Foxy Thinking

July 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Many of us are familiar with the concept of the Hedgehog and the Fox originally sited in an essay by British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin where he divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes based on their ways of thinking and being in the world. The hedgehog knows one big thing as compared to the fox who darts from idea to idea.  This concept was most recently brought into strategic planning and nonprofit management circles by Jim Collins through his well read monograph, “Good to Great and the Social Sectors“. There he talks about discovering your “hedgehog” by asking three fundamental questions: What are you most passionate about? What are you best in the world at? And what drives your resource engine? The theory of the case is that your hedgehog, your one big idea, your strategic direction, lies in the answers to these questions.

Well, apparently, that was then and this is now!!! Oh yeah, the age of the fox!!! I am currently reading the “Age of the Unthinkable” by Joshua Cooper Ramo in which he describes the work of Philip Tetlock, political scientist and psychologist in determining the differences in capacity to predict the short-term future (5 years) by a variety of experts in economics, politics and international relations. They sorted the experts into optimists/pessimists, left/right and hedgehogs/foxes. And what did they discover??? They discovered that the only reliable predictor of success was the one that divided the hedgehogs and the foxes. And the low scorers were…..the hedgehogs. It’s not that the foxes knew more or less about the issue (they were all experts), it was how they acquired and updated their knowledge. The more curious they were, the more wide-ranging their interest, the more accurate. The one big idea folks want is closure. To know completely. To have the answer.

So, it seems that what we are learning is that it’s no longer what and how much we know but rather how we think and perceive that is required in today’s world!!!

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  • Curtis says:

    Good points, Marianne. And I would say both/and – that what we know continues to be important, as is how we think.

  • Linda says:

    Intriguing! One little point. I had understood the hedgehog and fox concept somewhat differently – that the “hedgehog” interprets everything through one big, centralizing concept (race, collaboration, love, justice, structural transformation, whatever), while the “fox” mixes many concepts to understand the world. So it wasn’t one idea but rather one conceptual lens. Meanwhile, I’ve often wondered what REAL foxes and hedgehogs would think of all being categorized as the same kind of thinkers!

    I’d love to read Tetlock’s research too. Any chance you could share those citations?

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