Hedgehogs—An Unscientific Postscript

As I have written before, I am one who likes the message of Jim Collins.  In his latest book, Jim Collins Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, Collins delves more deeply into the ‘Hedgehog Concept’ and explains why it is the key to building a great company. In the book, he states: To build an enduring great organization you need disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action to produce superior results and make a distinctive impact in the world. Then you need the discipline to sustain momentum over a long period of time and to lay the foundations for lasting endurance. This forms the backbone of the framework, laid out as four basic stages:

  • Stage 1: Disciplined People
  • Stage 2: Disciplined Thought
  • Stage 3: Disciplined Action
  • Stage 4: Building to Last

What’s the Flywheel

The flywheel fits into stage 3, Disciplined Action and is the execution portion of the stages.  In the book, Collins shares his own Flywheel and reinforces the axiom that we all understand and that is the importance of getting your team to understand your vision and then get to work…like the hedgehog, fixated on the goal and tenacious until it is done.

Collins shares examples of companies who build enduring great organizations, he gives examples of what they’re flywheels look like, and how you can build your own.  As a business person, you understand this principle that is shared by Collins, “In creating a good-to-great transformation, there’s no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, it feels like turning a giant, heavy flywheel. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward. You keep pushing, and with persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You don’t stop. You keep pushing. The flywheel moves a bit faster. Two turns . . . then four . . . then eight . . . the flywheel builds momentum . . . moving faster . . . a hundred thousand. Then at some point—breakthrough! The flywheel flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum.”

Many times we’re tempted to believe there is a single defining action, a miracle moment that makes us successful.  Collins writes:  “The greatest danger in business and life lies not in outright failure but in achieving success without understanding why you were successful in the first place.”

An Example of a successful Flywheel --Amazon

In the fall of 2001 Jeff Bezos hired Collins to teach him and a few members of his executive team “the flywheel effect.”  Amazon’s team deployed the flywheel concept to articulate the momentum machine to drive the enterprise to be its best.  Bezos infused Amazon to obsessively create more value forever more customers. Collins shares, “It’s a powerful animating force—perhaps even a noble purpose—but the key differentiator lay not just in “good intent” but in the way Bezos and company turned it into a repeating loop.”

The flywheel turned, building momentum. Push the flywheel; accelerate momentum. Then repeat. Bezos considered Amazon’s application of the flywheel concept “the secret sauce.”

The power of a great flywheel should never be underestimated.  It builds compounding momentum over a very long time. Once you get your flywheel right, you want to renew and extend that flywheel for years to decades—decision upon decision, action upon action, turn by turn—each loop adding to the cumulative effect.  At Adept Solutions, it is our goal to help you find technology that will accelerate your ‘flywheel’ so you can implement that disciplined action even faster.