The Hedgehog Concept, based on an ancient Greek parable about the hedgehog and the fox, can be a game-changer in the world of business.

Think of it as a simple, clear vision that guides every decision you make. It’s not about being the best in everything, but rather about focusing on what you can do best, what drives your economic engine, and what you’re passionate about.

Isn’t it fascinating how such an uncomplicated idea can be the driving force behind a successful business strategy? Let’s delve deeper and unravel the power hidden within this concept and you can leverage it to your advantage in 2023 and beyond.

What is the Hedgehog Concept?

The Hedgehog Concept is based on a metaphor of a hedgehog, an animal that does one thing very well – protect itself by rolling into a perfect ball with sharp spikes outward. It is essentially a principle that urges businesses to focus on their strengths and passions while being mindful of the economic feasibility.

Jim Collins, the well-known author, speaker, and researcher in the field of management and leadership, first introduced the concept to the business world. In his book “Good to Great,” he and his research team conducted an extensive study to identify the factors that distinguish companies that achieve exceptional and sustained success from those that do not.

Collins argues that businesses should not spread themselves too thin, but rather hone in on what they do best and what they are most passionate about. Companies can achieve long-term success by focusing their resources and efforts on a clear strategic direction that corresponds with their core competencies and areas of interest.

Origins of the Hedgehog Concept

The Hedgehog Concept was originally based on an ancient Greek parable that distinguishes between the cunning fox and the simplistic hedgehog. The fox, despite its multiple strategies for hunting, is constantly outwitted by the single-minded hedgehog.

As we’ve briefly mentioned, Jim Collins was inspired by this parable and introduced the Hedgehog Concept in his acclaimed book, “Good to Great”. His interpretation of the parable explains that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. Collins applied this lesson to the business world by suggesting that companies should focus on one thing they can excel at, are passionate about, and can be the basis of their economic model.

This concept has since been embraced by numerous businesses and entrepreneurs. Business success is the result of a series of good decisions made consistently by following this focused approach.

How Is the Hedgehog Concept Used?

The Hedgehog Concept by Jim Collins finds widespread use in strategic planning within businesses, serving as a framework for guiding decision-making and focusing efforts. Companies start by self-assessment, identifying their core competencies, passions, and profitable areas – the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept. Businesses excel when these circles overlap: where they are competent, passionate, and can generate revenue.

Hedgehog

For instance, a tech company might identify that its strength lies in creating user-friendly software, its passion is about making technology accessible to the masses, and its profitable line is its subscription-based software service. By recognizing the intersection of these three circles, the company can focus its resources on perfecting and promoting its subscription-based software service, rather than spreading efforts thin over multiple areas. In other words, it should follow the hedgehog’s strategy of doing one thing exceptionally well.

This concept also steers businesses towards consistent and steady growth, helping the transformation from good to great companies with the potential to be the best in the industry.

Collins urges companies to set their BHAG™ (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to align with the Hedgehog, or the intersection of the three circles. By narrowing down their focus, businesses can ensure they’re not chasing after every new trend or opportunity, which often leads to a lack of direction. The Hedgehog Concept thus advocates for depth over breadth, specialization over generalization, and long-term sustainability over fleeting success.

Consider the case of Apple Inc., they’ve always been passionate about creating innovative, user-friendly technology and have the skills and experience to do it at a world-class level. Their profitable drive is their premium pricing model which consumers are willing to pay for the unique and high-quality products they offer. You’ll never find Apple employing a discounting strategy, or taking over-complicated designs to market. By clinging to their purpose and nailing their niche, Apple has become one of the most successful tech companies in the world, demonstrating the power of focus.

The Three Circles of the Hedgehog Concept

The three circles of the Hedgehog Concept represent the crucial intersecting areas of competency, passion, and profitability that businesses should identify and align to drive their success.

1. What are you deeply passionate about?

This question forms the first circle of the Hedgehog Concept and emphasizes identifying the core passions that motivate you and your team, above and beyond profit. It’s about finding what truly excites you in your business, what gives you a sense of fulfillment, and what makes you look forward to a new day at work.

