Friday, January 2, 2009

The Hedgehog and The Fox

I first read about the hedgehog and the fox in Good To Great by Jim Collins. The fox is clever and knows many thing. The hedgehog is a simple soul but knows one big thing.

When I first read Good To Great I was heavily impressed. Of course, by then I hadn't laid my hands on two trend busting business books: Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense, and Fooled By Randomness. I now know that what was done in Good To Great was backward fact-fitting and was inspired by a desire to find a cause for success while in fact it might just have been a case of being at the right place at the right time. (Read Blue Ocean Strategy for a small critique on Good To Great).

But just because I prefer books like Fooled By Randomness over Good To Great, doesn't automatically translate into Good To Great is crap. There are elements in Good To Great which could be some value, right? Ok, I reject the theory in Good To Great that companies that are led by silent, determined type CEO's make the leap and those that are led by aggressive but not exactly humble don't. (Where in actual fact the CEO's personality may have no bearing on a company's good performance.) But one cannot, off hand, reject the fact that companies that follow the hedgehog concept are more likely to emerge superior to those who do not. The hedgehog concept looks suspiciously like core competency, doesn't it? So isn't focusing on core competency good for a company? Or for that matter should being a hedgehog help an individual. Jack or all trade, master of none sort of thing.

It does ... but only if tomorrow is identical to yesterday. Meaning, only if you can extrapolate the future based on past data.

The Black Swan on the other hand pumps for the fox. Too much focus makes a person myopic. Hedgehog is myopic. Fox has a more broader vision. The fox takes in many more inputs from the world that exists outside its own and does not take its future as granted.

Now one might want to justify the both are necessary. When things are going smooth, hedgehog is a better strategy, while in turbulent times being a fox is advantageous.


A Black Swan event can happen exactly when going is smooth. That is why it is a block swan event. So being a fox is always a better proposition. A fox might survive the black swan event but a hedgehog will not.

Do you agree? What is your take on the hedgehog and the fox?

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