Are you a fox or a hedgehog?

Today is April 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “are you a fox or a hedgehog?” For those navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well they work hard at how they see the world. They also understand that their vision will most likely change over time. In his famous 1953 essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” British scholar Isaiah Berlin used the words of a Greek poet — “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing” — to distinguish between two fundamental ways of seeing the world.


Hedgehogs relate everything to a single organizing principle or truth, and foxes maintain a diffusive, even contradictory, outlook. Two such examples of hedgehogs are employees who have deep experience in one narrow field or experts in a specific subject matter.


Foxes, however, have jumped from discipline to discipline in order to learn many things — yet followed no neat trajectory (and are unsure trajectories even exist). Hedgehogs bring deep domain expertise, and the increasing complexity of our workplaces has placed an understandable premium on their concentrated mastery.


Conversely, the natural habitat of foxes is innovation, which depends on the ability to mix preexisting and often widely divergent elements into a new creative combination. The research suggests that hedgehogs are common while foxes are a rare sight.


In a Boston Globe article, David Dabscheck states that “technology companies need more foxes and fewer hedgehogs.” Unfortunately, foxes are “woefully underrepresented, if not on the endangered list altogether.” Talk of innovation is fashionable among business leaders today, Dabscheck writes, but they “…still run their organizations much as they have always done—prizing the expertise and execution of the hedgehog. The resulting scarcity of foxlike thinking has led to a predictable gap between the professed desire for innovation and results.”


Fortune 1000 companies are showing increased confidence in their innovation strategies and investments according to Benchmarking Innovation Impact 2020, a new report from Innovation Leader, sponsored by KPMG LLP. Despite ongoing economic uncertainty, 41 percent of respondents say that their confidence in their company’s innovation strategy and investment for competitive advantage has grown in the last year. Companies with more mature innovation processes, those defined as “role models” in the report, were even more confident, with nearly 50 percent saying that their confidence has increased over last year.

“Today’s unprecedented pace of change makes it even more critical for companies to be able to answer a key question: are we investing in the right things—at the right time—to drive growth for the future?” said Fiona Grandi, KPMG national managing partner, Innovation & Enterprise Solutions. “For all businesses, the cost of underinvesting in enterprise-scale innovation is high. It can mean the difference between continued growth and obsolescence.”


Companies are increasingly integrating innovation efforts with strategy and transformation initiatives. Companies with more mature innovation processes were significantly more likely to have innovation activities integrated or collaborating with their strategy (81 percent vs. 56 percent), corporate development/M&A (48 percent vs. 29 percent), and corporate venture capital (62 percent vs. 30 percent) teams, versus the overall respondent pool. This signifies that companies have an opportunity to develop the right strategies and approaches to successfully scale innovation and align imperatives with other groups across the business.


“One key to longevity and impact for innovation teams in any industry is that they find ways to collaborate with other parts of the organization,” says Scott Kirsner, CEO and Co-Founder of Innovation Leader. “Creating allies and supporters is key, because there are always internal conflicts and resource debates you’ll need to work through.”


During the last few years companies started to realize the value of fox like attributes. Having people work across functions, departments, and skill sets can help the organization remain relevant in today’s hyper-competitive global marketplace.


Are you a fox or a hedgehog?