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The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. – Greek parable

The idea is to look at the things you care about, look at what you can be the best in the world at, find what drives your economic desires — and to focus. I find myself coming back to this concept a lot, and it helps me avoid trying to get involved in too much. I’ve had a variety of business propositions tossed my way over the years … but by keeping this concept in my head, I’ve been able to turn down things that would take me away from my core competency. I know what I am passionate about. I know what I am good at. And I know where my goals are. Focusing on where these intersect has gone a long way in helping me maintain focus and turn my passion into what’s now been a rather long career.

I have always quoted a dialogue by Mr. AB in the movie Khuda Gawah: “Soch Agar Gehri Ho Jaye to Faisle Kamzor Ho Jaate hain”. i.e. If you go too deep into the pros and cons of a decision, usually the Cons win. But, this does not profess that one should simply jump into a venture or diversify without doing a self assessment check. Or at best, getting is passed through your mentors and council of guides.

Optimism is good and we all know opportunities don’t knock on our door everyday. But, what good is taking up an assignment or A few quick notes from the fabulous Classic Book (My personal Favourite) Jim Collin’s From Good To Great: A must read classic. The Hedgehog Concept The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. – Greek parable launching a product line or for that matter entering a new market that we are not having the passion for or capabilities to be successful at? I have seen many companies who are not preparing themselves for the disruption and delaying the steps that are a must for their survival, lease aside transformation and growth. “Change itself is Changing” We must innovate or Die and absolute clarity in vision and self assessment is a must, else that Confusion is Poison for business!

Let’s understand the difference of Hedgehog and the Fox. 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 defence 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.

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,”, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision.

Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organising 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.

The Mantra from Guru Jim Collins:

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?

This does not mean that you should check in which business you can be a Microsoft or Asian Paints, but in which business you are better than your competition. Where is your Core Expertise? Is it HR Coatings, Epoxy Floorings, Wood Coatings, WB Decorative or Small Lots of B2B industrial coatings? An area of business that you are “Experts In” and customers think of you when they think of that need/product/service. It could be distribution of solvents or commodities or alternatively it could be marketing of speciality chemicals. Different skills are required for these, and one has to identify what are you really good at. Remember you have to identify your “Simple Repetitive Excellence”.

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. It is usually a business that gives your great pride and gives you sleepless nights. A business that you are in love with.

We have seen many companies go back to their core and many centralise after many years of expansion. In turbulent times it is important to sharpen your expertise and perfect your business skills that you make money in and are passionate about.

I highly recommend that you buy and read Good to Great by Jim Collins. It is a timeless Classic that has the potential to take your company from Good to Great, not by innovation, technology change or a lofty strategy, but by simple understanding of your core values, expertise and culture.

Jatin Aggarwal

1 Comment

  1. Vikas

    I have never thought that a little creature, like hedgehog, can give us such motivation. Thanks for the post Sir; I will definitely read the book.


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