The Scaling Up methodology refers to this as a company’s “Core Purpose.” It’s the intrinsic driving force that motivates your team to give their best. When a business aligns its operations with its passions, work feels less like a chore and more like a mission, enhancing overall productivity, morale, and commitment.

2. What can you be the best in the world at?

This forms the second circle of the Hedgehog Concept and refers to identifying your unique capabilities and expertise. It’s not about what you want to be the best in, but rather about realistically assessing what you are or can be the best in. This requires an honest evaluation of your skills, resources, and unique value propositions that set you apart from the competition.

It’s crucial to define what ‘best’ means in your context – it could be the highest quality, the most innovative, the fastest, the most reliable, or any other metric that plays to your strengths and can influence a prospect to make a buying decision. Only by identifying and capitalizing on this unique strength can a business truly excel and establish itself as a leader in its chosen field.

3. What drives your economic engine?

This question marks the third circle of the Hedgehog Concept, addressing the economic viability of your passion and competency. Essentially, it’s about understanding what specific metric or aspect of your business has the most significant impact on your profitability – aka, your “profit per x.” This could be anything from profit per customer, revenue per employee, profit per machine, or any other financial metric that directly contributes to your economic sustainability.

The economic engine is not just about making money; it’s about generating sustainable and consistent profitability that aligns with your passion and competencies. When these three circles intersect, that’s where a business finds its true potential and purpose, paving the way for it to transition from being good to truly great.

generating sustainable and consistent profitability

Ways to Applying the Hedgehog Concept

1. Understand What You Do Best

To get this concept right, it’s crucial to deeply understand what you do best. This isn’t about what you aspire to do or simply enjoy, but what your business excels at compared to competitors. It requires rigorous self-examination and potentially harsh truths. However, the rewards are substantial. Honing in on core strengths allows businesses can concentrate their efforts, streamline their operations, and create a product or service that truly stands out.

This process might involve talking to customers, seeking input from employees, or conducting a thorough market analysis. Ultimately, it leads to a clear understanding of the business’s unique value proposition, providing a solid foundation for future growth and success.

It’s also possible that you’ll identify an area where your business has potential, but need to focus your efforts on developing the internal competencies, systems and processes before you can go to market to be known for this trait.

2. Find Your Passion

Finding your passion is a process of discovery that goes beyond just identifying what you love to do. It involves probing deeper into what truly motivates you, and is a core purpose worthy of pursuing in business. It is above and beyond profit; however, when this concept is applied, profit is a natural byproduct of pursuing this passion.

Consider the good your product or services does for the world – what problem do you solve, who do you help, and why would your company be missed if it ceased to exist? Think about the kind of work that doesn’t feel like work because you enjoy it so much. It’s about recognizing the themes or patterns that consistently resonate with you. Why do you really do what you do? And why is that important? Drill down several levels into this line of questioning until you get to the core. This could require brainstorming, introspection, or even seeking feedback from others who know you well.

3. Discover Your Economic Engine

Discovering the driving force behind your economics involves understanding the key financial metrics that drive your business’s profitability. This is more than just knowing your top-line revenue or net profit; it’s about identifying the specific components of your business model that are the biggest drivers of economic value. This could be a product with high-profit margins, a service with recurring revenue, or a process that maximizes operational efficiency.

You can start by analyzing your financial statements and looking for trends or patterns. Which products or services bring in the most revenue? If you were to increase or decrease resources in a specific area, which would have the most impact on profit – more people? A larger space? More equipment? You might also consider the lifetime value of a customer, especially for businesses that rely on repeat business or subscriptions. Consider also conducting a profitability analysis by segment, such as by product line, customer type, or geographic market. This can help you identify which areas of your business are the most and least profitable, guiding you where to focus or redirect your resources.

financial metrics

4. Look for the Overlap

Looking for the overlap in the Hedgehog Concept is about identifying the intersection of your passion, what you can be the best at, and what drives your economic engine. It’s in this sweet spot that you’ll find your business’s potential for greatness. To identify this overlap, start by listing out all the components of your passion, core competency, and economic engine.

