What is Your Hedgehog Concept? Understanding What You Can Be The Best At.

Matthew Broderick

What I’m going to talk about in this blog comes from a book called From Good To Great by Jim Collins which was leant to me by George Barahona of Premium Termite and Pest Control – thanks George! If you like your business books actionable and with no frills, Collins’ book is perfect. I highly recommend it.

Imagine, if you will, a fox and a hedgehog. They both live in the woods by a small village in rural England. The fox would like nothing more than to eat the hedgehog, it’s what drives him forward each and every day. The problem is that the hedgehog’s spines prevent him from getting too close, and the hedgehog can defend herself by rolling into an impenetrable ball.

But the fox is very cunning. Every day the fox tried something new to get at the hedgehog. He tries jumping out from behind a bush and surprising the hedgehog, but the hedgehog is too fast. He tries waking up earlier than the hedgehog and attacking while she sleeps, but she sleeps curled up in a ball so once again the fox is unsuccessful. He even tries burrowing underneath the hedgehog, no luck! The hedgehog has one defense against the fox’s cunning and she’s very, very good at it. So the fox goes home hungry every night and the hedgehog carries on in peace, knowing that her one defense is good enough to survive the next day. 

Why The Hedgehog Wins

There are many great angles to this analogy but for now let’s imagine the animals skills (The cunning of the fox and the spiny defense of the hedgehog) as the products or services that your business offers. Both animals are just trying to survive, but whereas the fox needs to constantly change his approach, try new things and deal with failure again and again, the hedgehog pulls out the same tried and tested defense that she knows will work and is successful every time.

What Jim Collins is talking about here is the difference between being what we call a “jack of all trades but master of none” and being the best at what you can be in your very specific category. Often in business we will attempt to branch out into other areas to try and capture other markets. Its difficult to avoid the temptation because it feels like we’d be letting go of a good portion of our income. But oftentimes this lack of focus makes us ineffective at everything we attempt. If your business offers everything, it can’t be the best at anything and can’t command the highest price.

The key is to understand what your company can be the best in the world (or, your local community) at, and equally important what it cannot be the best at – not what it “wants” to be the best at. The Hedgehog Concept is not a goal, strategy, or intuition; it is an understanding.

According to From Good To Great, your hedgehog concept should be what you can be the absolute best at in your chosen area. Here’s Jim Collins himself to explain further.

Jolly Good Media’s Hedgehog Concept

When we first began Jolly Good Media we were much more like the fox in the tale. Offering everything to do with internet marketing to a wide variety of clients. We were relatively new in a lot of these fields, so we couldn’t command much of a fee for them.

Then we discovered the hedgehog concept and decided to focus on what we knew we could do very well; Website Design, Video Production, and Pay-per-click advertising.

It had always been our theory that videos were the best way to reach clients on social media platforms, and that PPC was a great marketing tool because you could measure your results. Before our hedgehog concept though we went along with whatever kind of marketing our clients wanted. Now we stick to our marketing practices ridgedly. The clients that fit within our hedgehog concept are VERY happy. The ones that do not we are happy to help point in the right direction.

Let’s take marketing for example. If you think your company would benefit most from email marketing, we send them to Creative Bytes solutions because I’m confident they’re the best for that kind of marketing. For social media marketing we set up a meeting with Jennifer Ramos because that’s what she does and we’re confident you’ll be served very well. For the very best in video marketing & PPC Jolly Good Media is very happy to help.

Going Deeper

But our hedgehog concept doesn’t end there. We get specific within our chosen fields. Web Design, for example, is a large field and we do not have a solution for every problem.

  • Our hedgehog concept for web design is to be the very best at clean and functional websites.
  • Our hedgehog concept for video production is to be the best at connecting you to your clients face to face with easily reproducible educational videos that work on all platforms (sound specific enough?).

Creating Your Own Hedgehog Concept

hedgehog concept from From Good To GreatIf you’re anything like we were – offering more products and services than you could be expected to be good at – then you may be interested in forming a hedgehog concept of your own. Here are some bits of advice from the book this comes from.

  • Understand what your company can be the best in the world at. Not what it “wants” to be best at.
  • The hedgehog concept is not a strategy, but an understanding.
  • If you cannot be the best in your chosen field in your chosen area (Antelope Valley?) then you don’t have a hedgehog concept.
  • Just because you’re doing it right now, doesn’t mean you can be the best in your area at it.
  • Sometimes finding your hedgehog concept means going outside your comfort zone to truly discover what you can be great at. I recommend the JPEA (Job Person Environment Assesment) by NASA alumni John Perry to find out what you are best at.
  • To gain an idea of what direction your hedgehog concept could take, take a look at what has been making the most difference to your profit margin so far. Is one area of your business making you much more money than others? You might just have your hedgehog concept there.
  • It can take up to 4 years to discover and develop your hedgehog concept. Jolly Good Media is not fully there yet but we will be.
  • You don’t need to be in a great industry to get great results. A truly great hedgehog concept will survive in the worst markets.

For much more on this, again I highly recommend reading From Good To Great by Jim Collins. In the meantime I’d love to hear what your hedgehog concept might be. Do you already have one? What does that look like? Let us know in the comments below.

Matthew Broderick

Owner. Web designer and video producer at Jolly Good Media. Focuses on creating beautiful and targeted content for small business owners. Website designs are also responsive to ensure they are mobile friendly and part a strategy targeted to reach your audience. Originally from England before moving to California. Currently located in the AV.