Strategy Questions for Leaders Managing Change: Are You More like the Fox or the Hedgehog?

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one great thing. 
— Greek poet Archilochus  

Many of us have been exposed to that rich and deep query about what the fox says, but I want to consider another question: Are you more like the fox or the hedgehog? Believe it or not this is a strategic question.  

The Hedgehog

The Hedgehog Principle, popularly articulated in Jim Collins' book Good to Great, uses the “hedgehog” portion of Archilochus’s statement to invite organizations to consider what one thing they do best and double down on that activity. It is very good to know one’s strengths and to lean into them and leverage them. However, there is danger in going too far in your strengths. (Think: "to the person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.") How many times have we allowed our focus to turn to tunnel vision and we miss seeing the broader picture?  

The Fox

Whereas, the fox “knows” many things. The fox sees the big picture and takes it into account. In Archilochus’ line this is a strength of the fox. However, too much information or data can lead to analysis paralysis. How many times have you, armed with mountains of data and/or options, struggled to make a decision? Decision-making can become bogged down and opportunities missed because of a “fox-like” desire to have all the answers.

We need the strengths of both the fox and the hedgehog in our strategic work.

Keeping with the quotes theme, it would seem the authors of that recently resurrected (and irritating) anthem may have had it sort of right - a little bit country and a little bit rock n’ roll. (Careful following the link – you can’t unsee Donnie and Marie’s 70’s grins.) We need the strengths of both the fox and the hedgehog in our strategic work. We need a strong focus on our mission and a broad understanding of the world around us. If we only have focus we are in danger of missing connections or becoming irrelevant when the world around us changes. If we only look broadly, we risk the irrelevance of knowing a little about a lot and either not taking action or taking actions with very little impact.  

And the truth is, most of us tend to resonate with one or the other. In strategic planning the key is bringing both perspectives to the process so that one can inform the other - context shapes focus and focus shapes context.

Are you paralyzed by all the data and possibilities?  Look for and listen to the hedgehogs in your organization.  

Are you in danger of a myopic focus in your work?  It’s time to truly hear what the fox has to say (you like what I did there?).