An idea or concept that, if done extremely well and to the exclusion of almost everything else, can help a person's career or a company's business achieve their full potential.
"Walgreens' hedgehog concept is to run the best, most convenient drug stores with high profit per customer visit," Jorndt continued. "We know who we are and what we are all aboutrunning drug stores. We work like crazy to execute it in our stores."
Rob Eder, "Out-foxing the hedgehog's rivals," Drug Store News, March 25, 2002
The fox knows a little about many things, but the hedgehog knows only one big thing very well. The fox is complex; the hedgehog simple. And the hedgehog wins. Our research shows that breakthroughs require a simple, hedgehog-like understanding of three intersecting circles: what a company can be the best in the world at, how its economics work best, and what best ignites the passions of its people. Breakthroughs happen when you get the hedgehog concept and become systematic and consistent with it, eliminating virtually anything that does not fit in the three circles.
Jim Collins, "Level 5 Leadership," Harvard Business Review, December 2000 / January 2001
Today's head-scratcher of a phrase was inspired by a famous Isaiah Berlin essay called The Hedgehog and the Fox. Here are the opening lines of that essay, excerpted at length to give you the full flavor of Berlin's argument:
There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'...[T]aken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle...The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes.
Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox, 1953
Berlin applies no value judgments to these categories; to him, they're just different ways of approaching the world. In business, however, the argument has been made that hedgehogs always beat foxes, and if you want to be a success or create a better company, then you must find the appropriate hedgehog concept. The person credited with first applying Berlin's basic idea to business is Jim Collins, author of the recent management bestseller, Good to Great.