One of the principles in Jim Collins’ classic book “Good To Great” is what he terms the “Hedgehog Concept”.  This concept is based on a Greek parable which says “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” and Isaiah Berlin’s division of all people into hedgehogs or foxes based on the parable.

In the story of the fox and the hedgehog, the hedgehog always wins despite the fox being more cunning.  According to Berlin, it is because foxes lack the focus to integrate all their thinking into a straightforward concept. On the other hand, hedgehogs are perfectly capable of that — they won’t be distracted by anything that doesn’t fit with their hedgehog view of the world.

Why the Hedgehog Concept Is Vital in Business

So far, this may seem like a cautionary tale warning you to be more focused in your business efforts. However, the Hedgehog Concept is much more. As it turned out in Collins’ research, the leaders who built good-to-great companies were all hedgehogs to a degree. In business, it’s important to know the “one big thing,” and according to the Hedgehog Concept, that thing lies in the intersection of three different circles.

The Three Circles in the Hedgehog Concept

There are three things you need to understand about your business to find your inner hedgehog-like focus:

  1. What can you be the best in the world at? Look beyond your core competencies and what you’d like to be the best at. Focus instead on what you can be the best at, and remember that you may not even be pursuing that right now. As Collins puts it, “If you cannot be the best in the world at your core business, then your core business cannot form the basis of your Hedgehog Concept.”
  2. What are you deeply passionate about? To pursue the Hedgehog Concept, you need to be passionate about what you do. It’s not about stimulating passion, but rather discovering what’s already ignited within you, that will be your driving force through the process.
  3. What drives your economic engine? Think about what variables would generate the greatest amount of profitability for your business. Good-to-great companies in Collins’ research discovered the single denominator with the greatest impact on their cash flow — profit per x. For instance, Walgreens switched from profit per store, to profit per customer visit because the latter better captures the driver of their economic engine.

So What?

Your company’s Hedgehog Concept can be found at the intersection of these three circles. It usually takes multiple conversations amongst a team to finalize the answers to the three questions.  But when you figure out what you can be the best at, what you’re passionate about and how you can make it profitable, that leads to getting what you want from your business.

Next Steps

  • Visit and schedule a call with Tom Barrett to discuss how he helps entrepreneurs get what they want from their business. 


About The Author

Tom Barrett is a Nashville-based leadership team coach who utilizes proven processes such as Scaling Up and the ValueBuilder System to help entrepreneurs get what they want from their business. 

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