Strange as this may sound, this is a very old subject and one that has created much debate over many years. It is important to first understand these two creatures and how they interact, to then understand why the renowned Jim Collins believes that the great companies are built by Hedgehogs, while their less successful competitors are led by Foxes.
This is not as mad as it sounds!
Firstly, compare the two:
The fox is a cunning creature - fast, sleek, fleet of foot and very crafty - and looks the definite winner.
The hedgehog is a dowdy creature going steadily along, with a straightforward but focused life - looking for food and taking care of his home.
(Already you have started thinking about who fits into which camp haven't you?!!)
Now put these two in competition and what happens is:
The fox starts running at the hedgehog. 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. He retreats, to calculate a new line of attack. Each time they do battle, each time the hedgehog wins.
Isiah Berlin, the famous philosopher provided this insight:-
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,” never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision.
Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organising 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.
(I wonder how many DotCom CEO's were foxes - I would bet too many!!)
Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, explains that hedgehogs have been so successful in business because these companies founded their strategies on a deep understanding of what they were doing, and they then translated this into a simple defined concept that guided all their efforts. Foxes however, never gain the clarifying advantage of a hedgehogs, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.
So have you worked it out yet? Are you a hedgehog or a fox? And more importantly is your company being run by hedgehogs or foxes?