“There are two types of people in this world: hedgehogs and foxes.” wrote Isaiah Berlin in his famous essay.
The fox knows many things.
He is cunning and smart. He is fast and sneaky. He is always in search of new strategies to beat the hedgehog and win his share of the forest.
The hedgehog, on the other hand, knows one big thing.
He is simple. He uses only one strategy but executes it to perfection. Whatever the fox tries, the hedgehog defends himself with what he knows how to do best.
So when they face each other, the fox tries a new strategy, but the hedgehog always wins.
No matter what the fox tries, the hedgehog just curls up into an impenetrable ball, exposes his spikes, and thwarts the crafty fox — forcing him to retreat and come up with another plan.
In real life, foxes are those who always try new strategies to achieve their goals.
They are always searching for the 8-week ab program…the 12-day juice cleanse…and consistently redefining their “dream job”.
Hedgehogs, on the other hand, are those who stick to a simple strategy. Hedgehogs are consistent. They trust the process, and they methodically work towards achieving their ”dream job.”
This is Kobe Bryant using his insane work ethic to practice harder than any other basketball player, period.
This is Temple Grandin using her empathy for animals and ability to think in pictures to revolutionize the design of feedlots.
This is Warren Buffett passing on short-term gains from “boom markets” to focus on his long-term growth of 12% every year.
HOW DOES ONE BECOME A HEDGEHOG?
I first learned about the hedgehog concept in Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, which explores how companies go from mediocrity to greatness. He found that every great company, and the great people within them, approaches life with a “hedgehog strategy.”
It is simple, it is effective, and executed to perfection.
However, these strategies did not just come out of nowhere. They were deeply rooted self-awareness and understanding of what you are deeply passionate about, what you are naturally skilled in, and what drives your economic engine.
All of us know the importance of these factors to some degree. Almost everyone has discovered at least 1 of these circles within themselves.
Many people have even found the answer to 2 of them. However, unfortunately, that is where the vast majority end their search. There’s nothing wrong with discovering only two circles, but below we will explore why they will not lead to greatness.
Passion & Value
If you ignore your natural talent, and only focus on finding a job that you are passionate about, you won’t reach your true potential. You will not make a great contribution to society, and we will not get to see your unique masterpiece.
This would be like Temple Grandin choosing to work on a farm, rather than embracing her talent for design. She would've been perfectly happy, but she would not have revolutionized the feedlot industry, and become a hero for autistic children everywhere.
Value & Talent
If you only focus on what people will pay you for, and what you can become the best in the world at, then you will not be able to tap into the passion you’ll need to push your comfort zone and achieve something great.
Mozart nearly gave up his dream when his father Leopold demanded that he remain a court musician, rather than a composer. If he never summoned the courage to disobey Leopold, he may never write the music that defined his legacy.
Talent & Passion
If you focus only on what you can become the best the world at, and what you’re passionate about, then you will not learn how to create something that is truly valuable to society.
This would be like J.K. Rowling giving up on Harry Potter after being rejected by 12 publishers, keeping the story in her personal journal, and never sharing the books that inspired millions of kids like me to start reading.
Most people stop searching after discovering 2 of these circles. There's nothing wrong with that, as it will lead to a good life. But to achieve a great life, no matter what a "great life" is to you, you must continue to search for all 3.
DISCOVERING ALL 3 CIRCLES
After learning about the hedgehog concept, I have been on a mission to discover all 3 of my circles.
It has not been easy. But with each step, I'm getting a little bit closer to understanding how I can leave this world a little bit better than I found it. I'm writing about this today because I have taken a big step in the last month towards discovering my 3 circles.
But to provide context, and give you some concrete ideas for finding your hedgehog, I wanted to share my full journey...
As you can see, the first concept was very generic. I was truly passionate about becoming a great leader who believed in creating something bigger than myself.
I was also very disciplined and methodical in my pursuit of goals. So I believed that effectively using my willpower was my unique strength.
Finally, I believed my value to society was to build a great company, with a great purpose...but unfortunately, I had no idea what that company would be.
None of these were wrong, but they were not specific enough to be effective. I spent too much time focused on learning how to lead, how to run a startup, and how to understand team dynamics...rather than on the customer’s problem, or our solution.
So after 2 years, we simply didn't create enough value to stay in business…and my first hedgehog failed.
