Be a Hedgehog


Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes in his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox”.

Hedgehog Concept

The whole essay was based on an ancient Greek parable that said

The fox knows many tings, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

The fox is well known to be cunning and very smart, always trying new tricks so he can capture his pray. The hedgehog, on the other hand just waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.

Everyday the fox tries different tricks and thinks of new roads to attack from, yet whenever he attacks the hedgehog, it rolls up into a perfect little ball of spikes, the fox sees the spikes and calls it off!

Isiah extrapolated from this story to divide people into two groups: foxes and hedgehogs. 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” and never integrate their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn’t matter how complex the world  a hedgehog reduces all challenges to simple almost simplistic – hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.

Hedgehog Concept

All brilliant people in history that left huge impact were Hedgehogs. Einstein and Relativity, Marx and Class Struggle, Adam Smith and division of labor, Newton and Mechanics – they were all hedgehogs. They took a complex world and simplified it.

All of these guys had people constantly telling them:

Good idea, but you went too far!

Being simple does not mean being a hedgehog, Jim Collins the author of Good to Great, found out that the Hedgehog concept flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following circles.

What you can be the best in the world at

This is the feeling you get when you say “I feel that I was just born to be doing this”. And equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at.

What you are deeply passionate about

This is the feeling you get when you say “I look forward to getting up and throwing myself into my daily work, and i really believe in what I’m doing”

Jim was referring to companies and he added a circle called “The Economic Engine” but I removed it as I’m talking about people.

Focus try to find what is that thing that can intersect those 2 circles and become a Hedgehog!

Author: Mahmoud El-Magdoub | Twitter: @Magdoub | WebSite:


One response to “Be a Hedgehog

  1. The problem with being a hedgehog is typically it signifies thinking rather than doing. Large corporates tend not to support thinkers. They support doers (usually blind doers). You are rewarded for perceived activity not necessarily for the actual value or usefulness of what you deliver. I have witness tons of high quality landfill delivered (highest standards but ultimately utterly useless) to cheers whilst the real value delivered was buried and forgotten on so many occasions it makes me want to weep. Hedgehogs tend to be perceived to be naysayers as they are typically contextual thinkers and thus see both the wood and the trees. Most drones only see trees and not very many of them but they are seen to produce “stuff” however valueless and thus are useful and rewarded.

    Usability tends to be flawed as a result. Design tends to be poor. Use cases ill thought out and how products will be used or needed seldom considered. My latest bug bear is fitness trackers and smart watches. So near and yet so very far but still sadly lacking and missing the point.

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