Hedgehogs and Foxes
1 min read

Hedgehogs and Foxes

Hedgehogs know one big thing. Foxes know many little things. Hedgehogs are experts with deep expertise in one specific domain. This narrow and deep expertise supplies them with a rationale for decision-making. Foxes are integrators — they collect nuggets of wisdom from different domains of expertise and base their decision-making on broad integrated reasoning. In other words, while hedgehogs know one big thing about one specific domain, foxes know many little things from many different domains, the sum of which totals into one big integrated thing.

Quiet unsurprisingly then, foxes are better in communicating and sharing knowledge with others as their knowledge depends on interacting with a variety of experts and domains and pulling needed information. They will not have enough time to dig deep into each of domains of interest and the simple solution is to go ask the person who knows a lot.

Another way of thinking about this is to think of the leaders and the operators. The operator performs one function or several functions within one domain, as such he has a deep expertise within that functionality. The leader manages several operators, each working within different functional domain. The leader does not have a deep expertise in any of these functional areas, and yet, he is the one who takes decisions. He pulls information and expertise from operators, combines their different inputs into an integrated view of what is happening now and what needs to be done in the future.

I read about these two cool animals and what they represent from David Epstein’s book called Range. I suggest to get read if you haven’t. The book is a direct opposite to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers that suggest that people who start specialization early are the most successful. In opposite, Epstein argues that people who have tried many things in life before finding their place are the most successful. This description may not sound accurate, but you get the general idea — difference between outliers and ranges are worth of an essay in itself.

The idea does not originally come from Epstein, but his summary of it was compelling enough for me. I symphatize with the idea of having an aggregate view on things. View that integrates a variety of different approaches to describe the complex reality. Often, there is no single truth, but a network of interconnected and/or parallel events creating a complex phenomenon. This is my social science academic training speaking.