When Jim Hoolihan stepped in as Blandin Foundation President in 2004, he brought with him Jim Collin’s book “Good to Great” and engaged the foundation staff and board in a discussion of “What is the foundation’s hedgehog?” Collins got the term from Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” which Berlin had in turn developed from an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

According to Collins, the Hedgehog Concept is the secret of taking any organization or enterprise from Good to Great. It is found at the intersection of three circles:

Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept

As global competition continues to challenge Minnesota’s forest products industry, policy makers and practitioners have a timely opportunity to ask: what is the hedgehog for Minnesota’s forests?

This conversation has already started. The October meeting of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Forestry Affairs Committee included a discussion of outcomes of the Minnesota Forest Resource Partnership’s October 16-17 Productivity Conference. Allison Rajala asked, “But do we have a shared common understanding of what we mean by “productivity?” Is it boards and cords and volume of fiber? Or is it something else?”

This question got raised again a week or so later at an initial gathering of a group of folks who have signed on to participate in a study tour project with the foundation that we’re calling: “Seeing the Forest AND the Trees: How to Make the Most of Minnesota’s Woods.” The year long effort will involve study tours in the Great Lakes region and in Scandinavia. The project was originally framed around “improving forest productivity,” and as such we hope it can provide additional arms and legs and hearts and minds for the important work the Minnesota Forest Resources Partnership (MFRP) has undertaken with its productivity conference series. The Forest AND the Trees group is just getting started, and we’re at the stage of refining our learning objectives.

Project staff asked tour participants for feedback on several draft key learning objectives, including this one:

  • We want to learn (from what we see in Scandinavia) how to maximize growth/yield while ensuring biologically diverse and sustainable forests.

Carlton Owen, one of the study tour participants, spoke up right away to say that he thought we were barking up the wrong tree, so to speak.

Carlton, who had joined us from Greenville South Carolina, is President and CEO of the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The Endowment was created in late 2006 with a commitment of $200 million arising from a softwood lumber trade agreement between Canada and the U.S.

Reminding us that the forest products industry is now a globalized sector, Carlton pointed out that given Minnesota’s soils and climate, our state will never be able to compete globally on yield, or on any quantitative measure of productivity.

Minnesota’s forestry hedgehog, he proposed, was not in quantity of wood or fiber harvested, but in the quality of the trees grown and the quality of the products made from those trees.

What do you think?

Please leave a reply below and share with us YOUR definition of “forest productivity.” Or any other thoughts you may have about Minnesota’s forestry hedgehog.