The Advanced Strategies course for the Foresight Program at the University of Houston is coming to a close now that the semester is ending. Of the various concepts we discussed with students in the class, one was Collins’ “hedgehog concept” for organizations. Most of the students of course enjoyed Collins’ famous book, Good to Great, and with good reason. Being a trained futurist, however, I always have the slightest mental hiccup every time I read over his section recounting the story of the hedgehog vs. the fox and his basic advice to readers to be a hedgehog rather than a fox.
Why, you ask? Simply because so many of us trained futurists and foresight professionals have gotten quite comfortable using that framing of hedgehogs vs. foxes with the exact opposite prescription: be a fox!
Hedgehogs know one big idea, and stick to it; foxes (being “clever” creatures) know lots of things, and cycle through them.
Collins’ research has shown that the companies that moved themselves from “good” performance to “great” performance were like the hedgehog when it came to their core focus: they figured out their one good idea and stuck to it no matter what.
Now, while Collins is encouraging organizations to be hedgehogs, researchers such as Phillip Tetlock have spent many years explaining that the better probabilistic forecasters – the superforecasters, as he now calls them – are foxes, not hedgehogs. The best forecasters are those that “know many things” and can change their minds based on what they’re seeing. So, when it comes to being a good forecaster, you want to emulate the fox, not the hedgehog.
After having my little mental hiccup this time, I figured out the rather simple way to align these two prescriptions in relation to one another. So, using the same fable as a framework, we end up with two opposite yet very useful prescriptions for good strategic thinking:
Now we can say that organizations want to be hedgehogs in strategic focus but foxes in foresight.