While reading startup business books and management books, I was also reading about how to become more productive.
This led me to my discovery of the science of willpower–my true passion.
I was passionate about leadership, yes, but the reason I was so passionate about leadership it was because I wanted to help bring the best out of myself and others.
Now I believed that the best way for me to do that was by teaching people more about their willpower and how to use it effectively. Not through motivational speeches, but through science.
So I started pursuing a PhD in performance psychology with the goal of becoming a researcher, a professor, and author of the science of willpower.
Unfortunately, I became restless and my life of academia ended quickly. I was ignoring my need for autonomy, tangible results, and practical application. I was ignoring my inner entrepreneur.
While taking classes, I also began blogging on the science of willpower. My audience, while small, was growing and people were engaging. So I decided my next venture was going to be turning that blog into a business.
I dropped out of my classes, took the money I saved for the PhD, and gave myself 6 months to figure out how to make a living off of Willpowered. That was 19 months ago.
Through that time, I discovered what it truly meant to be passionate.
There were a lot of chances for me to give up, stop trying to make Willpowered work, and move on – like I did with my first startup, and with academia.
But this time I truly loved the work I was doing everyday, and I refused to give up on it without a fight.
I pushed my comfort zone, overcame my weaknesses, and grew as a person with each passing day. So even though even though my bank balance continued to decrease, my happiness in life only increased.
The brutal fact, though, is that happiness doesn't put food on the table.
Even though I was learning and applying new skills to become a better researcher, writer, and entrepreneur – I was not providing enough value to fill that last circle of my hedgehog.
So as of last month, I had to give up working on Willpowered full time… I had to find a way to create more value.
This is wrong...I thought as I read yet another blogger who was passing off his opinion as scientific fact.
Like many others online, this author didn't cite any sources, link to any studies, or have any root in actual science. Worse yet, this person had an online course they were selling and also presented that as science!
I became infuriated.
Here was a person presenting himself as an expert only because he knew how to market himself online, not because he was an expert.
Meanwhile, my heroes of science – who are experts – are selling themselves short by confining their ideas to a book, when modern audiences clearly want more content options online.
Then I had to take a hard look in the mirror to realize I was part of the problem.
The reason why thousands of you have supported my work until now is not that I'm the "willpower expert." It's because I work hard to turn scientific research into compelling, relatable, and practical strategies packaged into the content you find valuable.
At that moment, everything clicked. I found my hedgehog.
I discovered the idea that lies entirely at the intersection of my passion, talent, and value I can bring to society.
I am building a platform that connects content creators who are always finding new, innovative ways to package their ideas into valuable online courses, with the actual experts of that content who have no idea these audiences even exist – and just how valuable their expertise truly is.
With the end goal to provide reliable, expert-quality information, presented through innovative, engaging instructors – to give every individual the opportunity to learn, grow, and achieve whatever greatness they seek.
Good is the enemy of great. Since I first read those words, I've tried to live them every day of my life.
I've constantly been searching, experimenting, and working toward finding the intersection of my passion, talent, and value–and I believe that now I have found it.
This is just the beginning, obviously, but the combination of my passion, talent, and value is crystal clear.
I cannot believe that I spent the last month sharing an inspiring vision with my heroes. One where their life's work is more valuable than they ever imagined, and where we can ensure that the best ideas, not the loudest voices, are the ones heard by the public.
Now I wake up every day believing that with great scientists and entrepreneurs by my side, together we are going to change the world. All because I didn't settle for "good."
So I wrote this post as a challenge for you to begin searching for your 3 circles.
Whatever your definition of greatness is, if you discover the intersection of your unique passion, talent, and value to society, you will leave this world a better place than you found it.
I look forward to seeing what you accomplish.
Resources to help you find your hedgehog
At the end of every year, I've asked myself these questions to increase my self-awareness and get closer to my hedgehog. As Jim Collins suggests, I've found it helpful to research myself as if I were an entirely new species to help gain better perspective.
See if these questions help you:
1. What does this species do on a daily basis?
2. What has it accomplished over the last year?
3. What has it accomplished in its lifetime?
4. What does it do differently than any other bug?
5. What can it be better than any other bug in the world at?
6. How is it a useful part of the ecosystem?
7. Why is it here? What is its purpose?