Hedgehogs and Foxes

At Ekkullen where I live, a hedgehog has nested under my neighbor's terrace. We rarely see him/her but sometimes during the late summer evenings we can catch a glimpse. Foxes are scares here, but I've seen some in the countryside striding across the fields.
Both hedgehogs and foxes are mythical creatures, although associated with different features. In 1953 the essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox" was published by philosopher Isaiah Berlin. It draws on the work of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus who states that "a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing". Apparently, Berlin wrote it as an intellectual game but it was taken quite seriously.

In the essay Berlin divides writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea and foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea. He claims that Plato, Dante, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Ibsen are hedgehogs and that Aristotle, Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, and Joyce are foxes. Although clearly lacking in gender awareness, Berlin doesn't favour any of the animals and they both seem to be very successful.

Management researcher Jim Collins is much more fond of hedgehogs. In his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't, he introduces the "Hedgehog Concept" as the intersection of the following three circles: (a) What you can be the best in the world at, (b) What drives your economic engine, and (c) What you are deeply passionate about. According to Collins it's not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at.

Blogger Abraham Kamarck is in contrast in favour of foxes. Similar to Berlin, he claims that you can be a fox by nature but a hedgehog of conviction, and use this in communication. However, sticking to one single thing in business when the environment is changing is not a good strategy. According to Kamarck, hedgehogs make great experts and often “win” TV debates, because they have a simple, easily communicated message. He has also looked into what happened to the great companies in Collins study and found out that they were "not not successful because they stuck to a single idea. In fact, quite the opposite, many of them radically departed from a proven strategy that had worked in the past…something a Hedgehog would never do!"
"The main lesson from the stories in Good to Great is that the companies created cultures that allowed them to adapt and switch directions (at that point in time). Collins’ Hedgehog Concept seems to miss this point." http://thefoxandthehedgehog.com/jim-collins-hedgehog-concept-is-wrong/
Recently the Economist used the hedgehog-fox distinction when discussing the merits of Clayton Christensen, famous for his theories on disruptive technologies. In the article, Christensen is described a being a hedgehog, clinging to a very narrow definition of disruptive innovation.
"In Mr Christensen’s theory, disruptive innovators are generally newcomers. But perhaps the most successful disrupter of recent years is an established firm—Apple—that has applied its mastery of technology and design to ever more areas. Mr Christensen greeted the arrival of the iPhone with a shrug: this was a “sustaining” rather than a disruptive innovation, with “limited” chances of success. He failed to see that Apple was reinventing an entire category of product, by turning the mobile phone into an all-purpose computer, entertainment system and shopping centre."
"Indeed, there are good reasons for thinking that this second kind of disruptive innovation may be more important than Mr Christensen’s: think of the threat that Google poses to carmakers, Facebook to newspapers and Apple to television stations. Back in 1995 Mr Christensen struck fear into executives by warning them that they could be put out of their jobs by companies they had never heard of. Today the biggest threats may come from people they talk about every day."
From Winter Collection 2015
I like both hedgehogs and foxes, the real ones, and I can see merits in both metaphors as well. I've also written a short story featuring a fox called "Raskar över isen". I found it difficult to translate because it is very Swedish in character, but I can give it a try should anyone insist.

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