Are You A Hedgehog Or A Fox?

CULTURE can be considered the thread that holds together product, service, team, vision and processes within organizations . Most literature on organizational culture focuses on big business ignoring that most of us work in 'not Fortune 500' companies.  Small team sizes and proximity to teammates in small companies suggests there is a need to place extra focus on culture. A key component of culture is ‘mindset’; as a wo/man thinketh so s/he does. A fascinating school of thought on mindsets is the ‘Hedgehog or Fox’ idea. I discovered this reading ‘The Million Dollar Parrot’, a fascinating book on mindsets (I suggest you read).

Isaiah Berlin (1950’s philosopher), in one of his essays, divided writers and thinkers into two categories: Hedgehogs and Foxes. At it’s simplest people whoview the world through a single defining idea are Hedgehogs and people who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to one single overriding idea are termed Foxes. These mindsets bring with it different approaches to work and culture. It’s not that one mindset is better or worse than the other. They are just different.That being said, being able to creatively bring ideas/concepts/perspectives from other industries into your industry/role is making the Fox a more popular mindset.

Nicholas Kristof (Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times) applied this same hedgehog/fox analogy to financial experts in 2009. But his spin on it was that the prevailing mindset of experts in an industry drives how things get done in that industry. Applied to entrepreneurs, Steve Wozniak (Apple) and Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway) would be Hedgehogs while Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX) and Richard Branson (Virgin Group of Companies) would be considered Foxes.

Turning it to your career; do you have a lot of experience in one industry (healthcare for example) and your expertise is deep and sector specific? Then you might be a Hedgehog. But if you have worked in different skill areas within the same sector (marketing, finance and operations within healthcare for example), then you might be considered a Fox. Conversely, if you are skill specific across a few industries you are most likely considered a Fox. Whichever one you are will explain how you feel about the culture of your organization and specifically how you feel about your role.


To figure out which one you are, and determine how you think that affects your career, I suggest a three step process.

  • Dig to the core of who you are as an employee and clarify what your value systems are. Ignore anyone else. You mustn’t lie to yourself.
  • Communicate this to your manager and team. Try to figure out which of these mindsets your organizational culture encourages and celebrates. Your discontentment with your employer might come from you being a Fox in a culture that celebrates Hedgehogs (or vice versa).
  • Do the check above and take action. It is highly unlikely that your organization will change so you want to decide whether you want to change who you are or you have to find a place that values your foxiness orhedgehogginess.

Most importantly, be your own Hedgehog or your own Fox. It's never too late to become the Fox or Hedgehog you think you need to be to move your career to the next level. You'll figure it out. You always have...