Have you ever noticed how a lot of college sports teams have fierce-sounding names? There are the Rainbow Warriors from Hawaii. The University of Florida has the Gators. Penn State is home to the Nittany Lions. Iowa State boasts the Cyclones. The Badgers represent The University of Wisconsin. All of these mascots are fierce, tenacious, or powerful (Of course, there is the University of California at Santa Barbara, with their Banana Slugs, but we’ll just leave that one alone).
While I don’t know of any businesses that have official mascots (unless you want to count Ronald McDonald and the Burger King), they do have traits that characterize them. If you were to pick a mascot to represent your business, you might not choose the hedgehog. He’s not big. He’s not known for being a fierce competitor. He’s not particularly aggressive. He doesn’t strike fear into the heart of the competition. And yet, according to Jim Collins, author of the best-selling Good to Great, there’s a lot that businesses can learn from the humble hedgehog.
Collins relates the parable of the fox and the hedgehog. The fox is clever and continually looks for new ways to outsmart—and ultimately eat—the hedgehog. But the hedgehog repeatedly thwarts the schemes of the clever fox by doing one thing—and doing it well. He rolls up into a thorny ball.
It’s not sexy. It’s not awe-inspiring. It doesn’t get written up in business journals. But the hedgehog survives and thrives.
Collins’ application of the hedgehog concept to businesses involves three key parts: 1) What a business is passionate about; 2) What a business can be best-in-the-world at; and 3) What drives a business’s economic engine (usually calculated by a simple ratio of profit/x). How can this apply to your business?
What are you passionate about? There are tons of so-so businesses out there. Some even manage to keep going year after year. But there are no great businesses without passion. What is your business passion? If you’re not passionate about what you do, greatness will elude you. And passion isn’t something you manufacture. If you’re not passionate about the heart of your business, you’re probably in the wrong business.
What can you be the best-in-the-world at? Collins warns business leaders to do a reality check on this. It’s not what you’d like to be best at, or what you dream about being best at. What can you realistically be best at? If you’re not realistic about this, you’ll fail. The hedgehog didn’t go on the offensive against the fox. It wasn’t realistic. But he knew that the fox couldn’t defeat him if he did what he did best.
What drives your economic engine? This factor will vary from business to business. But within a business there is usually an “x” factor that determines economic success. It’s a ratio of profits to some other key factor. It could be cost of sales. It might be number of new customers. As I mentioned, it will vary from company to company. You have to figure out what it is for your company. If you don’t, all the passion in the world and all the skill in the world won’t matter.
It’s important that all three of these factors work in concert. If you take any one of them out of the equation, your chances of creating and sustaining a great company plummet. But if you can figure out the one thing you’re passionate about, that you do better than anyone else, and that you can sustain economically, you’re on your way to creating a great company.
As for me, I’m just glad that Jim Collins didn’t come up with something called the “Banana Slug Concept!”