“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
“The Hedgehog and the Fox” was the title of a 1953 essay written by an Oxford philosopher named Isaiah Berlin. Berlin, using the furry little animals as metaphors, pointed out that humans are divided into two styles of thinking: The Hedgehogs who know one thing and know it well, and The Fox who knows a little bit of a lot of things but an expert in none.
Every day a battle ensues out in the wilderness. The hedgehog goes out, waddling around, searching for worms and beetles to feast on. He knows his trail and knows it well. After making his rounds he comes in with a full belly only to rest up and make his route again. The fox, on the other hand, spends his time roaming the mountains and woods searching for the hedgehog and other sources of food and planning his attacks. He doesn’t have a particular route that he focuses on, rather the searches for the hedgehog and plans attacks, mostly coming up empty handed. At the end of the day both the fox and the hedgehog end up eating something at least, but they go of different ways achieving it.
Hedgehogs are experts in what they know. A hedgehog-style thinker zones in and focuses on one big ticket item. They are passionate about it. They live, eat and breathe this one idea to the point where it operates out of their unconscious brain and are able to use this bias to make fast instinctual decisions – all which give preferential decisions to their underlying theory. A hedgehog thinker can take a large complicated concept and break it into a simple idea that falls into their vision of the world.
Foxes tend to fall into the category of being the Jack of All Trades, Master of None. These types of thinkers tend to be more scattered and full of multiple theories. While it is good to be knowledgeable about several topics, foxes tend to lack an unifying theme and a central vision which can send them in different paths at any given time. The good thing about this style of thinking is that one can apply various theories to an application and end up with completely different, albeit successful, results. The bad is you will never be an expert on a granular level about a subject and will constantly be maneuvering different paths.
So if we are looking for success which is the style of thinking we should adopt? The Hedgehog. Let me explain. Many good folks consider me to be an industry expert in sports and fitness supplements and it’s for a good reason. Over the past 15 years I zoned in and focused on this particular segment of a large scale much broader category of nutritional products. But by putting a 100% of my energy into this area allowed me to develop a position that led to the creation of new ideas and concepts that are being used and adopted by to this very day. I did it by learning anything and everything I could about the product space, the players, the pro’s, the con’s and keeping an open eye for opportunities. By turning it into a passion, obsession if you may, I was able figure out which concepts truly worked and were successful and built a central vision around it. And by creating this vision, any decision I made either unified with it or I dumped it as it was outside of my zone of focus. I knew one big thing and I knew it damn well.
Let’s use a poker player as another example. An expert player knows and understands all the complexities of the game and goes all-in (pun intended) when he sits down at the table. Learning the skills to be successful here, he had to truly know and understand the theory behind it and apply it while sitting at the big table. This is more then a game to the player, its a passion. He is the best at his craft, studying every gesture and movement, analyzing every bet like a scene out of Matt Damon’s Rounders. And when the time is right, he will take out his opponents one by one until a single all-in play gets him the crown. This player is a hedgehog.
So how do we align ourselves to this level of thinking? Here are some tips:
1) Find your passion. Find a field that you absolutely love working in and look forward to day in and day out. I once had a professor say “Follow your passions and the money will follow.” So find that first.
2) Become the expert. Learn anything and everything you can about this subject. It’s said that you need to spend 10,000 hours in any field in particular to become an expert in it. There are 24 hours in a day, so start now.
3) Create a vision supported by pillars. The pillars are to be the principles that you live and die by. Set a series of them up so when they are added up they equal out to one over arching vision and goal.
4) 100% Commitment. This is where you give a 100% unwavering total commitment to the cause. It’s your vision or the highway. Let your actions speak for themselves.
5) Go Go Go! Embark on this path and if something does not fit to your core principles, then drop it. Do not veer off. You are hedgehog. You operate based on a central vision with big plans and do not let anything get in your way.