Can a Hedgehog be a Program?

Audio Transcript

I received an email the other day from somebody who said, “Jim, we’re getting very frustrated working on our Hedgehog Concept. We’ve had a number of meetings about it, and we’ve put a lot of time into making our Hedgehog program work, but we’re really having difficulty pinning down what the actual Hedgehog Concept is.”

I responded by asking the question, “Well, how long have you been working on your Hedgehog Concept?”

The answer came back, “About three months.”

Two days after that, I was giving a seminar. The exact same thing happened.  In fact, an entire group of executives from different organizations expressed the same frustration, the same concern: “It’s taking us a while to get this working. It’s taking us time to get the Hedgehog Concept right. Can we get the program working faster?” 

I went back to the room, all of whom had read the book Good to Great in great detail, and I said, “Pop quiz for everybody in here. Question: How many years on average did it take the good-to-great companies to get their Hedgehog Concept clear?”

Everybody had the right answer: “Four years, on average.” Four years. 

Then I asked the question, “And how long did it take, on average, from the time of the beginning of the transition—the things that we could see that eventually led to the breakthrough to greatness—to the time you could see the actual breakthrough happen in some external, visible way?”

Again, great students, they got the answer right: “Seven years.” So, it took four years on average to get a Hedgehog Concept, seven years on average to really build up the momentum to make the breakthrough from good to great. 

So, then I turned to the group and I said, “I have a question for you. Tell me, why do you find it so frustrating? Why do you find it so difficult, if you’ve been working on this for only . . . how long?”

They all looked at me and they said, “Well, somewhere between three and six months.” 

“So, what makes you think that you can actually programmatize this and turn it into something that’s going to produce greatness for you in three to six months when it took the good-to-great companies—the only eleven in the history of the Fortune 500 that made the leap—four years on average to get their Hedgehog Concept and seven years on average to finally make the breakthrough?” 

The response I got back was, “Well, Jim, we’re so used to programs that promise quick results. We want to programmatize this. That’s our natural instinct.” Then it hit me. Oh, my goodness. We have a problem on our hands. The problem we have is that we took all the research and all the learnings from Good to Great and all the companies, and we put it in a book in a way that is easily accessible, easily understandable. When you read a Hedgehog Concept from Walgreens—the best at convenient drugstores, steadily improving profit per customer visit—it seems so clear, so simple, so elegant, so crystalline, you should just be able to get that for yourself. But it took them years to get clear on that—in that case, almost a decade. 

So, the key point that struck me is that when you look at the answers in retrospect, it looks like you could just come up with yours and then implement the Hedgehog Concept and have a great company. You can programmatize it. But that’s not the way it truly happens. It’s a process of angst and discussion and debate and evolution; and it’s not something that has any programmatic feel to it.
Copyright © 2017 Jim Collins, All rights reserved.