Jim Collins draws on an essay by writer Isaiah Berlin to use the hedgehog as a symbol for success through simplicity. In Berlin’s essay, a fox uses countless clever strategies to try to catch a hedgehog, but because the hedgehog has one simple, straightforward defense—its spines—that it can use in any situation, it defeats the fox every time. Even though foxes are cleverer and more glamorous than hedgehogs, the simplicity and focus of the latter win out. Collins uses this story as the foundation for Hedgehog Concepts, which is the name he gives to the clear, precise mission statements that good-to-great companies use to guide their actions. To be effective, Hedgehog Concepts must be based on deep understanding of the company, and Collins specifies three areas of questioning that, together, lead to successful Hedgehog Concepts: what can the company do better than anyone else; what is the company’s core economic driver; and what is the company (and its leadership) deeply passionate about? The good-to-great companies all worked through Collins’s “three circles” to arrive at deep understanding that they could translate into effective Hedgehog Concepts.
Hedgehog Concept Quotes in Good to Great
The best answer I can give is that it was an iterative process of looping back and forth, developing ideas and testing them against the data, revising the ideas, building a framework, seeing it break under the weight of evidence, and rebuilding it yet again. That process was repeated over and over, until everything hung together in a coherent framework of concepts.
A&P then began a pattern of lurching from one strategy to another, always looking for a single-stroke solution to its problems. It held pep rallies, launched programs, grabbed fads, fired CEOs, hired CEOs, and fired them yet again. It launched what one industry observer called a “scorched earth policy,” a radical price-cutting strategy to build market share, but never dealt with the basic fact that customers wanted not lower prices, but different stores.
Putting aside their egos, the Wells Fargo team pulled the plug on the vast majority of its international operations, accepting the truth that it could not be better than Citicorp in global banking. Wells Fargo then turned its attention to what it could be the best in the world at: running a bank like a business, with a focus on the western United States. That’s it. That was the essence of the Hedgehog Concept that turned Wells Fargo from a mediocre Citicorp wanna-be to one of the best-performing banks in the world.
It may seem odd to talk about something as soft and fuzzy as “passion” as an integral part of a strategic framework. But throughout the good-to-great companies, passion became a key part of the Hedgehog Concept. You can’t manufacture passion or “motivate” people to feel passionate. You can only discover what ignites your passion and the passions of those around you.
Does every organization have a Hedgehog Concept to discover? What if you wake up, look around with brutal honesty, and conclude: “We’re not the best at anything, and we never have been.” Therein lies one of the most exciting aspects of the entire study. In the majority of cases, the good-to-great companies were not the best in the world at anything and showed no prospects of becoming so. Infused with the Stockdale Paradox … every good-to-great company, no matter how awful at the start of the process, prevailed in its search for a Hedgehog Concept.
I realize that it’s a bizarre analogy. But in a sense, the good-to-great companies became like David Scott. Much of the answer to the question of “good to great” lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas and then to seek continual improvement from there. It’s really just that simple. And it’s really just that difficult.
Inequality still runs rampant in most business corporations. I’m referring now to the hierarchical inequality which legitimizes and institutionalizes the principle of “We” vs. “They.” … The people at the top of the corporate hierarchy grant themselves privilege after privilege, flaunt those privileges before the men and women who do the real work, then wonder why employees are unmoved by management’s invocations to cut costs and boost profitability … When I think of the millions of dollars spent by people at the top of the management hierarchy on efforts to motivate people who are continually put down by that hierarchy, I can only shake my head in wonder.
Walgreens didn’t adopt all of this advanced technology just for the sake of advanced technology or in fearful reaction to falling behind. No, it used technology as a tool to accelerate momentum after hitting breakthrough, and tied technology directly to its Hedgehog Concept of convenient drugstores increasing profit per customer visit.