What can you learn from a Hedgehog? Tips on cognitive style, self-development and career choices

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,”

-Archilochus 1

The Hedgehog and Fox Cognitive Style Theory

It is quite astounding that sometimes just a person’s phrase gets to turn into a theory someday. Based on Archilochus’ famous quote, Isaiah Berlin suggested in his work “The Hedgehog and the Fox” (1953), that people can be divided into foxes or hedgehogs 1. Some psychologists posited that this theory helps people to understand their decision-making style, attitude, problem-solving style and forecasting skill 4. In a study by Philip Tetlock (2006) 4, Tetlock was able to evaluate cognitive styles of experts using personality tests and subsequently classify them as foxes or hedgehogs. It was found that foxes can make better forecasts than hedgehogs. So do you think that you are a fox or hedgehog?

Hedgehog Characteristics

Hedgehogs are usually specialists that dwell great deal of time in few great issues to know them through and through 4. Being a stalwart person, hedgehogs prefers to stick to the same approach and always refine new information to match with their original ideas 4. As they are also ideological, hedgehogs often expect solutions to be devolved from a grand theory 4. They are also organized individuals that are goal oriented, possess clear rules and always strive for clarity and control 1. In relation to that, hedgehogs usually prefer to work in structured environments where information are easily classified and managed 1. Basically, situations involving yes-no or right-wrong decisions are what favored by hedgehogs 1. However, due to such preferences, hedgehogs are usually uncomfortable with uncertainty and may have hard time accepting information that does not match their way of thinking 1.

Fox Characteristics

Despite their metaphors for being cunning, foxes are actually ‘Jacks of all trades’. They are multidisciplinary and are always welcoming of different approaches and ideas 4. Due to that preference, foxes are highly adaptable people that can be tolerant of uncertainties and complexities 4. As they are more to empirical approaches, foxes believe in observation more than theory 4. They also prefer statistical and qualified information. Foxes propensity to accept multiple ideas and ability to work in uncertainties may also be their downfall. This is because foxes may experience information overload and confusion that may hinder their ability to communicate or act adequately 1.

The Hedgehog Concept

Building on the hedgehog characteristics put forth by Berlin, Collins in his book ‘Good to Great’ introduced the Hedgehog Concept that he posited to be the key to success for organizations and professionals 3. The foundation of this concept is based on the specialist characteristic of hedgehogs. The analogy is that hedgehogs only need to use their spiny hairs for protection. Hedgehogs do not need multiple strategies and that their one specialized strategy is easy to employ yet very effective 3. Collins argues that it is very crucial for organizations to identify their Hedgehog Concept to be competitive in the corporate arena and social sectors 3. Howbeit, it should be reminded that this concept is applicable not only to organizations, but it can also act as guides for career choices and self-development. Johnson posited that the Hedgehog concept can help to pinpoint and support the primary reason for our existence 3.