October 12, 2011 in Strategy
I love simple, insightful and memorable ideas. Like this one, involving a hedgehog, otherwise a fairly unremarkable noisy creature. The hedgehog, going about his daily life (crossing roads + heavy breathing, i suppose?), can feel fairly safe when it comes to his usual predators. He knows that whenever he’s in danger, he can roll up into a ball of sharp spikes – and who would like to eat that? The little hedgehog might not know many things, but the one he knows so well turns out to be the critical one. The hedgehog is an unlikely genius.
The Hedgehog Concept
Being able to single out THE THING that is critical and will make your organisation great (aka strategy, at its best), is extremely rare, yet surprisingly straightforward. In their fantastic book Good To Great (idea review), Jim Collins and his team use the above analogy to coin the term “Hedgehog Concept”. A Hedgehog Concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles:
The Hedgehog Concept suggests that the path to greatness lies at the intersection of passion, competence and underlying economics. All three circles are vital, and must overlap over a long period of time. The key is in understanding what your organisation or yourself can and can not be the best in the world at (in the sense of the word as defined by Seth Godin in The Dip). Desire or intention to be the best at something is not enough – you must also come to understand that it is indeed possible. Once you figure this out, you have to make sure it’s something you really care about, so much that you want to bring it to a whole new level. At the same time, it must be clearly aligned to your economic engine.
The Hedgehog Club
If you look around, you’ll discover that many remarkable people and organisations are in fact hedgehogs. Steve Jobs was a prime example, having turned Apple into an organisation that is the best in the world in turning technology into irresistible user experience across a number of industries, driven by revolutionary passion and resulting in staggering profitability. Jeff Bezos is doing the same at Amazon – after becoming the best in the world at online retailing, Amazon has conquered e-reading, cloud services and now aims to dominate video streaming. It is the careful selection of markets in which they can be the best in the world that gives away Amazon’s hedgehog nature. It will be interesting to see what happens, as there is a very successful and determined hedgehog in video streaming already – Netflix. Netflix has demonstrated that they will go to extreme lengths to protect their hedgehog concept (perhaps too early, they already attempted to separate the proverbial mills for potential sale in the form of unfortunate Qwikster), a move widely under-appreciated by their investors. There are other notable members of the Hedgehog Club, including Seth Godin, who among other endeavours has the best shipping blog in the world, and is possibly the best in the world in digital publishing. The hedgehog club is full of great examples, with an open invitation to anyone with the discipline to stay within their three circles.
Are you/your organisation a hedgehog? What would it take to become one?
*Hedgehog image by Tiffany Bailey
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