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Good To Great Chapter 5. The Hedgehog Concept. Are you a hedgehog or a fox?. “The hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin. Divided people into two groups. Foxes: pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity.”

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good to great chapter 5

Good To GreatChapter 5

The Hedgehog Concept

are you a hedgehog or a fox
Are you a hedgehog or a fox?
  • “The hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin.
  • Divided people into two groups.
    • Foxes: pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity.”
    • Hedgehogs: simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything.
  • Reduce all challenges down to a simplistic idea.
  • Understand what is essential and ignore the rest.
  • Examples of hedgehogs:
    • Freud, Darwin, Marx, Einstein, and Adam Smith.
      • Took a complex world and simplified it.
  • Understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity.
  • Good-to-great companies were all hedgehogs, they relied on a simplistic hedgehog concept.
  • From 1975 to 2000 Walgreens had better stock returns than GE, Merck, Coca-Cola, and Intel.
  • Cork Walgreen: “Look, it just wasn’t that complicated! Once we understood the concept, we just moved straight ahead.”
  • Hedgehog concept: The best, most convenient drugstores, with high profit per customer visit.
  • Replaced its inconvenient locations with more convenient ones.
  • Pioneered drive-through pharmacies.
  • Clustered its stores tightly together in urban areas.
  • Linked convenience to profit per customer visit.
    • Added high-margin services.
  • More convenience leads to more customer visits.
walgreens vs eckerd
Walgreens vs. Eckerd
  • Walgreens stayed in cities where it was easy to provide convenience and clustering.
  • Eckerd strived for growth wherever possible.
  • In 1980’s, Eckerd purchased the American Home Video Corporation.
    • This produced $31 million in losses and was sold.
  • In 1980’s Walgreens focused in on its convenience concept.
  • Ten years later, Walgreens grew to over twice the revenues of Eckerd.
the three circles
The Three Circles
  • Making sense of Walgreens’ success.
  • Is it strategy?
  • Good strategy vs. Bad strategy?
  • Simplicity?
    • All good-to-great companies created a simple concept to use as a frame of reference for all their decisions.
    • Other companies got caught up in “snazzy strategies for growth?
the three circles1
The Three Circles
  • The essential difference between good-to-great and comparison companies are:
    • GTG companies develop strategies on deep understanding along three key dimensions.
    • GTG companies translate that understanding into a simple, crystalline concept to guide their efforts.
    • “Hedgehog Concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles:”
three circles explained
Three Circles Explained
  • Jim Collins:
understanding what you can and cannot be the best at
Understanding What You Can and Cannot Be The Best At
  • “They stick with what they understand and let their abilities, not their egos, determine what they attempt.” Warren Buffett
  • He wrote this about his $290 million investment in Wells Fargo
  • Execs began to ask themselves a tough set of questions.
    • What can we potentially do better than any company?
    • What can we not do better than any other company ?
    • If we can’t be the best at it, then why are we doing it at all?
wells fargo
Wells Fargo
  • They put aside their egos and accepted the truth that it could not be better than Citicorp in global banking
  • They then turned their attention to what they could be the best at:
    • Running a bank like a business, with a focus on the western United States
      • This Hedgehog concept turned Wells Fargo from a mediocre Citicorp wanna-be to one of the best performing banks in the world
hedgehog concept
Hedgehog Concept
  • It’s not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best.
  • It’s an understanding of what you can be the best at.
    • The distinction is very critical in being successful
      • Netflix is driven by one simple principle, “ People are willing to trade the quality of an experience for the convenience of getting it.”
being the best
Being the Best
  • Every company would like to be the best at something
  • Few though actually understand what they actually have the potential to be the best at and what they cannot be the best at.
  • This is the primary distinction between good-to-great companies and the comparison companies.
core business or hedgehog concept
Core Business or Hedgehog Concept
  • Just because something is your core business-and you’ve been doing it for years does not mean that you can be the best at it
    • If you cannot be the best in the world at your core business, then your core business cannot form the basis of your Hedgehop concept
hedgehog concept core competence
Hedgehog Concept/Core Competence
  • A Hedgehop concept is not the same as a core competence ( You can have competence at something, but might not be the best at it)
    • The Hedgehog Concept requires a severe standard of excellence
    • It’s about understanding what you can be the best at and sticking with it

Sticking to what you’re “good” at will never allow you to become Great

best in the world
“Best in the World”

Kimberly Clark


  • Thought that they could become the best in the world at paper-based consumer products
  • They realized their skill at creating “killer” brands
    • The names of their products are synonymous with the name of the category
best in the world1
“Best in the World”

Wells Fargo


  • Thought that they could become the best at running a bank like a business, with a focus on the western United States.
  • Most banks thought of themselves as banks and acted like banks. Wells Fargo saw itself as a business that happened to be in banking. They realized they could be the best in the western U.S.
best in the world2
“Best in the World”

Philip Morris


  • Thought that they could become the best in the world at building brand loyalty in cigarettes and other consumables
  • They saw that they could become simply the best tobacco company in the world. They later diversified into nontobacco arenas. They used this as a defensive measure but stayed close to building the brands of their “sinful” products
insight into your economic engine what is your denominator


The good to great companies frequently produced spectacular returns in very unspectacular industries.