Where do you see commonalities? Is there a product or service that you are passionate about, excel at, and also bring in significant revenue? Or perhaps there’s a certain type of customer who values your unique capabilities and is willing to pay a premium for them, thus driving your bottom line. What would happen if you set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG™) specifically pursue growth in that area?

Identifying this intersection isn’t usually immediately obvious. It requires an ongoing process of fine-tuning and adjusting as your business strategy evolves. Keep looking for opportunities to align your passion, competencies, and economics to sustain and enhance your competitive advantage.

5. Review and Communicate Your Strategy

Reviewing and communicating your strategy is a vital step in the application of the Hedgehog Concept. After identifying your core competency, passion, and economic engine, and finding their convergence, it’s crucial to continuously reassess your strategy to ensure it remains aligned with these elements. Business priorities can drift over time, as new opportunities that aren’t properly vetted can cause distractions. Regular reviews allow you to monitor your performance, identify any deviations, and make necessary adjustments to stay on track. Use measurable indicators to gauge your progress and maintain an open mind to adapt to any unforeseen changes in your business landscape.

Communication, on the other hand, is equally significant. The Hedgehog Concept is not just an idea to be understood by the management; it needs to permeate your entire organization. Clearly communicate your strategy to all team members, ensuring they understand your business’s unique value proposition and their role in achieving it. Using simple language, anecdotes, or visual aids can make the communication more engaging and accessible, and help the team to stay focused on the goals. Transparent communication fosters a shared vision, aligning efforts across the organization, and enhancing overall productivity.

F.A.Q.s

What is the Hedgehog Concept teaching?

The Hedgehog Concept, as taught in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great,” is a strategic framework for achieving business excellence. It advocates for focusing on the intersection of three key elements: what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine.

Essentially, it encourages businesses to find their unique position in the market, where they can leverage their passion and core competencies to generate sustainable profits. Through continuous refinement and clear communication of this strategy across the organization, businesses can focus their efforts on the aras of the business with the greatest impact and potential.

How long take good to great companies to develop their Hedgehog Concept?

The timeline for a company to develop its Hedgehog Concept varies based on several factors such as the complexity of the business, its size, and the dynamics of its market. In Jim Collins’ research, it took the “Good to Great” companies about four years, on average, to get a Hedgehog Concept that fully worked.

However, this doesn’t mean that it will take the same amount of time for all companies. In my work as a coach, I’ve found that having a professional outside facilitator can help some leadership teams to discover or create these components more quickly, while others may take longer. The key is persistence and continuous refinement. The process may seem time-consuming, but it is a crucial investment for a company’s long-term success and true greatness.

How do you measure the success or failure of the Hedgehog Concept in a business setting?

Measuring the success or failure of the Hedgehog Concept in a business setting can be done through various indicators. One practical approach is to evaluate the alignment and effectiveness of the three converging elements: passion, competency, and economic viability.

Passion can be measured qualitatively through employee satisfaction surveys and customer feedback, and quantitatively by measuring whether a company is practically fulfilling more of its core purpose. A passionate workforce tends to be more engaged, productive and committed to the company’s mission, which can ultimately lead to higher customer satisfaction. Similarly, a company in pursuit of a shared purpose can also measure the progress of their impact.

Competency can be gauged through your company’s performance relative to competitors. Are you surpassing industry benchmarks? Are you leading in terms of innovation, service, or product quality? Do you have a strategic advantage or repeatable activities that differentiate your company from the rest?  These can indicate whether you are truly excelling at what you claim to be the best in the world.

Finally, economic viability is typically measured through financial metrics like profitability, return on investment, and revenue growth. If your economic engine is running efficiently, it should be reflected in your bottom-line results.

Is the Hedgehog Concept still relevant in today’s rapidly changing business environment?

Absolutely, the relevance of the Hedgehog Concept remains unscathed in today’s rapidly changing business environment. In fact, it becomes even more crucial for businesses to have a strategic framework to navigate these changes.

The Hedgehog Concept encourages businesses to focus and double down on their core competencies, remain passionate about their work, and ensure economic viability. Amidst the chaos and complexities of the modern business world, this principle offers a simple, clear directive that can guide disciplined decision-making and foster resilience.