Circles)


In this chapter, Collins uses the metaphor of the hedgehog to illustrate the seemingly contradictory principle that simplicity can sometimes lead to greatness. When confronted by predators, the hedgehog’s simple but surprisingly effective response is to roll up into a ball. While other predators, such as the fox, may be impressively clever, few can devise a strategy that is effective enough to overcome the hedgehog’s simple, repetitive response.

Similarly, Collins asserts, the way to make the transformation from Good to Great is often not doing many things well, but instead, doing one thing better than anyone else in the world. It may take time to identify the single function that will be a particular firm’s "hedgehog concept," but those who do successfully identify it are often rewarded with singular success. In order to help expedite this process, Collins suggests using the following three criteria:

• Determine what you can be best in the world at and what you cannot be best in the world at;

• Determine what drives your economic engine; and

• Determine what you are deeply passionate about.

The critical step is determining how to best connect all three circles, so that they each reinforce each other.


Before diving in to the explanation of the Hedgehog Concept, where did Collins get the metaphor from? Actually a lot has been written about the Hedgehog concept and most (writers) probably received their inspiration from a 2600 year old story told to children, “Aesop’s Fables”.  ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’ is another version of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’.



What does this have to do with you?  Well, it is a paradigm describing how companies look at their business.  A fox, like the hare, is in a hurry to prove something without thinking about the consequences.  The hedgehog, like the turtle, plods along doing what it does best not really worried about the fox.


The fox is easy distracted and is always thinking up new schemes.  The hedgehog sticks to what it knows best and can handle adversity in a consistently positive manner.




Just like ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’, most people would pick the fox to win over the hedgehog.  What is missed is that in the race of life (business), the duration is so long that only consistent work will win.  Fast, frenetic running from point to point; going from task to task will not win the race of business simply because if we do business like this we end up having no clue where we are actually headed.


Steady wins the race.




Even better, because the hedgehog is so focused on specific tasks, he is an expert in what he does and already knows where things are going.  Even if things change, the hedgehog will not be off track much because he is focused on he is good at and he is more successful than the fox.


In the business world this could be explained this way for:




• A fox kind of leader is smart, crafty and knows many things. They are very busy leaders.  To them; it’s all about action; because they see all of the opportunities (and complexities) they tend to pounce and give chase to many possibilities. Extremely hard workers; the fox (leader) is often rushed, running late, overwhelmed and doing all they can to be the quintessential multi-tasker.

• The hedgehog on the other hand is a simpler leader who likes to have coherent strategies that they can pursue with relentless consistency. Busyness or action is not their metric, but adherence to the plan is more their style. For them; it’s all about doing the ‘one thing’ they are good at and sticking to it; which means, they do not multi-task well but they assemble a good team who get results.




• A fox kind of business is going to be looking for lots of growth and progress in as many opportunities as possible; which means, they will try anything to be profitable.  It is all about Go, Go, Go with this kind of business because they see themselves as innovators, fast growers and too busy to ask questions or to slow down. To them; it is all about quick results. They do not have a long-term view of their business; in fact, they’re good at quick turnaround business opportunities instead of growing a business for long term steady growth.
• A hedgehog kind of business is much different because they tend to focus on ‘one thing’ that they can do really well, and they are the best at doing that ‘one thing’. And, conversely, they know what they are not good at doing and they stay away from it. Hedgehog companies are also interested in results, but are a bit more patient that the fox kind of business. Hedgehog companies tend to have a pretty long-term view of their business.


Circle One - What you can be the best in the world at?


For Leaders  For Business
I can do this ‘one thing’ really well We do this ‘one thing’ really well
I think I can be one of the best in the world at this  We can be one of the best in the world at this

Circle Two - What drives your economic engine?

For Leaders For Business
I can do this to make a living We can figure this out to make our business work
I have a plan as to how to do this We have a plan as to how we can be profitable
I know what I need to do in order to do this We have a “profit per customer” number


Circle Three - What you are deeply passionate about?

For Leaders  For Business
I must do this in order to be happy We exist as a company to do this ‘one thing’
I am motivated; ready, willing and able  We are ‘go’

Which are you more like…

• A Fox?
• Or a Hedgehog?


What about your team…
• Fox?
• Or a Hedgehog?


What about your company…
• Fox?
• Or a Hedgehog?

It is simple
• Know the ‘one thing and stick to it
• The Hedgehog Concept is something to understanding, and not a strategy to implement
• Getting a Hedgehog Concept is an iterative process; it takes time (trial and error)
• It took an average of four years for the Good to Great companies to get a Hedgehog Concept


Collins says:
“Precisely, the Hedgehog concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the three circles.” (p. 95)
“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.” (p. 98)


Four things:
1. Buy the book and read it
2. Reach out to us and let’s see how we can help you
3. Don’t settle for Good when you can have Great
4. Consider taking the assessment that is tied to our Performance Coaching System -- send an email to: [email protected] -- please include your first and last name