Archive for November, 2012

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Hedgehogs and Foxes

In Nate Sliver’s new book, he mentions a classification system for experts, originally from Berkeley professor Philip Tetlock, along a spectrum of Fox <—> Hedgehog. (The nomenclature comes from an essay about Tolstoy.)

Hedgehogs are type A personalities who believe in Big Ideas. The are ideologues and go “all-in” on whatever they’re espousing. A great many pundits fall into this category.

Foxes are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking different approaches toward a problem, and are more tolerant of nuance, uncertainty, complexity, and dissent.

There are a lot of social situations (broadly construed) where hedgehogs seem to have the upper hand. Talking heads on TV are a huge example, but so are many fixtures in the tech world, Malcolm Gladwell, say. Most of the places I’ve worked at have at least a subtle hedgehog-bias toward hiring, promotions, and career development.

To some degree, I think this stems from a lack of self-awareness. Brash pundits come across better on the big screen; they grab your attention and take a bold stand for sometihing–who wouldn’t like that? But if you take pause and think about what they’re saying or (horror) go back an measure their predictions after-the-fact, they don’t look nearly so good. Foxes are better at getting things right.

It seems like we’ve just been through a phase of more-obnoxious-than-usual punditry, and I found this spectrum a useful way to look at things. How about you? Are you paying more attention to hedgehogs when you¬†probably¬†should be listening to the foxes?

-m

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