Fox vs. Hedgehog - Explanation and examples

How should we view the world and forecast the future?


What is the Fox vs. Hedgehog distinction?

There are two types of people in the world: foxes and hedgehogs. Huh? Let, me explain. The fox vs hedgehog dichotomy describes two contrasting ways of viewing the world. If you adopt fox-like thinking you rely on various pieces of information to form your view on an issue and think about it from different angles. You’re also willing to admit when you’re uncertain.

But if you have more of a hedgehog mindset, you develop your world views and predictions with a central, overarching principle in mind and talk about your views with more confidence.

So you’re either a fox or a hedgehog - so what? Well, turns out that which style you adopt may influence how good you are at predicting the future:

Foxy Forecasters

The fox vs hedgehog mindset has proven relevant to the business of predicting or ‘forecasting’ future events. In forecasting competitions, people are asked to rate the probabilities of various global trends and geopolitical events occurring.

During these competitions, researchers found that the people who had more fox-like characteristics performed better than their hedgehog counterparts.

When it comes to making accurate predictions, traits such as being liberal vs conservative, or optimistic vs pessimistic, matter much less than how you weigh and integrate each of them into your ultimate judgment. The best forecasters put their own theories aside, embraced uncertainty, and used multiple ways of looking at a problem to achieve a more accurate prediction. Hedgehogs who were more sure of their big-picture grasp of how the world worked, performed worse than their more unpresuming fox colleagues.

What causes this difference in performance? It could be partly due to the conjunction fallacy. The conjunction fallacy is a cognitive bias we have where we intuitively feel that more specific conditions are more probable than general ones. Hedgehogs like to embellish their world-view with more and more intricate detail - but each embellishment makes it much more unlikely that their particular view is true.

Also check out:

  1. Prof Philip Tetlock on predicting catastrophes

  2. Conjunction fallacy, Wikipedia

  3. Isaiah Berlin's ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’

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