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This week, we meet a Halloween monster: the FOXHOG! A miraculous beast that turns uncertainty into certainty. But before we dive in, an announcement. I'll be doing a Breaking Smart workshop at the Guggenheim in New York next week. While the workshop is invite-only, NYC readers may be interested in the associated Azone summit on Saturday, Nov 7 (free), where I'll be on a panel, and also in the online Azone Futures Market experiment (also free) where you can trade future scenarios.
 
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The Foxhog. Illustration by Grace Witherell.
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1/ If you've been following my work, you know I have a minor obsession with Isaiah Berlin's fox and hedgehog archetypes

2/ I'm not alone, the fox is the spirit animal of forecasting site, FiveThirtyEight and Philip Tetlock's work on forecasting. The hedgehog is the motif of great companies in Jim Collins' work

3/ The fox/hedgehog philosophy begins with Greek philosopher Archilocus'  observation that "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." 

4/ The tl;dr is this: the fox archetype is associated with multiple-model thinking, while the hedgehog is associated with single big models.

5/ At the risk of oversimplifying, hedgehogs stand for execution focus, while foxes stand for better situation awareness and agility.

 
6/ While I'm not convinced by Jim Collins' argument that big companies should be hedgehog-like, I'm willing to concede hedgehog-nature a slight edge beyond a certain scale.
 
7/ But for small organizations, private sector startups in particular, pure hedgehog nature means barreling full-speed down a dead-end path, no pivots.
 
8/ On the other hand, a pure fox nature is not great either, since it creates a next-shiny-new-thing pattern of distractability: everything is a reason to pivot. 
 
9/ Entrepreneurs need both aspects in their nature. Of the Big 5 personality traits, they score higher on BOTH openness to experience and conscientiousness.
 
10/ Openness to experience is the basic foxy trait. It means you are constantly paying attention to the environmental context and responding to it. This is the root of agile maneuverability.
 
11/ Conscientiousness is the basic hedgehog trait. It means you are a detail-oriented finisher capable of tenaciously sticking to an idea till it works.
 
12/ How do these two contradictory traits fit into the same personality? The trick is to listen to everything, but also say no to almost everything.
 
13/ A classic fox says YES! to everything and chases down every shiny new possibility. A classic hedgehog is mostly blind to new possibilities, so saying yes or no is moot.
 
14/ But the defining trait of a foxhog is paying attention to everything and saying NO! to almost all of them. The operative term there is almost. 
 
15/ If a 100 new alluring little foxy ideas, insights and observations hit you every week, and can pick out the 1 that is worth responding to, you're a foxhog.
 
16/ On a day to day basis, the execution behaviors of a foxhog are almost indistinguishable from those of a hedeghog. They do the same thing most of the time.
 
17/ On a day to day basis, the sensemaking and observation/appreciation behaviors of foxhogs are the indistinguishable from those of foxes. Both update their mental models constantly and rapidly.
 
18/ But once in a while, the fox half decides to pass something along to the hedgehog half, and the latter trusts the intel enough to change course. That makes the difference between winning and losing.
 
19/ The net effect of this personality profile is that the foxhog can live in a highly uncertain environment, and be responsively engaged within it, yet create a high-certainty execution context.
 
20/ This ability to turn uncertainty into certainty is the key to both entrepreneurial effectiveness and all other kinds of breaking smart.
Feel free to forward this newsletter on email and share it via the social media buttons below. You can check out the archives here. First-timers can subscribe to the newsletter here

Check out the 20 Breaking Smart Season 1 essays for the deeper context behind this newsletter. If you're interested in bringing the Season 1 workshop to your organization, get in touch. You can follow me on Twitter @vgr

 
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