Twelve years ago, Jim Collins’ book Good To Great was a breakthrough best seller. One of its most memorable anecdotes was in praise of the hedgehog:
An ancient Greek parable distinguishes between foxes, which know many small things, and hedgehogs, which know one big thing. All good-to-great leaders, it turns out, are hedgehogs. They know how to simplify a complex world into a single, organizing idea—the kind of basic principle that unifies, organizes, and guides all decisions.
Nate Silver’s breakthrough best seller from last year, The Signal And The Noise – written about making predictions in the world of increasing clutter – values the other animal in the parable duo. And it’s a good example of changing sensibilities in the Digital Age:
Hedgehogs, Silver says, are those who believe “in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws.” Foxes, by contrast, “are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem.”
The fox has come a long way in the last dozen years. Foxes see complexity, acknowledge nuance and aren’t afraid to test new ways. They adjust as necessary. And account for all the information available – even if it doesn’t fit their preexisting framework. As a result, they consider more. Have a broader perspective. And, Silver argues, make better predictions.
Being able to simplify the complex has always been important. But has never been more so. The ability to consider more from more sources has earned the fox not just a seat at the conference room table – but an increasingly important voice.
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