Since the onset of the pandemic, business leaders have been asking themselves and others, “What will it take to emerge from this crisis?” Others have asked a different question, “What will it take to thrive after COVID?” In my newly released book, Risky Business: Why You Must Develop a Disruptive Mindset, I address both questions. To thrive in what many are calling the “new normal,” decision-makers will need to take prudent risks and be willing to make the tough calls, both from a strategic and tactical perspective.
What does that mean? F. Scott Fitzgerald profoundly described high intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Centuries earlier, the ancient Greek poet Archilochus came to a similar conclusion by comparing the fox to the hedgehog: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Foxes vs Hedgehogs
Human equivalents of the hedgehog have a clear view about a central idea for the businesses. They know what they want to do to live the company’s mission and accomplish key objectives. These drive every decision. Foxes, by contrast, pursue many things that do not obviously relate to one another and may even conflict with one another. In some gifted individuals, the hedgehog and fox vie for dominance but ultimately live in harmony with one another, always keeping the goal in mind while examining a plan from every conceivable angle and vetting it for possible shortcomings.Are you a fox or a hedgehog? One might be tempted to conclude that a decision-maker should strive to be more like a fox or more like a hedgehog, but experience teaches us that each, by itself, would miss something important. Click To Tweet
To strengthen hedgehog thinking, consider these questions:
- Why do we exist?
- What is our business?
- Who are our customers?
- Who would miss us if we went away?
Hedgehogs concentrate on the big picture, always striving to get to the core of complicated problems. They zero in on crucial considerations, constantly putting aside distracting but interesting information. They rely on their dispassionate thinking abilities to guide them to logical, not emotional conclusions. They anticipate consequences and prepare for surprises. They know what they should disrupt and what must remain constant.
Foxes ask these “how?” questions:
- How do we position our products, compared to our competitors?
- How can we translate our strategy into specific measures of success?
- How can we attract the right kinds of people to execute our plan?
- How can we tie our short-term plans to long-term success?
One might be tempted to conclude that a decision-maker should strive to be more like a fox or more like a hedgehog, but experience teaches us that each, by itself, would miss something important. After conducting thousands of pre-employment and succession-planning assessments, I have reached the conclusion that the most successful leaders—those who will take their companies to great heights post-pandemic—can’t be just one without the other. An effective strategy demands that leaders move forward while holding both their foxlike and hedgehog tendencies in constant tension. The hedgehog part of the brain will continue to focus on one big thing (strategy) while the fox will concentrate on the day-to-day operations (tactics).