Hedgehog or Fox

Like many of you, years ago I read Good to Great by Jim Collins (HarperBusiness, 2001). I have found myself in recent months circling back to many of his findings. And while we can certainly snicker at some of the “great” firms which have since disappeared (after all, it was published six years before the iPhone), more than one insight is relevant in our new cloud world. Today, I will focus on the Hedgehog Concept.

For those unfamiliar with the ancient Greek parable of the hedgehog and the fox or Isiah Berlin’s famous essay applying the same, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” No matter how many different techniques or methods the fox devises to attack the hedgehog, the hedgehog always wins. Now fast forward to Jim Collins in 2001. He discovered the companies that went from “Good to Great” were in the center of three circles:

Three Circles of the Hedgehog Concept

In our digital transformation age, this Hedgehog Concept can be applied directly to cloud.

1. What Can You Be The Best In The World At?

This may seem the most simple to answer, but not so fast. The question is not “What do you WANT to be the best in the world at?” but rather “What CAN you be the best in the world at?” And if you think about what it takes to become best in the world at anything, I am sure maniacal focus, intense dedication, and intentional practice come to mind. Perhaps also removing distractions. If we translate this to simple technology execution, we can ask ourselves the following:

  • Can we be the best in the world at building and managing a datacenter?
  • Can we spend all of our time improving our ability to do so?
  • What is distracting us from our focus, dedication, and practice?

We just finished watching the remarkable athletes of the Winter Olympics. The downhill skier, for instance, can be the best in the world at getting down the mountain. Would being the best in the world at designing and making goggles improve his or her chance at gold? Or would the focus, dedication, and time spent on goggles distract from this?

2. What Are You Deeply Passionate About?

We can cover this one quickly.

  • At the end of our work week, what would cause us to high-five someone? Is it a network cable run to a server we just racked? Or is it something more?
  • If given the afternoon off for training, what would we search for on YouTube?

As organizations and individuals, without this kind of passion becoming great at something rather than merely good is nearly impossible.

3. What Drives Your Economic Engine?

Profit per X. That’s it.

So in the center of the three circles, cloud enables us to fiercely pursue what we can be best at in the world, spend energy on what we are most passionate about, and narrowly focus on X. “The Hedgehog knows one big thing.” Don’t be the fox.