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Change Agent’s Cookbook: Fox or Hedgehog?

The ‘Hedgehog Concept’ dates back to antiquity, to a philosopher-poet named Archilochus.

His idea still has power to move us today because he told it in the form of a simple story, the story of the Fox and the Hedgehog.

In nature, a Fox is clever, whereas a Hedgehog is well-fed. A Fox’s brain gets bored easily and seeks new problems to solve. The Fox has so many ideas he often forgets which ones are his best and most useful.

The Fox tries everything in its quest to catch and eat the hedgehog.

The Hedgehog has one idea, and he’s learned to execute it perfectly – he just rolls himself into a perfect, prickly ball, and the Fox goes hungry every time.

Because the Hedgehog has a single defining idea, she just gets better and better at working that idea.

In life, business and cartoons, hedgehogs beat foxes every day. Wile E. Coyote is a Fox. He is forever inventing new “business models” to capture the Roadrunner. Roadrunner is a Hedgehog. Roadrunner’s Hedgehog Concept is FASTER. This just happens to be the same one that has driven FedEx and Google’s success for decades.

I first met this idea not in the study of Greek philosophy, but in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.

Collins studied companies that had taken their results from good to great. Without bias, he and his team set out to learn how. A key factor in these good-to-great stories was the finding a “Hedgehog Concept.” 

Collins said that this hedgehog concept lay at the intersection of, “What you have enthusiasm for,” “What drives your economic engine” and “What you can be best in the world at.”

I took Collins’ invitation to find our hedgehog to heart. But, how does the Fox develop a Hedgehog concept? And how does the leader of an unruly skulk of Foxes – creative, strategic, analytical, artistic, entrepreneurial, multi-faceted, idea machines – establish a Hedgehog Concept culture?

I knew we had a passion for the intersection of entrepreneurship, creativity and personal growth – Growth. And, we shared a passion for working with and learning from the best.

Secondly, we took the word “agency” seriously, even if the rest of the world didn’t. 

To us, being an “agent” means putting the client’s success first, being “unconflicted” – having zero conflicts of interest – and limiting distractions. I believed that an agency must take fiduciary responsibility for the client’s success. 

So, it was clear that our economic engine would be fueled by client success and only by client success. That translated to fees and bonuses based on achieving milestones.

Because of our commitment to aligning with the client, from CEO on down, we knew we needed an integrated offering, bringing together brand and performance. Clients were increasingly lonely with the responsibility for integrated brand-building and revenue-generating – brand and performance – as agencies focused on micro-specializations.

So, the typical specialization couldn’t be our Hedgehog. We couldn’t just do digital or brand design or creative or media.

We stepped back to observe ourselves solving problems. Whether launching, relaunching and turning around a brand and business, we noticed that we do in fact have a single, all-powerful strategy, a single defining idea.

Inspiring Action.

The Hedgehog views the world through the lens of a single defining idea, overarching goal, belief, or ethos that informs, colors and exemplifies all that they do.

For us that idea is Inspiring Action, and we’ve built it into a powerful, predictable process for accelerating growth.

All Growth is Behavior Change

Inspiring action starts with a core truth, that no growth in life or business is possible without behavior change. When we approach a business problem, we first look at the key drivers of value in the business. What levers move business value? What gears accelerate growth?

Value-Driving Actions.

All value creation is the result of behaviors, value-driving actions. For example, for many years we worked with an electronic broker, during which time we increased the efficiency of marketing by over ten times.

Analyzing the creation of value in the business, we noted three key levers: new funded accounts, more trading activity and increased balances.

In a low-interest environment, balances didn’t add much value to the company. We needed new accounts from active traders and a higher share of trading from our current customer.

In short, we needed to get more active traders to choose us, to fund their accounts and to trade more often with us – all value-driving behaviors.

Behavior Change is Inspiring Action

Optimal behavior change comes from a synergy of brand and performance.

Performance marketing alone is less efficient in the short run and damaging in the long run.

Inspiring = Motivated

Behavior is most likely to change – action is most likely to be taken – when motivation, ease and a trigger all happen at the same time (B.J. Fogg).

An inspiring brand organizes motivation, motivating the first value-driving action, while setting up the motivation for subsequent actions.

Inspiration is a function of the brand idea – does it connect and motivate, does it create a powerful lift?

Action = Ease

Action = Ease (simplicity, presence, lack of friction, plus a trigger – all at the same time).

In each case, we analyze the prospect and customer journey, looking for blocks, gaps and drags affecting value-driving actions. We prioritize those gaps and address them one by one, unlocking growth, marketing efficiency and customer value.

Yes, we can be fox-like in solving these problems, but the fact that we have a single problem that we solve – the problem of brand and business growth – and single, powerful way of solving that problem – Inspiring Action – means that we keep getting better and better.

So that’s why “Inspiring Action” is so much more than a “tagline” for us – it’s truly our hedgehog concept.

What’s your Hedgehog? Where do you stand with it? I’d love to hear from you.

Yours in Inspiring Action,
Mark DiMassimo