Friday, June 27, 2008

Simple, Simple, Simple?

Best-selling management researcher Jim Collins (Good to Great) proposes the “hedgehog concept”. This is popular today as a Church growth principle. A hedgehog does just one thing really well: it rolls up into a ball, and so outsmarts the slyest fox. Therefore, writes Collins, if you want to know how to succeed in an undertaking, discover your hedgehog concept (Collins J 2001:90). In Collins’ view, Einstein, Darwin, Marx -- not to speak of the “greats” in business -- “took a complex world and simplified it” (:91). So it’s all about “simple, simple, simple ideas” (:95). Yet Collins notes that a simple idea needs to be based upon “deep insight” and “deep understanding along three key dimensions”. These dimensions, it so happens, are each subtle and far-reaching -- as an example, one’s personal emotional make-up, which even Collins describes as “soft and fuzzy” (:109) -- not to speak of that “deep understanding”. In fact, did not Einstein, Darwin, and Marx -- apart from the others Collins presents -- have a wizardly understanding of their so-called “simple, simple, simple ideas”? In short, while the hedgehog concept may have some merits, Collins himself would seem to say too much that undermines it. QUESTION: Is a hedgehog concept really that “simple, simple, simple”? May it genuinely be useful?

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