Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?
There are many times when we’re trying to figuring out how to position who we are and what we do (our Red Threads) for a particular situation: switching jobs, or expanding our business into a new industry. We want to figure out, based on what we’ve done before, whether, if, and how it’s going to work, and how to talk about it.
When you’re faced with these questions, you should ask yourself: are you a fox or a hedgehog? This concept was popularized by Isaiah Berlin, based on a saying by an ancient Greek poet, “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one important thing.” The fox has many different ways to try and get the hedgehog, but the hedgehog’s spines are a pretty effective defense, no matter what the fox may try.
Foxes are people who can’t boil the world into one simple concept. You can think of Matt Damon, who, even though he’s still recognizably Matt Damon, is able to disappear into a wide variety of roles. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, have one lens through which everything makes sense to them. An example that might be helpful here is Sam Elliott, who is pretty much the same wizened cowboy in every movie that he’s in. There are also combinations of these two, foxy hedgehogs or hedgehog-y foxes, someone like Christopher Walken who can be very much himself but also started as a musical theater actor on Broadway.
If you’re trying to figure if you’re a fox or a hedgehog, or somewhere in between, go back and look at those core pieces of your Red Thread. What are the types of Problems you’re drawn to solve, and what Changes are you after? Is it constrained to one subject, or is it about a skill? The former is more hedgehog-y, the latter is more foxy.
Because the Red Thread allows us to tell any story in a way that makes sense to anyone else, no matter what you are you can figure out how to represent your foxy qualities as hedgehog-y ones or vice versa. You talk about how your depth of knowledge in a skillset can apply elsewhere, or you can map out your skills to show how they work with deep subject matter. Whatever you are, remember that you already have a powerful story that you’re already telling. Make sure your Red Thread makes sense to you, and then you’ll find the way to make it make sense to others.
- In Life, Who Wins? The Fox or the Hedgehog? – Wall Street Journal
- The Hedgehog and the Fox – Wikipedia
- The Red Thread Weekend
- The Red Thread Worksheet
– Are you a fox, or are you a hedgehog? Either way, The Red Thread can help you figure it out. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com, and that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread.
So, are you a fox or are you a hedgehog? And you’re probably still wondering, “Which one am I?” It comes down to an ancient Greek poet, who once said that the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one important thing. A fox has many different skills and tools at his or her disposal to catch the hedgehog. Hedgehog has its spikes, and they work most of the time.
How does this translate to you, and why would you care? Well, I think you might care because there are a lot of times where we’re trying to figure out how to position who we are, what we do, our Red Threads, for a particular situation. We are trying to get a new job, for instance. Or maybe we’re trying to pivot our message. Or maybe we’re trying to expand our business into a new vertical or industry. And we’re trying to figure out, based on what we did before, whether, if, and how that’s going to work and how to talk about it.
The fox and the hedgehog concept was popularized by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin. He used it to describe two groups of people. For him, the foxes were people who couldn’t boil the world down into one simple concept. That was a strength for them. In this case, he’s talking about people like Aristotle and Shakespeare. He also saw that there were hedgehogs, people who boil down the world into one big concept, where they had one lens through which everything made sense to them. He included people like Plato and Dante here.
Now, none of that may be clear for you, so let me bring it into current day, and let’s look at it through the terms of actors. So I’m going to consider an actor that buries himself in the role, who really disappears in the role, as being a foxy kind of actor. In this category, I’d put someone like Matt Damon, who, even though he’s recognizably Matt Damon, that, depending on which movie he’s in, he really becomes a different person. It’s hard to see Matt Damon in there.
Contrast that with a very hedgehog-y actor, like Sam Elliott, whose name may not be familiar to you, but you know his voice and you absolutely know his look because anytime anybody needs wizened cowboy, out they trot Sam Elliott because he just looks and sounds like a cowboy.
Now the solution to all of this, the idea we have to understand is that sometimes, there are very powerful combinations of these two, where there are foxy hedgehogs and hedgehog-y foxes. From an actor’s standpoint, I’d put somebody like Christopher Walken in that. Sometimes he’s very much Christopher Walken, and yet, there are many, many things he can do. Did you know he started as a musical actor in Broadway shows? He can still dance and sing, it’s amazing.
The same thing is true for you. And you may think of a current concept that captures these same ideas, when people talk about T-shaped people, people who have a depth of knowledge in one area, that’s a hedgehog-y thing, but can spread it across to different industries, verticals, et cetera, that’s the fox aspect. Alternatively, there are people who are foxes, who have skills and approaches that they can seemingly apply to any number of different areas. Lots of communicators, marketers, messagemakers fall into that category. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about. We just know how to put that message together.
What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re trying to figure out if you’re a fox or a hedgehog or some combination between, go back and look at those core pieces of your Red Thread. What are the problems and the types of problems you’re drawn to solve? Is it very much constrained to one subject? Or is it about a skill? ‘Cause a subject hints at a hedgehog. A skill hints at a fox.
The same thing can be true for the changes that you implement, the tools, the skills, and approaches you use to solve those problems and achieve your goals. Again, is that skill-based solutions, or is it subject-based knowledge? Or is it somewhere in between?
No matter which one you consider yourself, a hedgehog, a fox, or a foxy hedgehog, or a hedgehog-y fox, the good news is because the Red Thread allows us to tell any story in a way that makes sense to anyone else. You can think through how to represent your foxy qualities as hedgehog-y ones, or hedgehog-y ones as foxy ones.
Here’s what I mean. You can talk about how your depth of knowledge in skill set would take what normally would be a foxy thing and given that depth of knowledge, now it starts to appeal to someone who is looking for a hedgehog. Reverse can also be true; if you have extraordinarily deep subject matter, start to look through what are the skills and the universal pieces of how you do your job that could be mapped out to other places. The same thing can be true for a business that’s trying to figure out how to apply what they do in one area, let’s say pharmacology, to another area, maybe electronics.
Whatever you are, and yes, this is just a fun way to think about things, but whatever you are, remember that you have a powerful story that you’re already telling. Make sure it makes sense to you, and then you will find absolutely the best ways to make sure it makes sense to other people, no matter whether you are a fox or a hedgehog.
If you want help finding your own red thread, go to FindYourRedThread.com, and there you’ll find a Red Thread worksheet. If you want some help doing that, go to Red Thread Weekend, where you can look for the next dates where you can sign up and join a small group of people for one-on-one and group coaching about finding your own Red Thread. Thanks so much for joining us. I’m Tamsen Webster, TamsenWebster.com.