Have we become a hedgehog factory?


If you are not familiar with the concept of The Hedgehog and The Fox, please read Who makes a better entrepreneur – the Hedgehog or the Fox?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Have you had to answer this question as a kid? I got asked this all the time. There are expectations that you will choose a specific career objective. All through our school and college years we are constantly goaded to come up with a clear and precise view of what we want to be and then to focus diligently and unwaveringly on getting there. Our education system is designed to make you conform, to train you in a structured way towards your career objectives. It teaches you how to think about a problem in a certain way and to apply known principles or patterns to arrive at an expected answer or solution. Think of all the Engineering and MBA classes that you may have taken and tell me if I am wrong.

And then comes our worklife. Here again, the mantra that we are asked to follow is to figure out a career path for ourselves and then work hard to move along on that path rapidly. We are expected to be disciplined and to stay focused on the course that has been charted out. If we are to do well on this journey, we have to align with the corporate culture and to focus on its mission. Our success in our worklife is determined by our ability to deliver towards a well-defined purpose within the company’s organizational structure. Have you ever gotten promoted for not fitting in?

As I ponder over the concept of the hedgehog and the fox, it appears to me that our educational system and corporate structures are designed to produce hedgehogs. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Hedgehogs accomplish big things in a structured manner. They produce predictable results and don’t waver from the core value proposition even in the face of grave challenges. The hedgehog approach is organized, consistent, disciplined and trainable. Wouldn’t you prefer that over chaotic, erratic, etc.?

Foxes are the rebels, the mavericks who don’t live by the rules. They operate outside the structures created by the hedgehogs. They don’t care for the accolades and rewards that are reserved for the hedgehogs. They are the exceptions and that’s how it should be. Imagine what would happen if everyone in the system is a fox. How would you organize a company where everyone is a fox? Would it even be possible to have repeatable processes with predictable results if everyone in the system is a fox?

So, then the question is do we need foxes at all? After all, if hedgehogs can accomplish big things and are incredibly focussed even in challenging times, why tolerate the foxes? Is that why we hammer the foxes into hedgehog moulds? Are we making our hedgehog factory become 100% pure hedgehog?

In my next blog, I will make a case for having a cohort of foxes in your hedgehog factory.


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