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Good to Great

hedgehog principle
I’ve been reading “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. The study examines businesses who spent a number of years with mediocre to good results, to then transform themselves into a great company with superior performance for a prolonged period of time. The book covers many elements and I keep finding myself obsessing over the hedgehog concept.

An excerpt from the book:

The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox. “Aha, I’ve got you now!” thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, “Here we go again. Will he ever learn?” Rolling up into a perfect little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The fox, bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.

Berlin extrapolated from this little parable to divide people into two basic groups: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are “scattered or diffused, moving on many levels,” says Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn’t matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple-indeed almost simplistic-hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.

Jim then explains that each of the companies that went from good to great found their core unifying concept. They explored the answers to the following three core questions:

What can you be the best in the world at?

What drives your economic engine?

What are you deeply passionate about?

question for hedgehog concept

At the intersection of the answers lie the hedgehog concept. So we have been asking ourselves, what can we be the best in the world at? What are we passionate about and how do measure success? Serious questions that I expect will engender year long dialogs. Our first struggle, we have many core competencies. We might be able to be the best at a lot of things. Our industry is booming and the opportunities are numerous. The competition is fierce but dominance is not established.

I asked my wife Julie, as a quasi inside outsider what she thought we were the best at & what we are passionate about. Together we came up with the following list:

Taking the client’s 50,000 foot view of a need or problem and translating that into a concrete solution.

Building teams of business owners.

Taking the complex and making it simple.

Being the best at a particular industry, trend or technology (like rich internet application or flex for example) is possible – we have one of the best flash dev teams out there – but it doesn’t inspire us.

Culture of learning (my personal obsession) – best at growing ourselves and learning new things.

Best at creating a System, Community and Culture that drives independent business ownership

Peter when discussing this list brought up the following question:

Are we to be a product business or a service business – can you really be the best at both? Is the diversification healthy or a distraction?

We have no answers yet, but I know we will.

I’d also like to welcome Rick to the team, in a very apropos location. He is the best team builder I have yet to meet and am thrilled he is considering joining us.

Peter & I are putting together a council of people who we trust and inspire us to analyze these questions and drive the business forward.

Much more to come.