What Is The Hedgehog Concept? The Story Behind the Seahawks


The NFL football season is nearly upon us— just a few more weeks until the regular season begins. But you may be asking yourself, "What is the hedgehog concept and what does it have to do with football?" To get you ready, here is the recent story of the Seattle Seahawks.

In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks began renovating it's team with the addition of Pete Carroll as Head Coach and John Schneider as General Manager, following a 5-11 season. These two men started to build their own culture that would lead them to success.

The following two seasons would yield 7-9 records, but they would finally have their culture, and team identity, set and engrained into the organization. In 2012, they finished with an 11-5 record, losing in the playoffs. While it isn't the Super Bowl, it could still be considered a successful run by many organizations.

Then, this past year, in 2013, the Seattle Seahawks proved themselves to be the best team in the NFL by winning the Super Bowl. Not only that, but they finished with a 13-3 regular season record and placed 26th in pass offense, 4th in rush offense, 1st in pass defense and 7th in rush defense — effectively making them the best defense in the NFL.

But how did they turn an entire organization upside down in a matter of years?

The Hedgehog Concept

The hedgehog concept, outlined by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great in 2001, is based on a greek poem in which a fox continually tries and fails to eat a hedgehog.

So, what does this have to do with the Seattle Seahawks, let alone your own business?

Simple. It's about defining an identity for success. The fox, though sly and cunning, tried to eat the hedgehog in every way he could think of. However, the hedgehog knew how to do one thing, and he could do that one thing very well. He could could curl up into a ball and protect himself. So, whenever the fox would come around, the hedgehog will roll up into a ball and the fox couldn't touch him.

Collins speculated that if companies tried to be more like a hedgehog, instead of a fox, they would be more successful. The take away from the story is that to be the best in the world at one thing is far better than being good at a multitude of things.

As for how this relates to the Seattle Seahawks, if you have ever talked to someone who knows football, or know football yourself, you'll know the saying, "Defense Wins Championships." This is how the Seahawks won the Super Bowl with defense. As you could see above, a number 1 rated pass defense is nothing to scoff at, just ask Peyton Manning and his number 1 rated pass offense. However, the Seahawks are only the most recent team to pull off winning the Super Bowl with an outstanding defense. It has happened before.

The Baltimore Ravens in 2000 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 are two more recent examples.

What set these teams apart from others is they based their identity on their defense. They realized that they could have the best defense in world and embraced it. Their offense was an extension of their defense. It was made to control the clock and limit turnovers by running the ball. Their pass offense was built off their running game and they had a Quarterback that understood how to play the game. Everything they did and were spawned from their defense.

But what separated the Seahawks is their ability, thanks to the culture created by Pete Carroll and John Schneider, to not shove a square peg into a round hole. Instead, their organization made the hole after they found the peg. This philosophy allowed them to create the best schemes in the NFL and have the best personnel, because every player was able to do what they were best at.

Applying the Hedgehog Concept to your Business

Identifying your hedgehog concept can prove to be difficult. Oftentimes it will directly correlate with your company's why, start with what you are deeply passionate about. Next, assess what your company can and cannot be the best in the world at. The final piece to the puzzle is to discuss what your company's "economic engine" is. In other words, identify where your profit structure is rooted.

At the intersection of the answer to these three questions you will find your "one big thing" — your brand identity, your hedgehog concept.

"Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline." - Jim Collins

Jim Collins offers tools to help you create your hedgehog concept on his website JimCollins.com. If you are interested in watching videos or listening to audio of the hedgehog concept, there is a compilation right here.


Once you know your identity, you have to commit to it and believe whole heartily in it, just like the Super Bowl Winning Seattle Seahawks. If you know your "one big thing," but never truly commit to it, you will end up like the Cleveland Browns, with all the talent in the world on defense, but still have a losing record.

Disclaimer: I'm not an ESPN insider, this may or may not be the true story behind how the Seahawks become successful, but it certainly makes sense doesn't it? That said, ESPN, if your looking for a new insider I'm your guy.

If your looking for information about why the Super Bowl 50 winning Denver Broncos are like an Inbound Marketing team, check this out.

Photo Credit: Seattle Seahawks

Hunter Liptrap

Hunter Liptrap

Creative Director at Modgility
Hunter is Certified Inbound Marketing, Growth Driven Design, and HubSpot Design. He has a passion for the conversion rate optimization process. With 3 years of experience he has designed and built multiple websites across various industries.

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