Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?











I picked up The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver. If you don't know him by name you definitely saw him during the election. He's a baseball statistics guru turned political forecaster who essentially predicted the last two elections. Silver introduces the idea of a being a hedgehog vs being a fox; which he borrowed from the essay The Hedgehog and the Fox by philosopher Isaiah Berlin.

Hedgehogs are type-A, headstrong, leader types who walk around like they have "the answer," often with little regard for whether that answer happens to be correct. They view the world through the lens of a single idea.  Think political pundits (whose predictions, Silver points out, are generally right about 50% of the time, which means they know essentially nothing) or TV weathermen, who know even less.

They're also the CMOs who wasted billions on banner ads that nobody ever sees, and continue throwing other billions into TV commercials that the audience is skipping or ads in newspapers that no one ever reads.

In our business, it means picking the biggest artist of the year for a tour sponsorship, even though the kids have already moved on. Or paying a celebrity to Tweet for you, even though she has massive reach and zero influence.

Clients these days want to know if Facebook is THE ANSWER, or maybe it's Pinterest.

My answer: Stop asking the wrong question.

Why? Because I'm like Nate, a fox. The fox doubts the power of the big idea. Guys like us aren't so concerned with being right. We want to find out the truth. And the truth is generally much more nuanced. There are often dozens, hundreds, or even millions of small answers that need to be aggregated, analyzed, and tested over time.

Foxes realize there are multiple approaches to a problem. This way is much harder and often less satisfying. Just about the only thing it has going for is accuracy.

Sounds simple right? But you may be more hedgehog than you think. So ask yourself the question: Are you a hedgehog or a fox?


"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog only one big thing"

-- Isaiah Berlin