The Fox, the Hedgehog, and the Lighthouse

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” In his famous essay titled The Hedgehog and the Fox Isaiah Berlin refers to these words of the ancient Greek writer Archilochous. He uses these words to describe “one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general.  For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel … and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle.”(1)

Let’s assume HPT is the one big thing. How many hedgehogs do we have? How many who really know it? How many who look at everything else through an HPT lens? I certainly do not know the answer but it seems interesting to speculate how many things might be beyond our hedgehog’s horizon. How many things might be visible to a fox? Would those additional things be relevant? How would relevancy be judged out of a fox’s perspective?

The first things coming into my mind that would not be that far beyond our hedgehog’s horizon are Six Sigma and OD. There are more for sure. More interesting though would be the things that seem to be completely unrelated to HPT. What about meditation, architecture, painting, music, etc. Would there be something to learn a hedgehog would not consider?

I think yes. So, I might be a fox. Although we all have parts of both. We are both foxes and hedgehogs. As always, stressing an analogy to much makes it wrong. Comes the lighthouse. The lighthouse enables us to reconcile both the fox and the hedgehog in us. One of my professors told us young students: Look for something that really interests you and then immerse yourself completely. You will experience that what you learn in this narrow area will work like a lighthouse. It will shine light on many other fields and will make your learning in these other areas easier and faster.  And finally, this effect will work in both directions.

I decided for epistemology to be my lighthouse. And my professor was right. Being a hedgehog in epistemology enabled me to be a fox looking at many other fields also. The lighthouse can be any field. Why not HPT. We only should observe ourselves a bit and challenge the hedgehog in us.

One way of challenging the hedgehog would be reading Berlin’s essay. The essay is on Tolstoy’s understanding of history. Fox and hedgehog are kind of side issues. Still, if you ever have read War and Peace or if you have seen the movie Berlin’s essay is an interesting read. Simply replace history in the essay with HPT and you might have surprising insights. This is advice from a fox. Or from a hedgehog? Maybe the lighthouse?

(1) Berlin, Isaiah. The Hedgehog and The Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History. Orion. Kindle-Version.

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