The Expected Value of Being a Fox vs. Hedgehog

In my review of One Person / Multiple Careers, which is about the wonders of a "slash" lifestyle of juggling multiple identities and career paths (entrepreneur / writer / student), Chris Yeh commented:

As Archilochus wrote, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

Jim Collins has noted that great companies tend to be led by hedgehogs not foxes.

Here’s an interesting overview of fox vs. hedgehog. Chris and I are definitely foxes. The question is, how does being a fox in the business world affect our chances for success? Today Chris writes:

This highlights an issue that Ben and I often struggle with, as entrepreneurs/pointy-headed intellectuals: Great entrepreneurs are usually obsessively focused; being blessed/cursed with multiple talents and interests will certainly detract from that focus.

A more nuanced view may be that the slash lifestyle may have as high or even higher an expected value, but far lower variance. If the distribution of outcomes is more extreme for the hedgehogs (fat tails both left and right), then more of the legendary figures are likely to be hedgehogs, even if on average, foxes do better….

At the end of the day, no matter what you decide about expected values and standard deviations, we are not created equal. And trying to deny your true nature in the interests of some theoretical optimization of your career is likely to be a self-defeating exercise in futility.

Different strokes for different folks.

I am a slash, and I have to embrace the strengths and weaknesses of my nature, or I’ll simply end up as a pale imitation of something I’m not.


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