October 14


Leadership hack 013 – be the fox and not the hedgehog

‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’.

Isaiah Berlin

Are you someone who sees the world very clearly?  Do you have firmly held views one subject?  Or do you operate in shades of grey, where there are no right answers?

The rise of popularism in politics is clear.  The US presidential race and the UK’s decision to leave the EU are two examples where both sides attempted to distill complex arguments in simple soundbites.  Business leaders have also sought simplification.  Many companies now outline their brand in words and not sentences.  For example

  • Apple – think differently
  • Nike – just do it
  • HTC – quietly brilliant
  • Nokia – connecting people
  • Bosch – invented for life

While these simplification and sound bits are useful, Einstein commented, “Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler”.   Oversimplification means that you lose the nuance of an argument or topic.  Isaiah, in his essay ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’, argues that there are two types of people.  Hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea and Foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea.

Hedgehogs have a vision about how the world works. To the hedgehogs the world in clear cut, simple and easy to forecasts. Hedgehogs are so bound up in their ‘one idea’ that they see disagreement as a personal attack and do not empathise with alternative viewpoints.  When their predictions fail hedgehogs are not wrong, they are “off only on timing” or “close enough”.

Foxes, by contrast, see that the relationship between cause and effect is complex and rarely clear, except possibly in hindsight.  Foxes are more likely to change their minds and be more flexible, and they are more likely to acknowledge the role of luck or chance.

So what is it better to be a fox or a hedgehog?  While there have only been few studies looking specifically at this, both Daniel Kahneman (see Thinking Fast and Slow) and Tetlock (see Superforecasting) both think that foxes make better leaders, as they are more likely to be able to deal with the unexpected, deal with ambiguity and be more empathetic.


Are you a fox or a hedgehog  Take the test below. Write down the answer then look at the scoring.

  1. Do you think you are a fox or a hedgehog?
  2. Scholars are usually at greater risk of exaggerating how complex the world is than they are of underestimating how complex it is
  3. We are closer than many think to achieve parsimonious explanations of politics
  4.  I think politics is more cloudlike than clocklike (“cloudlike” meaning inherently unpredictable; “clocklike” meaning perfectly predictable if we have adequate knowledge).
  5. The more common error in decision making is to abandon good ideas too quickly, not to stick with bad ideas too long.
  6. Having clear rules and order at work is essential for success.
  7. Even after I have made up my mind about something, I am always eager to consider a different opinion.
  8. I dislike questions that can be answered in many different ways.
  9. I usually make important decisions quickly and confidently.
  10. When considering most conflict situations, I can usually see how both sides could be right.
  11. It is annoying to listen to someone who cannot seem to make up his or her mind.
  12. I prefer interacting with people whose opinions are very different from my own.
  13. When trying to solve a problem I often see so many options that it is confusing.



Add your score up, if it is negative you are more likley to be a hedgehog, if your score is positive you are more likey to be a fox.

  1. +7 points for fox, -7 for a hedgehog
  2. yes = -3 points
  3. yes = -5 points
  4. yes = -5 points
  5. yes = -2 points
  6. yes = -2 points
  7. yes = 5 points
  8. yes = -6 points
  9. yes = -4 points
  10. yes = 5 points
  11. 11 yes = -3 points
  12. yes = 4 points
  13. yes = 1 point





Link to the essay