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  • Writer's pictureBeth Pandolpho

Explore Your Inner Hedgehog with Jim Collins

In the last few months, I’ve listened to over 5 hours of podcast episodes featuring Jim Collins. Collins is a researcher and an author who studies what makes companies excel.

Although I initially feared that this inordinate investment of time listening to one person perhaps made me some kind of weirdo or a loser, fortunately on the last episode I listened to, the host casually mentioned that Collins earns at least $65,000 per speaking engagement. I’ve, therefore, now decided that I’m not so odd at all - just wisely economical in how I gather information.

One thing I particularly appreciate about Jim Collins is that he has devoted his life not only to exploring his curiosities, but reflecting on his own behavior far beyond anything I have the time or inclination to do. Collins speaks at length about how he rates each day a 2, 1, -1 or -2 depending on his amount of “creative hours”, how he can nap almost anywhere on demand, and how he has conducted careful studies about himself by observing himself as a bug, as he says “a bug called Jim".

I may not have recounted all of these details correctly, but my point is that for the last 20 years I’ve been quite differently preoccupied. . . primarily with raising three kids. And, in the little free time I’ve had left, I never explored anything with the singular dedication, focus, and passion of Jim Collins.

I find myself at the same time jealous, inspired, and marveling at the diametrically opposing ways each of us define for ourselves what constitutes a well-lived life.

I’ve learned much in my hours of listening to Jim Collins, and although these concepts are designed for organizations, these are the ideas that have resonated the most deeply with me:

1. The Hedgehog Concept

Collins writes in Good to Great, “In his famous essay 'The Hedgehog and the Fox', Isaiah Berlin 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.” According to Collins, it is the great companies that follow what he calls the “Hedgehog Concept” as they focus on what they can be “the best in the world at”.

It has been very enlightening to consider how what I’m deeply passionate about intersects with what I’m good at because it has enabled me to use this insight to inform my decisions. And I find that when I allow these understandings to guide me, I’m more satisfied with my choices because they align with what is innately true about me.

(I also did kind of a mash up of this concept with Brené Brown's values exercise which I think can help bring you closer to the essence of who you are.)

2. The FlyWheel Effect

The clearest way to define “The FlyWheel Effect" is by using the definition from Jim Collins’ website where he writes, “In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”

The FlyWheel Effect, similar to the Hedgehog Concept, operates on a personal level much in the same way it does for businesses. If your decisions are informed by what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at, then every time you make a decision, you are essentially turning your own flywheel. And then with each turn, you become more and more of who you want to be.


Collins’ website is an extremely generous resource filled with descriptions of his concepts, tools, exercises, videos, and articles, so many of which have implications for how we can continually become the best version of ourselves, and put that energy into the world.

And just so I'm clear: None of this is about being the best. It’s about rooting ourselves in our own truth, so we can grow more deeply into who we are, and flourish.

It seems to me that this is the path towards greater joy, contentment, and happiness.

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