Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

Do you wish you cope with change better?

We’re in changeable, unpredictable times. Sometimes it feels as if nothing stays static for long and depending on your personality this will alarm or excite you, or you may be very stoical in the face of change.

I’ve worked within many organisations and businesses undergoing major reorganisation, often where people will be losing their jobs. The effects of the change touch everyone, not just those whose jobs are at risk; inevitably sickness levels rise and productivity tails off if attention is not paid to the emotional needs of the employees.  In my experience most organisations begin with good intentions and are committed to looking after their staff but as the change process rolls on this becomes lost in the complexity of doing what is required.

Fox or Hedgehog?

Not everyone is bad at dealing with uncertainty and most of us can improve our coping abilities if  we can find an area where we can exert some control. In my one to one work that’s one of the things I’ll focus on; sometimes the only control we can have is changing how we feel and consequently how we deal with what is going on.

Foxes, it seems, are good at this.

Professor Phil Tetlock from the Psychology department at Pennsylvania University thinks there are 2 styles of thinkers: Hedgehogs are uncomfortable with uncertainty and complexity while Foxes are more able to accept that the world is an uncertain place. Foxes, he posits, use more analytical tools than hedgehogs, and draw their information from many different sources. They are comfortable saying:

“Well, this or that may happen, but I may be wrong“.

They are better at making decisions; the ability to realise they may be wrong about what they are predicting means they make decisions that will have a positive outcome taking into account all possible outcomes. They spread their options and have no problem with being humble.

How to be Good at Change

Become a fox! In essence being a fox means becoming more humble and appreciating that humanity is fallible. You acknowledge that you will make mistakes and plan for them.

Dan Gardner, author of Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail‘ (Amazon link) suggests that if you find being humble difficult you sit down and make some predictions about things you think you know about. Then hide away your predictions for a few months after which time take them out and read them. This he says, will help you realise that you are just as fallible as everyone else as probably you will have not predicted anything with great accuracy.

Flexible Thinking

When times are good we tend to assume they will remain so, hence the huge shock at the economic collapse in 2008. When times are bad we tend to assume that they will only get worse. To be more fox like we should assume the good times are temporary too and be a little more cautious: this is the approach that women often take, see Neuroeconmics – Put Women in Charge. Similarly, when times are bad, remind yourself that they will get better. (I am put in mind of ‘this too will pass‘ my stock mantra)


Gardner suggests that if you want to be more flexible in your thinking, when you have a judgement or prediction to make, write down all the reasons why you think that decision is correct. Then think hard about all the reasons why you might be wrong.  I do something similar when working one to one and it can be struggle. Try it though, however difficult. It will help you identify your biases or tendency to ‘magical thinking’; it does help you make better make quality decisions.

Be a foxy lady!

Photo Credit: Christopher Hall


Posted on July 25th, 2011 by

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