By Manish Shah
Are you a fox or a hedgehog? The fox is a crafty creature. It has myriad of ideas on how to attack his prey. On the other hand, the hedgehog which belongs to the porcupine family is a very dull creature. In the battle of the fox versus the hedgehog, the smart fox seems like a sure winner.
Everyday, as part of his normal routine, the hedgehog crawls out of his den in search of food. The sneaky fox waits for the hedgehog on his trail. When the opportunity arises, the fox makes his move and pounces on the hedgehog. “Will he ever learn his lesson?”, the hedgehog mumbles and coils into a ball of needles. The fox has no answer to the hedgehog’s defense and retreats disappointed. This story repeats itself several times but every time the ending is the same-the hedgehog wins.
Based on this parable, Isaiah Berlin in his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox” divided the world into two groups – foxes and hedgehogs. According to him the foxes of the world pursue a lot of things and so are diffused, while the hedgehogs pursue one big idea and change the world.
Jim Collins in his groundbreaking book “Good to Great talks” about concepts that help companies achieve enduring greatness. One of the ideas Collins discusses is the hedgehog concept, which is derived from Berlin’s essay. According to Collins, the hedgehog concept can also be applied to achieve greatness in personal life.
Collins indicates that in order for us to discover our hedgehog concept we need to answer three questions. A common theme that emerges from the answers to these questions will help us find our hedgehog concept.
What are we deeply passionate about?
What can we be the best in world at?
How can we add value to society?
Hedgehog concept when applied at personal level is discovering what we are born to do and doing it superbly. A parallel to the hedgehog concept in the eastern philosophy is dharma – our life’s purpose. As an example, let us look at the life of superinvestor Warren Buffett.
Buffett got his start early as an investor. He was 11 when he made his first investment. This was the beginning of a long and illustrious career which has now made Buffett one of the wealthiest people on the planet. His profession has been very rewarding to him but money is not what really motivates Buffett. He says that he enjoys the process far more than the proceeds and that he had as much fun 30 years ago when things were on a much smaller scale compared to today. Buffett has a phrase that describes his passion – he “tap dances to work each day”. He says that he would have pursued investing regardless of the compensation. In fact, when he was starting out, he offered to work for free for his mentor Benjamin Graham.
Two factors that have significantly contributed to Buffett’s success- his ability with numbers and his ability to think rationally. According to his partner Charlie Munger, Buffett thinks automatically in terms of probabilities while making investment decisions. Majority of investors, however are not genetically encoded to think this way. As a result, emotions cloud their decision making process.
Over the years, Buffett has amassed a large fortune. He has pledged to give away a large portion of his net worth to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which will use the money towards the betterment of humanity.
Looking at Buffett’s life, one cannot help but admire the painting that he has painted on life’s canvass. He found his passion early, devoted his entire life to it and long after the final chapter is written, his wealth will be used for the good of the society.
Manish Shah is the former president of Midwest Law Printing in Chicago. He also worked at Intel, PwC and Motorola. He has an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management, and a MS in Computer Science from Illinois Institute of Technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.