Resilient Like a Fox

by Venkat on February 13, 2013

Last week, I was at the LIFT Conference in Geneva to speak on “resilience.” I did my 20 minute talk using a very Tempo-esque angle on the subject, using the fox and hedgehog archetypes that I talked about in Chapter 3 of the book. My thinking on using archetypes to analyze complex themes has been slowly getting more sophisticated, and I hope to do a stronger treatment of the idea in a future edition.

I’ve embedded the talk below, and you can also get to it via this link. You may also want to check out some of the other talks. If you’re based in Europe, I highly recommend the LIFT conference. It is unusually well designed and choreographed.

I’ll be developing this fox/hedgehog theme further in my upcoming talk at ALM Chicago in March.

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Alexander Boland February 15, 2013 at 7:50 am

Not sure if I agree about Nassim Nicholas Taleb–his explicit philosophy is that you should have the strategy of a fox but the ethics of a hedgehog; that ethics are the thing that you don’t “adapt” to the situation (doing so would be allowing yourself to rationalize all morally questionable decisions.) Then again, you may have simply meant that he has very specialized talents but doesn’t believe that specialization is good strategy.

I also think you hit the nail on the head about fox/hedgehog being a dialectic and not a static dichotomy.

Luke February 24, 2013 at 3:14 am

“People tend to think that foxes are best because they are nimble and have broad knowledge. But in business, it’s better to be a hedgehog if you have to choose between the two. But you should still try and know lots of little things too.”
– Peter Thiel

Valentin Golev March 9, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I like applying ideas I read in your blogs to programming. There are many places to spot a motif like this one there, one of the best examples would be a debate on static typing, which is obviously desired by hedgehogs (and by the way attracts some extremely talented foxes who put prickles under their skin to fit the world into static typing mentality).

Non sequitur: thank you for the lecture, it may (or may not) explain some stuff to me, I’m going to try to apply this thinking to different situations and see what comes up.

NS2: Berlin’s quote makes an impression that having talents of a fox and values of a hedgehog is kind of a unique situation, but my interpretation of your interpretation of this idea is that it’s not something extremely rare, and it’s a quality which is often killed in a person, but actually should probably be cultivated. You seem to end a talk on this note: if you’re like Tolstoy, don’t run from your foxy nature, it will lead to the very hedgehog values you’re fond of. I’m not sure what exactly I’m trying to say here, maybe this kind of change of perspective when something unique and rare starts looking less unique and starts attracting more people (like me, I’m obviously enjoying thinking of myself as having the same quality) bothers me.

Venkat March 10, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Interesting. Yes, I can see why static typing would appeal to hedgehogs. I am now trying to reconcile this with some very foxy types I’ve met who seem to be very hedgehog-like in their programmer personas.

This may be related to conservative vs. liberal coders as described by Yegge.

I just did another talk where I explored this stuff more broadly and in a way more relevant to programming. Will post once the video is online.

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