THE HEDGEHOG APPROACHES THE WORLD IN
TERMS OF A SINGLE ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE;
THE FOX PURSUES MULTIPLE CONFLICTING
GOALS SIMULTANEOUSLY. WHO HAS THE
WINNING APPROACH TO SUCCESS?
“THE FOX KNOWS MANY LITTLE
THINGS, BUT THE HEDGEHOG
KNOWS ONE BIG THING”
“The hedgehog knows one big thing…”
One simple idea makes everything work
Every question has only one answer
It’s either right or wrong
.. Can you add your own?
“The fox knows many little things…”
Life is complex
Every question can have many true answers
Between black and white there are many shades of grey
… Can you add your own?
THE FOX AND THE HEDGEHOG IN A PROJECT
A “project” is one messy bundle of
expectations, emotions, fears and hopes,
hidden behind the screens of objectives,
results, deadlines, skills and tools…
Who has the best chances to survive? Should
one defend and protect, or go around and
tackle different angles?
HOW THE HEDGEHOG SEES THE PROBLEM
“We need to keep our head down, focus on the few
things that matter. We should explain simply, a slogan
communicates very well. We want people who are highly
specialized, and know our business inside-out. We need to put
together a 3-year plan organized by tasks and resources; we will
review the plan on a weekly basis to analyze the variances. If
we take one step at a time, everything will be under control. The
CEO will speak to the COO, who will then speak to the SVPs,
and then to the VPs etc. so that everybody will be on board..”
HOW THE FOX SEES THE PROBLEM
“Let’s start with a small cross-functional team, let’s
brainstorm all the ideas we can put together. We’ll make a plan
for the next 3 months; we’ll then see what has worked well and
adjust accordingly. We should not be too emphatic about this,
people may get scared and we don’t have all the answers yet.
We will bring people in as needed. We will do a pilot in a couple
of locations, possibly hire a few consultants who had success
with a best practice solution in a different industry. Down the
road the team will send an email to everybody and ask for
THE RISKS FOR THE HEDGEHOG
Everything is good until a monkey wrench is thrown at you: a
leadership change, an acquisition, a market crash, a new
competitive product launch..
You are asked to do things in a very different way, to plan ahead
for risks and contingencies, to redesign your processes. When
organization life is not about experience and consolidation,
hunkering down showing your spikes is not a good choice.
THE RISKS FOR THE FOX
Chasing many preys can be very tiring and radical change may
scare the people that need to be on your side. The finish line is
too far ahead and the organization is simply too large to be
moved quickly. You need to proceed at a reassuring pace
showing confidence. It is about core competencies, building your
brand and spinning off marginal business. Buffers and
redundancies are too expensive.
The quickest road between two points is simply a straight line.
WHO WILL SURVIVE?
The easy answers:
• At times be the hedgehog, at times become a
• Start with the hedgehog but be ready to pick
up fox’ behaviors. It’s all in the context and in
• If you are a hedgehog, pair with a fox. If you
are a fox, find your hedgehog.
• Coexistence is difficult
• Different skills are hard to sharpen
• Winning decisions will repeat themselves
• What do we reward?
MY CONCLUSION BELONGS TO THE FOX:
It’s complicated, but if you have speed:
if you have spikes: roll up in a ball.
Your nature cannot be changed.
Hedgehogs and foxes have appeared often in
literature and business texts.
1. Archilocus: Greek poet (c.680 BC – c. 645 BC), the first to
be quoted for the famous "The fox knows many things; the
hedgehog one great thing“;
2. Isaiah Berlin: Russian philosopher (1909 – 1997),
categorized thinkers and writers either as “hedgehogs” or
“foxes” according to their views of the world and history;
3. Jim Collins: American business author (1958-) in his “Good
to Great” used the hedgehog concept to describe some of
the qualities that make a company great.