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Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

Would you consider yourself a fox or a hedgehog?

What’s the difference?

Jim Collins wrote about it in his bestseller Good to Great and it’s based on the famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” written by Isaiah Berlin. In it, he divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

The fox is crafty and resourceful. When he goes hunting for the hedgehog, he tries to think of many different plans–dig into the burrow, lie in ambush and attack when the hedgehog comes out, etc. But he can’t focus on one strategy…he is scattered and chases many trails at once.

The hedgehog knows one thing and can do it well. When the fox comes to eat him, he rolls up in a tight, spiky ball. All the fox gets is a bloody nose, yet he tries again and again, hatching new unusual methods of attack. He just doesn’t learn.

The fox is the person who starts the trendy diet or exercise program, only to quit after three weeks in favor of some new, better plan or fad. In business, the fox is so busy trying to juggle all his ideas and excitement to start something new and promising that he has no time to really understand what he’s doing. In short, the fox is simply treading water.

The foxes of the world rarely succeed. The lion’s share of success and wealth belongs to the hedgehogs–the people who focused on one thing and became a true specialist. They do one thing and do it very well. It’s their Hedgehog Concept.

For example, for quite some time, my Hedgehog Concept has been writing. Between this website, my fitness books, and my other writing projects, I’ve written well over 2 million words. I’ve read dozens of books on writing, ranging from technical instruction to storytelling to copyrighting. I’ve used these skills to sell a lot of books and build this website and my career. Along the way I’ve always looked for new, creative ways to enhance and expand my Hedgehog Concept, but I never let myself get distracted by other trails.

The Three Circles of the Hedgehog Concept

Hedgehog Concepts are based on three circles…all the same size and all equally important. Think of them as a classic Venn diagram: each intersect and that combined “middle” is where the magic happens.

Circle 1

This circle involves what you can be best at. It’s not a goal, strategy or plan, and it’s not just a “core competency.” It’s the place where you can really shine, and it’s determined by your personality, interests, and purposes.

Circle 2

This is the economic part of the equation. All very successful people I know were very smart with choosing endeavors that can provide a powerful cash flow.

Circle 3








 Great success requires passion. This circle contains what ignites your passion. The idea here is not to stimulate passion but to find what really makes you passionate. You have to ask yourself if you’d still come to work if you had all the money you need…if the answer is no, it’s probably not your passion. Like Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” 

Your Hedgehog Concept lies in the intersection of these three circles. If you can live your life in the middle of them, you’ll have it made. You’ll be doing something that you can truly excel in, you’ll be deeply passionate about your work and you’ll be making great money.

It’s no good having two…you want it all! If you’re passionate about your work but make no money, you’re going to be very frustrated. If you’re good at what you do and make lots of money but hate your job, you’ll wind up miserable. If there’s money to be made and you’re passionate about the field, but you’re no good at it, that’s not good either.

Ultimately you’re going to have to figure out what your Hedgehog Concept is, and you’ll know it once you hit it. Don’t settle for anything less because it’s where real happiness and success lies.


What do you think about the fox and hedgehog parable? Have anything else to add? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Robin

    It seems easy for some people to know their passion and purpose in life. I’ve found it to be very difficult to find that “one thing”. Do you believe this to be true? Or maybe it’s there but I haven’t recognized it or am fearful to pursue it. Hmmmmm… Time for some more soul searching. Thank you for a very well written piece.

    • Michael Matthews

      Good questions. My thoughts:

      1. It’s unrealistic to assume that our passions will find us. We have to find them by following our curiosities and DOING things.

      2. It’s hard to be passionate about something we suck at. Just dabbling in things won’t cut it because you won’t really know if you like something until you get at least DECENT at it, you know?

      When I started writing, I wasn’t good at it, and wasn’t passionate about it. I liked to read so I figured what the hell, maybe I’ll like writing. It then grew on me over time, as I improved.

  • Cathy

    Love it! It is so true. Is this concept made by you or is it from some literature? Can I translate it to my languae and blog about it? 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I first heard of it in Collins’ book but it began as a Greek parable. Blog away!

  • Cathy

    Ps. Yes. Everything needs Work. Practise. Guts. People often think our passion just shows up, easily. It is not like that. We have to work our asses to find our passion. There is no easy or straight way. We will always make mistakes, fail, get up and try again. It belongs in life. Perfectioniss do not understand it, and that is why they are afraid to try or they quit too easily. I was one of them. No I am”cured” from perfectionism and am doing what I love. Have veen stufying hard and without any salary four years vefore I started to charge anything. Still have to figure out the core and the financial part. Not so easy being a photographer…

    • Michael Matthews

      I totally agree!

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