Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How to be Great 2

Another of the great, writing related themes in Good to Great is called The Hedgehog Concept. There's lots of meat here, so I'm going to break it up into two different posts. So today we have:

The Hedgehog Concept: Part 1

The Hedgehog Concept is all about finding the right concept. The concept that is a hedgehog to build your business on. Allow me to explain.

Imagine a fox chasing a hedgehog around in the forest. When the moment comes for the fox to strike, what does the hedgehog do? It rolls up into a spiny ball and blocks the attack. Nothing fancy. Nothing flashy. Nothing grand. And yet it works every time.

Collins makes the case that all of these Great companies share the common trait of simplicity and consistency. There are no bells and whistles to what they do. No secret tricks that only the Big Guys know. No magic. These companies find a simple concept that works for them and go about consistently delivering it. That's it.

How does this relate to writing?

Well, of course "simplicity and consistency" in regards to writing could be interpreted in many different ways. What I related it to in my mind however, was the types of stories we write. The concepts.

I know when I start to develop a story ideas, sometimes I can get a bit carried away. I just want to make it AWESOME, you know? I feel the impulse to include numerous exciting elements and characters and crazy situations, and the next thing I know, the story that started off as a simple idea has turned into a huge, monstrous undertaking that's just too fancy for it's own good.

If you look at the most successful books out there, most of them are based on a simple concept. And they stay consistent to that theme through the entire book, meaning the book doesn't start off as, say, a girl who loves a werewolf and then turn into a high stakes legal battle of Big Business vs. the Little Guy. Or something like that.

We often hear the term "high concept," and I think it's applicable here. According to my definition, "high" concept is really another way of saying simple concept. Simple and consistent. A hedgehog.

The best stories out there don't try and go for flash or try to fill as many of the current trends and tropes as they can. They just have a simple concept, which they deliver with consistency.

Now, the obvious question left hanging here is: how do find these hedgehogs? Believe me folks, I've wondered this very thing. Coming up with a "high concept" idea or a "simple and consistent" idea is MUCH easier said than done.

But have no fear! In Part 2 (coming tomorrow,) I will show you Collins' formula for finding just such a concept. It's a model he's created from his study and interviewing of those Great Companies, so it's pretty legit, and I found it quite helpful.

Stay tuned . . .


Natalie Whipple said...

This is really interesting:) I often get told I come up with high concept ideas, but I don't try. I'm interested to see the formula.

Melissa said...

I am really enjoying this series. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Anonymous said...


Miriam S. Forster said...

Oh, good reminder!

Also, you may want to remove that comment above. The link is sketchy. (and I only know that because I got one on my blog a few weeks ago and left it up because I didn't realize...) :0

Natalie said...

Good stuff Renee. I think I put too much into my stories sometimes and they lose their punch. Simple is good.

Kasie West said...

I'm enjoying these good to great posts. Very helpful. And also, our husbands are very much alike. My husband like to read books like Freakanomics and other "useful" books as well. In fact, I wouldn't doubt if he's read this one. I'm going to ask him......

This is what he said: "Good to Great? Yeah, it's about companies that...."

That's where I cut him off and said, "I just wanted to know if you'd read it, no need to go into detail."

He laughed.