Download: The Hedgehog Versus The Fox In Business
Business is a risky affair. Just as much as there is a possibility that an entrepreneur’s efforts will bring them no return, there is also potential that they will succeed. This is an inescapable fact of business, but there are strategies that people employ to minimise the risk of failure.
Two of those strategies are the specialist versus the generalist approach. With the specialist approach, the entrepreneur focuses on one main thing, and strives to do that particular thing very well. The generalist on the other hand will spread their efforts across several pursuits, in the hopes of minimising risk by diversifying their efforts.
The specialist aims to concentrate their efforts on a singular business activity, rather than spreading themselves thin on several fronts, whilst the generalist takes the approach of avoiding placing their eggs in one basket.
Granted, these two approaches are polar opposites of each other, and cannot be reconciled. But then which approach is better? Is it better to be a specialist and focus on a singular business effort, or is it better to diversify risk like the generalist?
When having a discussion around the specialist versus the generalist in business, the analogy of the hedgehog and the fox, from the Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin in the mid-1900s, comes to mind.
Berlin’s paper on the subject can be traced to ideas from an Ancient Greek poet, Archilochus, who is quoted as saying, “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing”.
A fox is cunning, fast and always on the move. It devices many strategies to outsmart its hunters, but often gets caught. The hedgehog on the other hand has stuck to one strategy. When under attack from the fox, it rolls into a spiny ball and outsmarts the fox every time, even with the fox’s cunning nature.
From an ideological point of view, the analogy of the hedgehog and the fox represents two camps of individuals with distinct ways of thinking. The hedgehog can be seen as an individual who sticks to one big business idea ,and works on executing that one idea well. The fox on the other hand can be seen as the individual who tackles multiple business ideas at a time.
The raging debate that goes on around the analogy of the hedgehog and the fox, is in trying to decide who is better. There are obviously certain advantages to being one over the other, and also disadvantages that come with both approaches.
Remember: I am bringing up the analogy to be understood in light of pursuing business. As a businessman or businesswoman, does it ultimately pay to be a fox, or you are better served being a hedgehog?
One way of looking at it would be on considering how to invest one’s resources in business, when investing money, time, and effort. As a business person, you might decide to start several businesses and spread your time, effort, and finances proportionally across the various businesses. This would be the fox approach.
Another approach is to focus on a singular business idea. In that case you would dedicate all your resources to building a single business, but you commit to dedicate all your efforts in making that single business work.
Of course, there is an argument for diversifying your resources into several businesses. The main advantage is that you minimise risk of complete failure. If you have many businesses and some of them fail, at least you will have the others to fall back on.
Whilst the fox approach in investing resources for a business might work, it also has some drawbacks when compared to the hedgehog approach. When you spread your attention over several activities, you also run the risk of spreading yourself thin.
The debate around who is better: the hedgehog versus the fox, is difficult to settle because most of the time, whether you are a hedgehog or a fox depends on personality. Personally, I excel as a hedgehog, and maybe I can persuade you to see things my way.
The hedgehog has one defining characteristic: consistency. I have found that I tend to focus on a singular type of business and pour everything into it over the long term. This happens to such an extent that, if I spread myself around several business activities, I have found that it can turn out to be distracting.
While other people excel at jumping around several ideas in business, I prefer to stick to one thing and work hard towards excelling at the one thing. The thing I have chosen in business is web design and development, with its related services. I would consider it a distraction, if I had to go into the hairdressing business for example.
Of course this does not mean that I have no intention of getting involved in other businesses, aside from the one to do with web design and development, as well as related services. I am particularly talking about being involved in the daily activities of such other businesses.
I for example will be willing to invest in a hairdressing business, if it is viable, as long as I am not involved in its daily operations. Again here, I will only be willing to make such an investment, if my primary business does not need the invested financial resources.
Tyler Perry, in a recorded clip I was listening to the other day, talked about water for a seed. He talked about how you should focus on a singular goal. He compared such focus to watering a seed. The seed being your potential.
He said, it is better to narrow your focus to one thing, instead of having many things that demand your attention. He equated developing many business ideas that demand your attention at once, to planting many seeds whilst having limited water. If you do that, you will not have enough water to go around. This is another great analogy to describe the ethos of the hedgehog in business.
Want to hear some more from the Webmobyle Blog? Please