Why it’s better to be a hedgehog than a fox

‘It’s not what’s happening to you now or what has happened in your past that determines who you become. Rather, it’s your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you’re going to do about them that will determine your ultimate destiny.’  Anthony Robbins

Isaiah Berlin extrapolated from the fox and hedgehog parable 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. They are ‘scattered and diffused, moving on many levels,’ says Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organising idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn’t matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple – almost simplistic – hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.

So why is it better to be a hedgehog than a fox? Princetown Professor Martin Bressler pointed out the power of the hedgehog in a study of successful companies. He maintains that being a hedgehog is what separates those companies who make the biggest impact from all the others who are just as smart. Freud and the unconscious, Darwin and natural selection, Marx and class struggle, Einstein and relativity, Adam smith and the division of labour – they were all hedgehogs. They took a complex world and simplified it. According to Bressler, ‘those who leave the biggest footprints have thousands calling after them, “Good idea, but you went too far!”‘ But as a result of their (often controversial) unifying concept, these others are commenting on their work and therefore making it spread like wildfire.

 In the book ‘Good to great’, Jim Collins and his research team found that those who built great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what the team came to call a hedgehog concept, which I will talk about in the next post. Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage that being a hedgehog provides, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.

Think carefully about your tendencies – whether you are more like a hedghog than a fox. Does your passion change with the wind, do you keep chasing dream after dream but never really completing anything? Be careful if this is the case – you are wasting precious time. Remember – hedghogs tend to leave the biggest footprint. Find what it is that you really want, and stick to it.

The time is now.

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Alexa Ispas

I am a social entrepreneur, blogger, and talent scout, interested in helping people who want to create legacy. I have recently completed my PhD thesis in social psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and am originally from Romania. I am writing a daily blog on creating legacy, which you can find at www.alexaispas.com