Well I’m into my third week of helping teach a Leadership class at Ashesi University. I teach with Andres, an Economist from Guatemala , whom we got to know the first part of last year,[click here] who left in the spring, and now has returned to work at Ashesi for the long term. I am thrilled to have Andres back.
I am also beginning to see what Suzanne loves about teaching at this level, especially about teaching at Ashesi. The students are so alive, so playful, so interactive, so much to want to make a difference in Africa.
This week and last we have been talking about the Fox and the Hedgehog, that classic Greek tale that shows up from time to time in both leadership and business classes. I was teaching from Jim Collins application of that tale, and how it could help companies move from Good to Great.
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn’t matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple – “indeed almost simplistic – “hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance… No, the hedgehogs aren’t simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.
So, as uncovered by Collins and his team, a Hedgehog Concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles:
What you can be the best in the world at? (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at). This discerning standard goes far beyond [Core Competence]. Just because you possess a core competence doesn’t necessarily mean you can be the best in the world at it. Conversely, what you can be the best at might not even be something in which you are currently engaged.
What drives your economic engine? All the good-to-great companies attained piercing insight into how to most effectively generate sustained and robust cash flow and profitability. In particular, they discovered the single denominator – “profit per x – “that had the greatest impact on their economics. (It would be cash flow per x in the social sector.)
What you are deeply passionate about? The good-to-great companies focused on those activities that ignited their Passion. The idea here is not to stimulate passion but to discover what makes you passionate.
So then we start talking about companies and I ask for companies and an example of what their Hedgehog Concept might be. The students bring up Apple, and Microsoft, and Starbucks. Three out of four classes bring up Starbucks. I ask them to define the Hedgehog Concept for Apple, and they nail it. Same with Microsoft, but when it comes to Starbucks, all they want to talk about is the founder coming back, to set the company straight. I’m sharing what I know, how Starbucks had a really clean Hedgehog Concept: provide a really good cup of coffee and a great place to drink it, but then they got into all these other things, like selling coffee makers, and Music compilation CDs, and somewhere along the way they, I say, “stopped roasting the coffee locally…” when I see that lost look in their eyes, and realize, you know, maybe these students have never been to a Starbucks, or even seen one.
They are so bright, and so eager to learn, at least most students seem to be, and yet they have to make such accommodations for us who hope to teach them. Maybe that’s why Jesus had to use parables to teach us about the Kingdom of Heaven.
So I’m at a Leadership Department meeting on Saturday, a gathering of 40 of Asbury-Dunwell leaders, who gathered from 3 to 7pm to set goals for leading the church, and we break into specific departments to plan the year. I’m paired with John Azu, on Preaching and Teaching Department. “The way I see it,” John says, “the church has three circles.” All week I’d been wondering how much I can share about what goes on in the classroom when I’m teaching, especially about Starbucks, and here John starts telling me about these three circles.
John says, “The first circles is the mission of the church, and he draws a circle. “The Second is the capabilities of the church, and its people. ” He draws a second circle, which ever so slightly overlaps with the first. “And the last circle is the needs of the people,” and he draws a third that intersects with the previous two.
I’m flabbergasted, he looks at me worried, and I stutter, “Y Y You know what this is?” I explain about Collins, and teaching at Ashesi, about the circles, the Fox the Hedgehog, and all the work Collins and his team put into uncovering it, and I think, how cool is that, there is a Hedgehog concept for the Church, and that a Ghanaian pastor already has this figured out.
So yes, this maps cleanly into Collins Hedgehog Concept, where the
- The Capabilities of the Church = Collins:What can you be best in the world at? (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at). This discerning standard points to the innate abilities of that make up the body of the church. It points to the Spiritual Gift mix that God has assembled in that particular ministry setting. It goes far beyond competence of staff it and points to the people of the church. How has God gifted them? It might even force a church to consider something in which it is not currently engaged, but could through its gift mix, be the best in the world, or at least in that part of the world.
- Needs of the People = Collins: What drives your economic engine? It seems to me that a church needs to examine the needs of its people, and its ministry setting, to determine their needs. And then develop a single denominator, in Collins words, a “profit per x – or in our case an X per church member, or X/child, or X/worship attender, something that could give the church a benchmark on how they are approaching their mission objectives.
- Mission of the Church = Collins: What ignites your passion? Each Church has a God given reason for being, and a God placed set of people to achieve it. This mission can be uncovered by discovering what ignited the Passion of the Church. “The idea here,” in Collins words,” is not to stimulate passion but to discover what makes you passionate,” or what the church can get passionate about.
Collins says that after you have the right people on the bus (or in church terms, in leadership) it will take four years to discover a clear Hedgehog Concept. I wonder if our church leadership spent the next four years figuring out their Church hedgehog, how different the landscape would be as they used it to focus the efforts of their church in this world. Collins says it is as important to know what to focus on, as it is to what NOT to focus on. I wonder what the apostle Paul would say? Clearly his all things to all people wasn’t a very good hedgehog, even if we complete the sentence, so that we might reach some.
I think Mr. John Azu is on to something, and to paraphrase Collins, “To have a fully developed Church Hedgehog Concept, you need all three circles. If you could fulfill all the needs of your people but it was not within the capabilities of the church you would have a successful one, but not great. If you could use all the capabilities of the church, but it was not within the mission of the church, it would not be sustainable. Finally, if you could succeed in doing the Mission of the Church, but it was outside the capabilities of the church, or it didn’t fit with the needs of the people, you might have a lot of fun, but it won’t produce great results, or lead people to Christ.
What do you think?