Do you think like a fox or a hedgehog?

I often find myself grappling with the tension between being a “businessperson” (I am self-employed and founder of my own school) and being an “artisan” devoted to perfecting a craft, practicing it, making a life’s work of it. I often wonder what “it” is. What is my craft? I am a teacher of children, a teacher of parents, a teacher of music, a philosopher on learning, a writer, a yogi, a meditator, an entrepreneur, an artist.

But when I’m really honest with myself, I know that I cannot possibly practice all of these crafts to a level of mastery. And there is nothing more dissatisfying than being a dabbler. I am curious about everything around me, so I find myself thinking about lots of ideas, and borrowing from lots of disciplines, all the time. But what I know to be my deepest truth is that choosing, in each moment, the deliberate practice of life is the true path of happiness, success, fulfillment, purpose, all those things we say we are in search of.

We live in an information-rich, media-rich time, where we can only take in snippets of the world being thrown at us in so many ways. We process sound bites. We read microblogs. We send 150-character messages as our primary way of connecting with many of the “important” people in our lives.

So no wonder we value condensed versions of the truth. We want the Cliffs Notes. The summary. To get to the point. Tell me how it’s relevant to my life. Make sense of it for me, because I’m too busy (or tired) to do it for myself.

And so we value – economically at least – hedgehogs over foxes.

Nicholas Kristof’s column today in the New York Times describes philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between these  two ways of thinking:

Hedgehogs tend to have a focused worldview, an ideological leaning, strong convictions; foxes are more cautious, more centrist, more likely to adjust their views, more pragmatic, more prone to self-doubt, more inclined to see complexity and nuance. And it turns out that while foxes don’t give great sound-bites, they are far more likely to get things right.

Whether foxes tend to get things “right” or “wrong” doesn’t really concern me. But I’m curiously observing how my own thinking – which is more innately prone to self-doubt, and more inclined to see complexity – has been pushed by various external factors, such as my traditional medical school training, or working to develop a simple marketing message for my business, to become more like a hedgehog. The idea of a 30-second elevator pitch does not sound like something a fox could do well, based on the above description.

In perhaps typical fox-like fashion, I prefer to see myself as some kind of hybrid thinker, taking the best of the hedgehog and balancing it with the best of the fox. Not a great sound bite, I know.

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