The philosopher Isiah Berlin wrote an essay called ‘The Hedgehog and The Fox’ in which he contrasted two thinking styles: one which views the world via a single big idea (hedgehog) and one which utilizes scattered information and experience, to interpret through a more diffuse lens (fox):
“Hedgehogs relate everything to a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance.” Foxes, on the other hand, “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, … their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects.”
In Expert Political Judgement , Philip Tetlock takes this further to analyze political forecasting. He finds – no suprise here – that so called experts are little better than chimps in their predictive accuracy and not quite as good as computer algorithms.
But what he also found was that fox thinkers were better at prediction than hedgehogs.
Ironically though, most of the forecasting we are exposed to comes from hedgehogs, who constantly banging on about their big single idea, get more attention, more soundbites, more searches on Google.
You may want to brighten up life this week by asking about those you meet: ‘Am I seeing metaphorical spines sticking out of flesh here – or is there a bushy red tail tucked under that bottom?’
And remember, where it’s advice you’re after, go for the scavenger every time.