Foxes and Hedgehogs and improving your decision making

Tom Connor
Jul 25, 2019 · 3 min read

How sure are you? Is your decision style that of a Fox or a Hedgehog?

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Photo by Alex Andrews from Pexels

I find that decisiveness is not my strong point - why commit when you can keep an open mind and options available. Because of this dichotomy, I continually find myself reviewing how to make better decisions and interested in the differing points of view on the subject.

In a terrific summary on the Farnam St website, Mark Steed and Shane Parish review the “13 Practical Ideas That Have Helped Me Make Better Decisions”. In it they summarise some of the best work from “ Taleb, Tversky, Kahneman, Gladwell, Ariely, Munger, Tetlock, Mauboussin and Thaler… about “rationality” and “biases”.

Most recently I wrote about decision making in the context of intellectual humility and the importance of remaining open to being wrong. In that blog I briefly touched on the concept of foxes and hedgehogs from Phil Tetlock .

In his book Superforecasting, Tetlock divides decision makers into Foxes and Hedgehogs. The concept comes from The Greek poet Archilochus who wrote, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Tetlock argues that it’s a way of understanding two cognitive styles:

Foxes have different strategies for different problems. They are comfortable with nuance, they can live with contradictions. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, focus on the big picture. They reduce every problem to one organizing principle.

Expanding on this further Tetlock highlighted 10 traits that will make you more fox like and a better decision maker:

  1. Don’t believe the world can be explained by one or two ideas. Reality is more complex
  2. When forming judgments, consult a diverse range of sources
  3. As the facts change, change your mind
  4. Question that on which everyone seems to agree
  5. Be definite in your forecasts. They must pass or fail by a certain point. If you can narrow the range of outcomes, so much so the better
  6. Grade forecast accuracy with the Brier formula
  7. Be open to changing your methods, testing many techniques, to get better
  8. Screen employees for superforecasting ability. Define superforecasters whose average Brier Scores are some amount less than the overall mean
  9. Organise these into small teams
  10. Train them. A one off, 60-minute tutorial on basic statistics was found to improve accuracy 10%.
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Double Loop Learning

I like the idea of being deliberate about how you are predicting the future and reviewing these predictions to improve. Important in this review is the concept of double loop thinking where you are actively reviewing not just the direct outcome of your decision or prediction, but also the thinking and assumptions that led you make the decision. It is the process of updating the mental models that leads to a deeper and more permanent improvement in your thinking process

Writes Chris Argyris:

Problem solving is an example of single loop learning. You identify an error and apply a particular remedy to correct it. But genuine learning involves an extra step, in which you reflect on your assumptions and test the validity of your hypotheses. Achieving this double-loop learning is more than a matter of motivation — you have to reflect on the way you think.

Let me know what you think? I’d love your feedback. If you haven’t already then sign up for a weekly dose just like this.

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Tom Connor

Written by

Always curious - curating knowledge to solve problems and create change

10x Curiosity

Always curious - curating knowledge to solve problems and create change. I write for myself to capture interesting links and synthesise ideas I am trying to learn.

Tom Connor

Written by

Always curious - curating knowledge to solve problems and create change

10x Curiosity

Always curious - curating knowledge to solve problems and create change. I write for myself to capture interesting links and synthesise ideas I am trying to learn.

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