what is your denominator
What is your denominator?
  • A company does not need to be in a great industry to become a great company.
  • Way to achieve this, is by attaining profound insights into their economics.
  • Each good-to-great company attained a deep understanding of the key drivers in its economic engine and built in system in accordance with this understanding.
a single economic denominator
A Single “economic denominator”
  • The key is to find which single denominator (of a ratio) will maximize your economic engine.
  • Walgreens
    • Switched focus from profit per store to Profit per customer visit.
    • Walgreens was able to increase convenience and simultaneously increase profitability across its entire system.
do you need to have a single denominator
Do you need to have a single denominator?
  • No, but pushing for a single denominator tends to produce better insight than letting yourself off the hook with three or four denominators.
  • The denominator question serves as a mechanism to force deeper understanding of the key drivers in your economic engine.
economic denominator
Economic Denominator
  • Gillette: per customer
      • Key Insight: Shift from profit per division to profit per customer reflected the economic repeatable purchases (e.g. razor cartridges) times high profit per purchase.
  • Kimberly-Clark: per consumer brand
      • Key Insight: Shift from profit per fixed asset to profit per consumer brand; would be less cyclical and more profitable in good times and bad.
  • Kroger: per local population
      • Key Insight: Shift from profit per store to profit per local population reflected the insight that local market share drove grocery economics.
  • Wells Fargo: per employee
      • Key Insight: Shift from profit per loan to profit per employee reflected understanding of the brutal fact of deregulation: Banking is a commodity.

All the good-to-great companies discovered a key economic denominator , while the comparison companies usually did not.

  • Hasbro (Comparison Company)
    • Attained a profound insight into its economics.
    • People at Hasbro had great passion for the business.
    • The best performing comparison company in the study.
understanding your passion
Understanding Your Passion
  • Throughout the good-to-great companies, passion became a key part of the Hedgehog Concept.
  • You can’t manufacture passion or “motivate” people to feel passionate. You can only discover what ignites your passion and the passions of those around you.
  • EX: Phillip Morris vs. R.J. Reynolds
understanding your passion1
Understanding Your Passion
  • The passion circle can be focused equally on what the company stands for.
  • Ex: Fannie Mae people were not passionate about the mechanical process of packing mortgages into market securities.
  • But they were terrifically motivated by the whole idea of helping people of all classes, backgrounds, and races realize the American dream of owning their own home.
the triumph of understanding over bravado
The Triumph of Understanding Over Bravado
  • “Prehedgehog” and “Posthedgehog”
  • Comparison companies rarely emerged out of “prehedgehog” state
  • Over 2/3 displayed obsession with growth without benefit of Hedgehog Concept
  • Comparison companies never asked the right questions, and set goals and strategies more from bravado than from understanding what they could be best at
example great western fannie mae
Example: Great Western & Fannie Mae
  • Great Western
    • Wanted to grow every way possible
    • Was involved in finance, leasing, insurance, & manufactured houses
    • Acquired companies in expansion binge
  • Fannie Mae
    • Realized and understood that it could be the best capital markets player in anything related to mortgages
growth is not a hedgehog concept
“Growth” is NOT a Hedgehog Concept!
  • If you have the right Hedgehog Concept and make decisions relentlessly consistent with it, you will create such momentum that your main problem will not be how to grow, but how not to grow too fast.
  • Hedgehog Concept is a turning point in journey from good to great
  • Transition usually follows within a few years
    • 4 years on average for most good-to-great companies
the council
The Council
  • The Council exists as a device to gain understanding about important issues facing the organization.
  • The Council is assembled and used by the leading executive and usually consists of 5-12 people.
  • Each Council member has the ability to argue and debate in search of understanding, not from the egotistic need to win a point or protect a parochial interest.
  • Each Council member retains the respect of every other Council member, without exception.
  • Council members come from a range of perspectives, but each member has deep knowledge about some aspect of the organization and/or the environment in which it operates.
  • The Council includes key members of the management team but is not limited to members of the management team, nor is every executive automatically a member.
  • The Council is a standing body, not an ad hoc committeee assembled for a specific project.
  • The Council meets periodically, as much as once a week or as infrequently as once per quarter.
  • The Council does not seek consensus, recognizing that consensus decisions are often at odds with intelligent decisions. The responsibility for the final decision remains with the leading executive.
  • The Council is an informal body, not listed on any formal organization chart or in any formal documents.
  • The Council can have a range of possible names, usually quite innocuous. In the good-to-great companies, the had benign names like Long-Range Profit Improvement Committee, Corporate Products Committee, Strategic Thinking Group, and Executive Council.
does every organization have a hedgehog concept to discover
Does every organization have a Hedgehog Concept to discover?
  • In majority of cases, good-to-great companies were not best in the world at anything and showed no prospects of becoming so.
  • When they finally grasped their Hedgehog Concept, it had none of the bravado aspects that comparison companies had.
  • To go from good to great requires a deep understanding of three intersecting circles translated into a simple, crystalline concept (the Hedgehog Concept).
    • What you are deeply passionate about
    • What you can be the best in the world at
    • What drives your economic engine
  • Key is understanding what your organization can be the best in the world at, and what it cannot be best at – not what it “wants” to be best at.
  • If you cannot be best in the world at your core business, then your core business cannot form the basis of your Hedgehog Concept.
  • Good-to-great companies set goals and strategies based on understanding; comparison companies set goals and strategies based on bravado
  • Strategy per se did not separate good-to-great companies from comparison companies. Both had strategies, and there is no evidence that good-to-great companies spent more time on strategic planning.
  • You do not need to be in a great industry to produce sustained results. No matter how bad the industry, every good-to-great company figured out how to produce truly superior economic results.