Which approach is better for your OSS? Hedgehog or fox?

Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” has achieved iconic status in the world of corporate strategy. One of the ideas he shares in this book is The Hedgehog Concept.

I’d encourage you to take a look at the link above. It provides excerpts from the book, outlining why the “great” companies in his study acted like hedgehogs, whereas his “comparison” companies (ie the lesser competitors) acted more like foxes.

This video of Jim provides context around hedgehogs and foxes for his comparison. The following is a transcript…

There’s this wonderful essay called “The Hedgehog and the Fox” that was written by Isaiah Berlin, a philosopher-thinker; and he basically said there are two types of thinkers. There are hedgehogs and there are foxes. Now, the hedgehog and the fox are different in the following way. The foxes, they love complexity. They love all the moving parts. They love basically showing how smart they are by making things so complex that other people can’t understand them. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, are a different breed. Hedgehogs tend to take the approach of saying, “You know, I know the world is complex, but we can’t function if we don’t simplify it.” What hedgehogs tend to do is get one big idea and focus on that, simplifying a complex world down to a fundamental, simple idea that is essentially right.”

Extending this analogy, how does this relate to your OSS and/or BSS?

Is it the fox – Lots of complexity. Lots of moving parts. Really difficult for people to understand intuitively?

Or is it the hedgehog – A single big idea. Singular focus on doing that. Doing it simply. Plugged into a world of complexity around it?

Looking at OSS/BSS (and the people that design and implement them), do you think we as an industry have a tendency towards being foxes? Are we, and our products, actually trying too hard to be prove that we’re smart?

How about the users? What do you think OSS/BSS users want? Hedgehog or Fox? I’m leaning towards the answer being the hedgehog. If Jim Collins’s “great” companies were hedgehogs, then maybe this could also be true of OSS/BSS companies? When evaluating OSS tools (and related sales-pitches of them), I often go back to the phrase, “The confused mind says no!

To re-use the link again from above, perhaps the Venn diagram in The Hedgehog Concept can provide guidance on what to be more singularly focused on…. Assuming you agree that you are too foxy!


Just an aside. Could it be that the fox is the single vendor and the best-of-breed approach is the hedgehog? Possibly, although best-of-breed can still be unfathomably complex too.

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