Proverbs 6:6 – “Go to the hedgehog, thou inefficient; consider her ways, and be wise”
Ok, so that isn’t quite what the verse actually says. The verse really says to look to ants as an example of industry; but just as a sluggard can learn good work ethic from the lowly ant, the inefficient could learn something from the hedgehog!
The Hedgehog and the Fox
In 1953, Isaiah Berlin published an essay called “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, in which he classifies each person as either a hedgehog or a fox. Foxes are quick; cunning; clever! They have a lot of strategies, and see the complexities of life. They are always pursuing a lot of things!
Hedgehogs on the other hand? They are not quite as complicated as the foxes. In fact, you could consider them to be simple! Not simple as in unintelligent; simple as in they focus on one thing instead of lots of different things. Their life is about one primary goal, and their energy and time is spent on achieving that goal.
Consider the example Berlin describes: imagine a hungry fox who decides to make a quick lunch out of a lonely hedgehog. “Poor hedgehog,” you think; “He doesn’t stand a chance against the cunning fox!” But as the fox leaps for the hedgehog, he’s met with a nasty surprise! The hedgehog has curled himself into a tight ball, protecting by some very painful spikes! Embarrassed, the fox flees, promising himself that he’ll triumph next time.
The next day, the fox comes up with a different strategy: instead of attacking head-on, he’ll wait in the bushes; pounce from the shadows. Sure of himself, he springs, only to be met again by the hedgehog’s sharp quills! Day after day, the fox comes up with a new strategy, only to be thwarted again and again.
While the fox may know more tricks, he spreads himself too thin; he’s a jack of all trades, master of none. The hedgehog, on the other hand, is far more effective. Although he only knows one trick, he does it well, and wins every time.
The Problem With Being a Fox
I don’t know about you, but I often feel like the fox: spreading myself thin doing lots of things, but failing to do it all with excellence. In ministry, you are required to wear a lot of hats! My main responsibilities at Foundation Baptist Church are serving as the youth director and the music director. However, I’ve also found myself preaching, teaching the kids, running sound, running the church Facebook page, doing IT work, laying carpet, building a platform, maintaining a shuttle bus, doing administrative work, making graphics…the list could go on and on!
I actually enjoy doing most of those things I mentioned! I would even say that I have an aptitude for most of them, but here’s the problem: the more things I do, the less things I can really do my best at. I do not have the time or energy to become an expert on everything. So, like the fox, as I widen my focus to include more and more activities and pursuits, I lose the hedgehog-like ability to truly be great at a few things.
Now, to be clear, I’m not advocating literally doing only one thing; that just wouldn’t be possible (or fulfilling) for almost all of us. The demands of life and ministry mean that most of us have to take on diverse responsibilities. And besides, it is possible to excel at many things! What I am saying is that by intentionally focusing on fewer things, as opposed to half heartedly spending ourselves on a great many things, we can achieve greater excellence, and be more effective. Some people naturally have a lot of interest and skills, while others will have only a few, but we can all fall into the trap of trying to do too much. Better to focus on what is truly valuable to us, and excel at those things.
The Hedgehog Concept
I first heard about Isaiah Berlin’s essay in a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. Mr. Collins describes several companies that achieved true greatness, and what set them apart from their competitors.
One of the things from Good to Great that has stuck with me is the Hedgehog Concept. It turns out that the great companies that Jim Collins and his team studied were “hedgehog companies”: they focused on a core concept, while their competitors never head a guiding light, and ultimately never achieved anything beyond mediocrity, at best. The great companies stuck with a simple concept (Hedgehog Concept) and focused on that. If something did not fit their Hedgehog Concept, they did not spend their time and resources on it. By sticking to their Hedgehog Concept, they were able to become truly great, and achieve far greater results than the fox companies they were competing against.
Finding Your Hedgehog Concept
While Mr. Collin’s Hedgehog Concept was designed for businesses, I believe we can also apply it to our lives. We can identify the things that we can truly be great at, and by focusing on those things, achieve far greater results!
Jim Collins defined the Hedgehog Concept as the intersection where three circles met. These circles were questions that, when answered, would lead to each company’s Hedgehog Concept:
1. What can you be the best in the world at?
2. What are you passionate about?
3. What drives your economic engine?
In identifying your personal Hedgehog Concept, I would propose modifying these questions:
1. What talents and abilities has God most blessed me with?
2. What passions and desires has God given to me?
3. What are the goals I wish to achieve?
These questions can help us identify the things we can truly learn to excel at. By focusing on these things, we can become much more effective in our lives and ministries. For example, I am not a particularly mechanically-minded person. I do not know very much about cars, and honestly, I’m not that interested in learning about them. Not only that, but except for very occasionally, being a mechanic does not help me in the ministries and pursuits God has called me to. I could learn more about cars, and how to work on them, but my time and energy would better spent in an area like music, where God has given me ability, as well as a real love and passion for music. Devoting time and energy to developing my musical abilities will help me serve the Lord more effectively.
The Hedgehog Concept can also help you on a more micro scale, as well. For example, I have determined that I should devote myself to improving my musical abilities, but there are still a lot aspects of music to consider: singing, playing the piano, arranging, composing, conducting, etc.
By using the Hedgehog Concept, I can better determine which area of music to focus on. In my church, we already have several other piano players who are more naturally talented in that area than I am. So instead of focusing on piano, I can focus on areas where I am more naturally talented, and where our church could use some help, like conducting and singing.
One helpful resource to help you identify your strengths is StrengthFinder.com
While it does cost about $20 (I bought the book, which came with a promo code for the test), I found their test to be very helpful in better knowing my personal areas of strength; each of my top five strengths was related to thinking and learning. I have used that insight to focus more on developing my mind, and better use the abilities and strengths God has given me.
It may be tempting to be a fox; there are a lot of activities that demand our time and attention! But if we want to be effective, we need to learn what things truly deserve our effort. It may also be helpful to ask, “Do I really need to be doing this?” Many times, we may be able to delegate a task to someone who can do it better than we can! Resist the temptation to be a fox; be a hedgehog instead! You will be far more effective in the long run.