The hedgehog concept comes from an old Greek parable that says:
"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
What it means is that despite the fact that the fox seems smarter and more agile than a hedgehog, the hedgehog's focus and adherence to a single, exceptional defence tactic makes it more effective overall.
Jim Collins talks about this concept in his book Good to Great as one of the key differentiators he discovered between companies that were "good" and companies that became "great" (sustained, exceptional success over a long period of time). The difference he noticed in the great companies was their fierce adherance to disocvering and doing one thing really, really well.
Collins goes on to define three questions to help companies discover their inner hedgehog:
Every company has something that exists at the interaction of these three critical questions:
- What are you deeply passionate about?
- What can you be the best in the world at?
- What drives your economic engine?
The key here, is that the difference in the great companies was not just focusing on doing what they had been doing and attempting to do it better, but having the discipline to determine what they could be the very best at (whether it was a current core competance or not), and stripping away everything else. Doing that requires focus, discipline and–most likely–hard decisions.
After reading through this chapter I started to evaluate how this applies to my life personally. I've been thinking a lot lately about how–as an individual–I can position myself for maximum impact, and I think this pattern is a great way to frame the thought process.
My personal thoughts went this way:
"If somebody asks me what I do, I would say software development. I'm pretty passionate about it and in my area it's a pretty good job, but can I really ever be the very best software developer in my area...?"
Sure right now that may be what I am best at, but if I could spend some time learning and become the absolute best pilot in the world and that's something that excites me, shouldn't I make the hard decision to change focus? Wouldn't I be more impactful as an individual if I lived at the intersection that answers these questions?
These three questions are a great way to evaluate whether you as an individual, or your company as a whole is where it should be. These questions force difficult evaluations and potentially drastic decisions.
So, take the next five minutes and consider: are you as a human with a single life to live positioned for maximum impact?