The hedgehog and the fox

I’m currently reading the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, a gift from the new Executive Officer at work. I admit, I am not reading it in chapter order, as I have a few things on my mind lately at work, such as how the communications department I manage can become more agile while delivering the information our association members most need, in the most effective and accessible way. (My goal for 2010!)

There’s lots of useful information in the book. However, one of the anecdotes struck me. It was in regards to an essay called The hedgehog and the fox, written by Isaiah Berlin, based on a Greek parable. In the parable, the fox tries a multitude of clever techniques to capture the hedgehog, but the hedgehog always wins. The hedgehog apparently is successful because of its  simple, organized  focus: it goes about its daily business and when attacked, the hedgehog curls into a ball, spikes outward. The fox is foiled, apparently because it is scattered and lacking a unifying vision.

Perhaps because I see myself as more of a fox, this rubs me the wrong way. Clearly, the hedgehog has a highly advantageous defence system. But there are some truths I can buy into.

For example, it’s true that as a fox, I have many ideas, some of which IMHO, are very clever, and a few, ahead of their time. And if I simply chase after each idea as it appears, it is true that I won’t make much progress on anything. The answer then, is to create a unifying vision. The Mission.  The Plan.

By creating the vision, I can sort through my many fox ideas and determine which are in line with where I want to go, and which I need to discard or set aside. If my vision is to get a tasty dinner each night, after a few failed attempts at dining on hedgehog, I can discard that strategy and move along to easier prey. Perhaps I could even save some time and effort by observing and learning from a fellow fox’s failed attempts.

I can also learn from the hedgehog, who keeps things simple. A plan need not be complex to be successful. It only needs to be well thought-out, focused and attainable.

More goodies from the book another time. Before heading off though, I can’t help but wonder, is this fable the basis for the Road Runner and the Wiley Coyote cartoon?

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