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2006: Issue 2

Be a Hedgehog

The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing.
        – Archilochus,  8th century BC

In an essay published in 1953, Sir Isaiah Berlin contended that this statement captures one of the most profound differences in human beings:

“For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision….think and feel-a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance and on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way,….related by no moral or aesthetic principle; ….perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused,…..”  The Hedgehog and the Fox, Sir Isaiah Berlin, 1953.

Quite honestly, I was not familiar with this distinction until I read Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great.  Published in 2001, it was the culmination of five years of research intending to identify the distinguishing factors of those companies that achieved and sustained great results versus those that achieved good, even above average results.  It contains some of the most valuable and practical information for leading great organizations all of which can be extracted and applied to leading a great life. 

I have given much of the information at least cursory thought; yet, it’s the hedgehog concept that I’ve been recently toying with, and increasingly understanding its value – to my own life and to Tiberius.  Collins contends the great companies embraced the wisdom of a hedgehog – the clarity of purpose – “a simple, crystalline concept that guided all their efforts.”  Easy to identify – not really.  Yet, from their extensive research, essential to achieving and sustaining greatness. 

Fortunately, he provides many illustrations as well a tool for developing a hedgehog concept.  First, answer the following questions:

  1. At what can you be the best in the world (and as important, what you cannot)?
  2. What drives your economic engine? 
  3. What are you deeply passionate about? 

Then, picture the answers to these questions as three circles in a Venn diagram, and identify the area of intersection.  This becomes your hedgehog concept.
For many, the answers to these questions may be obvious.  I applaud you.  For others, those of us who tend to be more like the fox, the answers aren’t so clear.  In fact, we have a tendency to brush over the questions, and dismiss the value of answering them with “piercing insight and egoless clarity.”  Collins states it took several years for some of the companies to really zero in on their hedgehog concept.  Personally, I take great solace in this for its taking me time along with very thoughtful deliberation. 

I will also contend that while Collins is proposing defining our hedgehog concept as one of the essential components to achieving great results, I believe it has as much value in helping us make sense of the complexities in our own lives and the world in which live. So whether or not you are driven to achieve greatness or are content with good, I encourage you to identify your hedgehog concept. 

We have a tendency to be more attracted to the fox then the hedgehog, particularly in today’s society where more is better; busyness prevails; growth occurs through acquisitions; thinking is undervalued, and we want it all, now.  And frankly, the fox can still live a good life – isn’t that enough?     

Clearly, working in or with the healthcare industry means we are working in a complex system, where it seems more and more is out of our control, and it’s difficult to just keep up let alone achieve greatness.  I wonder what the outcome would be if we all could clearly identify our hedgehog concept?

1. Commit to being more like a hedgehog than a fox.
2. Answer the questions proposed by Collins, beginning with the context of your own life.  Consider posting these questions in conspicuous places, providing that reminder for your mind to ponder.
3. Be patient. Giving you not only the time but the space to answer them with crystalline clarity.
4. Engage in a dialogue with your co-workers or loved ones around these questions.  At the very least, you might provoke them to consider the paradox of the possibilities that simplicity brings.

ABOUT Extra Ordinary Living

Taking their learning from 20+ years in corporate healthcare, Janet Crawford and David Scheiderer, MD formed Extra Ordinary Living, Inc. in 2003 with an intention of helping physicians, other healthcare professionals and their organizations identify possibilities and opportunities, remove obstacles, and ultimately, optimize results.

Usually the first question we are asked, is why Tiberius? Our trivia friends usually can identify the references……yes, Tiberius was the 2nd Roman emperor, and yes, Tiberius is the middle name of James T. Kirk from Star Trek. One of our life mottos and business principles is “to learn from the past, look to the future but live in the present;” thus, Extra Ordinary Living.

As Executive and Professional Coaches, we are trained to listen, to observe and to customize our approach to our client's needs. We provide tools, support, structure and accountability to help our clients unleash their full potential and optimize results. There are so many reasons for physicians in particular to feel disenchanted with their chosen profession, their calling. Having a coach helps them get back in touch with their passion for being a healer.

The best thing about coaching is that it is all about you and what you want. We may share our opinions and give you advice, but it is up to you to pick and choose what you want to accept. We suspend judgment and will support you in your decisions.

As Professional Speakers, our messages are inspirational while imparting useful, practical and memorable information in a fun and dynamic way to help you in your pursuit of authentic happiness, and the enjoyment of deep life experiences.  

David Scheiderer, MD, MBA
Executive Coach

Janet Crawford, MHA, MBA
Executive Coach

Tiberius Rx ... written for physicians and those who love them, work with them, or befriend them, and want to explore, experience and excel in all aspects of their life.

“Good is the enemy of great."
 – Jim Collins
"Know thyself."
 – Scribes of Delphi, via Plato