In Berlin’s famous essay ‘The hedgehog and the fox’, he makes reference to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus who wrote:

The fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.

The fox is a cunning creature. If you’ve lived in a city, you’d know exactly what I mean. The fox tries many different ways to attack the hedgehog by its speedy yet silent approach to it. However, each time the hedgehog knows one thing: to curl up into a ball and be protected by its spikes. Hedgehogs can see through the complexity of the world with piercing insight and discern any underlying patterns- cutting through the cunning fox’s plans.

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great explains that the best companies has what he calls Hedgehog Concepts.

Jim Collins states that a Hedgehog Concept is “a simple crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles”.

The three circles in his Venn diagram consist of:

  • What you are deeply passionate about.
  • What you can be the best in the world at.
  • What drives your economic engine.

I’d like to unpick the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept in the context of a school.

What are we deeply passionate about?

What are the unique passions that you have for your school and how you lead it? Maybe it’s how you operate or what you do. It’s what wakes you up in the morning and keeps you up at night. It might be an idea -whether it is developed or not. Your mind might’ve started joining dots up. It might be deeply held values that underpin everything you do.

What can we be the best in the world at?

This comes with an understanding. A moment in time when someone thinks to themselves ‘I could be the best at this’. Every school is unique. I have never walked into two schools that are exactly the same. There are many variables, whether it is the leadership, interaction with research, the demographics of the school, the size of the school etc. If you’re struggling to think about what you could be the best in the world at, it might be worth crossing off the list some things that you know you can’t be the best in the world at.

What drives our economic engine?

This is where Collins made me think hard. For schools, there are no so-called economic engines. Instead, we are driven by ensuring that no child is left behind. I don’t have steel or insurance to sell but as a teacher, I do have futures in my hands. We need to ensure that every child progresses and not just in the core subjects but across the curriculum.

So, I wonder are you a hedgehog or a fox?