Being a “jack of all trades, master or none” is not a good thing…
I didn’t realize this for a long time. I used to call myself that, and have heard many others say the same. So many of us would rather be good at many things rather than great at one thing. Our attention span can only go so far, so we scatter our thoughts, projects, and missions. We become great starters, but not great finishers. Does that sound familiar?
Well, this week’s Icon Lesson is from Jim Collins (see others here) – the famed author of Good to Great and Built to Last.
My favorite lesson from him is what he calls The Hedgehog Concept.
Inspired by the famous essay of Isaiah Berlin, Jim shares some of the lessons with a strong favoring of the hedgehog.
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. – Greek parable
The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog’s den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek, beautiful, fleet of foot, and crafty – the fox looks like the sure winner. The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix-up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.
The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox. “Aha, I’ve got you now!” thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. 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. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.
Berlin took from this parable to divide people into two basic groups: foxes and hedgehogs.
- 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,” says Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision.
- Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing 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.
Jim says that those companies who went from good-to-great were much more like hedgehogs. The foxes, however, were scattered, confused, and inconsistent… They were a “jack of all trades, master of none.”
So, Jim says the great companies do this:
1) They founded their strategies based on the intersection of this 3 circle concept.
A) What can you be the best in the world at?
And equally as important, what you cannot be the best in the world at?
B) What drives your economic engine?
All the good-to-great companies attained piercing insight into how to most effectively generate
sustained and robust cash flow and profitability. In particular, they discovered the single denominator – profit per x – that had the greatest impact on their economics.
C) What are you deeply passionate about?
The good-to-great companies focused on those activities that ignited their passion. The idea here is not to stimulate passion but to discover what makes you passionate.
2) They translated that understanding of this 3-circle concept into a simple, crystalline concept that guided all of their efforts.
A result: The Hedgehog Concept. This is not a goal or strategy, it is an understanding.
So, what does this mean for you?
You, too, can utilize The Hedgehog Concept in your personal life.
1.) Use this to figure out your dream career.
What can you be the best in the world at? (Not, what do you wish you’d be the best in the world at?)
If you’ve listened to any YoPro Wealth podcasts, you know for a fact that you can combine your passion with your work. Find out how, and do as Jim says in this video. (I’ll be coming out with a course soon on how exactly I went about doing this!)
2) Narrow down your focus.
John Dumas always says the acronym, FOCUS: Follow One Course Until Success.
Become a hedgehog, and you can be dramatically more successful. This is something I’ve been working on for years, getting more and more narrowly focused. The results of doing so are enormous.
Other key lessons from Jim Collins:
Good is the enemy of great.
- Why don’t many people become great? Because it is so easy to settle for being good. Don’t settle!
- A company’s culture should be one of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship. This creates the perfect environment for sustainable growth.
- A culture of openness and truth is more important than a compelling vision to motivate.
- Great leadership starts with getting other great people on your team; then you can direct the ship where you want to go. (First “who”, then “what” decisions, like vision, strategy, tactics.)
- Don’t try to become passionate about the things you already do; go do the things that you’re already passionate about.
- It takes time to find your Hedgehog Concept, but it is a worthwhile process to go through and iterate.
- Technology becomes an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it.
- The way to do something huge is one small step at a time (flywheel example). It is never a single event that creates success. It is a cumulative process that develops momentum, and you keep pushing. See the example here.
- Tremendous power exists in the fact of continued improvement and the delivery of results. Point to tangible accomplishments – however incremental at first – and show how these steps fit into the context of an overall concept that will work. When you do this in such a way that people see and feel the buildup of momentum, they will line up with enthusiasm.
- Building something great takes time. The average time to go from good to great is 7 years, and the average success story, per Jim, is 20 years in the making.