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Are You a Hedgehog or a Fox?

By Catherine Pope

January 23, 2020

We probably like to think of ourselves as foxes – streetwise, dashing, and slightly rakish. But here’s why you might want to be a hedgehog instead.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins introduces the Hedgehog Concept. No, it doesn’t mean rootling about in people’s gardens or taking in laundry. It’s based on Aesop’s fable of the Hedgehog and the Fox. The fox spends his time devising all sorts of cunning ways to ambush the hedgehog. Every time he thinks, “Haha, now I’ve got her!” But every time the hedgehog simply rolls into a prickly ball, waits for the fox to slope off, then quietly goes about her business. While the fox spends all his time creating different strategies, the hedgehog has become truly great at one thing. She’s a simple creature, but a highly effective one.

There are three circles to the hedgehog concept:

  • What you’re deeply passionate about
  • What you can be the best in the world at
  • What drives your economic engine (i.e. what you can get paid for)

It’s similar to the Japanese concept of Ikigai. At the intersection of the three circles is your truly great business. Good to Great is aimed mainly at entrepreneurs seeking to build large corporations. As such, some of the rhetoric is a bit strong for soloists or small businesses. We don’t all need to be world leaders – a decent profit and some happy clients is quite enough, thank you. Nevertheless, some of his advice still applies. Rather than necessarily being the best in the world, you need to stand out from your competitors and offer something that only you can do. By understanding your superpowers and using them to solve clients’ problems, you create a sustainable business. If you’re going to do all that hoofwork, it needs to be something you really care about. And even if you do become the best in the world, it’s just a hobby if you don’t have paying punters. You need all three elements.

Yes, this is tough. Collins explains that creating your Hedgehog Concept is an iterative process and can take several years. It’s tempting instead to dart around in pursuit of the next tasty idea, but perseverance makes you unassailable, even by cunning competitors. So, be less foxy and more prickly this year.

NB: If you click on my affiliate link above, I get a tiny amount of commission … which I promise to spend on more self-improvement books to share with you.

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