The Greek poet Archilochus once wrote: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” If you ever hunted a fox, you would know they love to use their intelligence and find creative ways to avoid danger. The term “sharp as a fox” holds true because foxes can think their way out of a problem. Meanwhile, the hedgehog, when in trouble, will curl into a huge ball lying still.
When it comes to leadership, some take the approach of a fox, while others follow the hedgehog behavior.
In 1953, Isaiah Berlin, a British-American philosopher, wrote that hedgehogs “relate everything to a single central vision... a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance.” Foxes, on the other hand, “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory... related to no moral or aesthetic principle.”
At times, unique leaders possess both qualities. Abraham Lincoln's leadership style was the best of both animals. He focused entirely on preserving the Union (Hedgehog) and used uniquely smart ways to help his cause (Fox).
Phillip Tetlock, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, broke down the Hedgehog and Fox theory in his book “Expert Political Judgement.”
Tetlock classified “hedgehogs as spectacularly right while also producing a lot of false alarms. The loud voices are hedgehogs. The meek soft warnings about problems come from the fox.”
Hedgehogs are big theory thinkers. They are experts in their field — will categorize things and break down problems into systems. Hedgehogs are sought after for their cognitive approaches. They are engaged in their tendency to ask provocative questions — which generate more questions. Always applying a central theory is the hedgehog's bias.
Foxes are full of multiple theories. Their fault is blending components that are by known convention unrelated. Because of their Swiss army knife approach, it appears that foxes get better results. Always applying various theories — even theories that do not apply — is the fox's bias.
So which one are you? These 10 questions might allow you to determine your style.
Do focus on one central theme?
Are you fond of best practices?
Do you start with a belief and then look for information to support it?
Do you apply conventional thinking to modern problems?
In the case of evaluating competitors, do you have a formula?
Do you evaluate lots of little things when researching a problem?
If someone asks you how to solve a business problem, do you ramble a bit and struggle to identify the best single approach?
Are you cautious of new or emerging technologies?
Does every situation require a new approach?
Are you quick to acknowledge your mistakes in business?
If the answer is yes to the majority of the first five questions and no to most of the last five, you think like a hedgehog. If you answered no to the majority of the first five questions and yes to most of the last five, you think like a fox.
Either way can work. The key is knowing who you are and how you can improve. Maybe you can become like Lincoln and use both.
Having a top notch law coach that instructs lawyers to excellence will make you the fox or hedge hog you should be.