Last year in the midst of our entrepreneurial madness, Mel and I traded our must-read business books. I gave her two books my Dad had recommended to me: Zen and the Art of Making a Living; and Think and Grow Rich.
She gave me a big book with a bright red cover.
“I think you’ll really like this. It was No. 1 on the New York best seller list. He really nails how a company goes from being good to great. It’s really interesting and brainy. Perfect for you.”
I finally had a few free days last week, so I decided to dig out that big red book Mel gave me last year. It took me a while to get into Jim Collins’ theories of what makes a business great, but after twenty pages or so I was captivated.
Collins isn’t a razzle-dazzle business-self help guru. The core of Good to Great emerges from a grounded data analysis; in other words, Collins is a social scientist who lets the data speak for itself. The results are not surprising; what separates great companies from good ones are a series of logical steps that incorporate experience, conviction, and good old hard work. There are tons of reviews on the net about this book, so I’m not going to waste my time, or yours, summarizing it here. Instead, I want to reflect on one aspect of Collins’ analysis that really captivated me: his hedgehog theory.
Playing off a line by the Greek poet Archilochus, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” Collins’ data suggests that great companies were all built by “hedgehogs” or leaders who were able to focus on one big important thing that made their companies great.
In the book, Collins illustrates how to find your own “hedgehog concept” by using three overlapping circles: 1) what you’re passionate about; 2) what you can make money at; and 3) what you can be the best at. At the vector point of these three circles lies your winning target. If you can bring all three things to bear, you have found a way to excel.
What struck me most about this hedgehog concept was its connection to the power of three. Did Collins choose three arbitrarily? Doubt it. Everything in this book emerges from data that has been crunched so much, its more ripped that Conan the Barbarian. That’s why I’m so excited about this model. It makes a clear connection between entrepreneurial success and the magical, mystical, and mysterious trinity or triad that shows up in many spiritual traditions and teachings.
The triad is one of the oldest mystical symbols. There are the ten Sephiroth of the Jewish Qabalah which are contemplated in groups of three. Also, especially popular among neo-pagans is the ancient trinity of the Great Mother, which is connected to the three cycles of the moon – waxing, full, and waning. What’s really interesting is that the Druid’s used a triad teaching method to share knowledge with spiritual seekers. For example:
The Three signs of COMPASSION: Understanding of ‘the sorrow of a child’. Understanding which turns a man from his path rather than disturb a tired animal lying in the way – ‘the mind of a stranger.’1
Then there are the three Fates, three Graces, three Gorgons and the three Furies of the Greeks and, of course, the Christian trinity.
So what does this all have to do with Collins’ hedgehog concept? I believe he’s tapped into something, that, on the surface, seems to be practical and extremely useful as a tool for building success as a business. But when you scratch beneath the surface a little bit, the process of discovering the vector point between your passions - making lots of money – and your inherent strengths – is in fact a spiritual journey.
Consider that maybe enlightenment, like greatness, isn’t a matter of circumstance after all, but a conscious choice; and maybe this journey through entrepreneurship is in fact the post-new-modern version of the spiritual journey. After all, the monks of the old age are now waking up to discover that there’s no problem making lots of money when you’re walking on a path with heart.
1. Hooper, Andrew. 1938. “A Note on Druid Ethics.” Pendragon. 1: 36-38.