Isaiah Berlin wrote about how the world can be divided into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Every day, the fox circles around the hedgehog’s den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox.
“Aha, I’ve got you now!” thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, “Here we go again. Will he ever learn?” Rolling up in to a tight little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The fox, sees the hedgehog defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.
Berlin extrapolated to divide people into two basic groups; foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity . Compared to the foxes’ ‘scatteredness’ or diffused way of moving on many levels and not integrating their thinking into one overall concept of unifying vision, hedgehogs reduces all dilemmas and challenges to simple (or even almost simplistic) hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance. Jim Collins mentioned this story too in his book Good to Great and he explores the Hedgehog Concept further here on his website.
I’m ok with the underlying logic behind this story. However, to just be a hedgehog all the time? I’m not so sure. At the same time, I’m thinking –
not everything is so black and white.
the best way is to use what works for each case while at the same time maintaining one core intention or principle that I’ll always maintain my integrity in solving what I need to solve.
and maybe, just maybe –
I, too, have the potential to be great.
*image courtesy of cartoonstock.com