Why I’m passionate about becoming the hedgehog.
On the verge of our 8th year in business, this week we launched our new Future Talent Sports Cards website, and I’ve been reflecting on what has enabled us to survive this long when so many new businesses fail within the first year.
Like any business there’s been plenty of ups and downs, and numerous temptations to change direction, but what has helped us stay the course has been one underlying mindset — we’re passionate about being the hedgehog.
So who is the hedgehog?
The theory of the hedgehog has been adapted from a fragment of verse by the Greek poet Archilochus who stated:
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
It sounds like such a playful little fable, but the impact this has had on modern business is absolutely staggering — particularly considering Archilochus lived between 680 -645 BC.
Let’s explore why.
Much of this impact is due to philosopher Isaiah Berlin who, in 1953, took this parable one step further by applying it to the modern world and presenting an argument that the world can be divided into two groups of people: foxes and hedgehogs.
In his essay, ‘The Fox and the Hedgehog’ he argued that foxes are sleek and shrewd animals that pursue many goals and interests at the same time, however because their interests and strategies are so varied, their thinking is scattered and unfocused, and they are limited in what they can achieve in the long run.
Hedgehogs, however, are slow and steady. People often overlook them because they’re quiet and unassuming. But, unlike the fox, they are able to simplify the world and focus on one overarching vision. It’s this principle that guides everything they do, and helps them succeed against all odds.
This concept has had a profound impact on me. The focus of Berlin’s book is exploring the mind of Leo Tolstoy who he claims was a fox by nature, but believed in being a hedgehog and this is an internal battle I’ve also found myself fighting at times.
Having clarity over which animal you are is critical to your success according to Berlin, and whilst on a personal level this distinction is not always so clear — when it comes to business I have absolutely no doubt who I want it to be — the Hedgehog.
In this book he explored the greatest companies of the modern era in an attempt to understand what were the common characteristics that made them all great.
Throughout his findings he listed a range of elements that had led to their success, but there was one characteristic that they all had in common — they were all focused on creating a hedgehog.
So how do you know if you’re a Hedgehog, and can you become one if you aren’t already?
According to Collins, you can become one by finding the sweet spot between the intersection of these three circles.
Now our little custom sports cards business is by no means on the spectrum of these companies, nor have we reached the lofty heights of conquering the world, but embracing this concept and instilling a relentless focus on doing one thing better than anyone else has provided a single purpose that drives us every day — produce the highest-quality customised trading cards through an experience that will turn a dream into reality.
Every year we’ve been presented with more and more opportunities to expand our product offerings, whether it be selling certificates, or trophies, or even adding a photography service to the mix and there’s no doubt some of these we could do fairly well, but they would be diverting our attention away from what we do better than anyone else, our hedgehog, and that is the one thing we will never compromise and why I believe our customers remain so loyal.
When all is going well it’s great fun being the fox. Exploring new opportunities and ideas is certainly something I embrace to help remain ahead of the game.
However, it’s when you’re challenged or things aren’t working that being the hedgehog becomes so vital.
It’s when the first sign of danger appears that the fox runs away, whilst the hedgehog stands his ground. He has been waiting. He rolls into a ball. He presents his spikes, and he protects his area better than any other animal, and soon enough the fox runs away looking for any easier target to attack, and the hedgehog continues going about their business, ever stronger for the encounter.