“The Fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing.”
– Archilochus, a Greek poet, as quoted by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin.
This quote’s interpretation has been debated since it was published in 1953. In a literal sense, the Fox – despite his cunning and ingenuity – can be defeated by the Hedgehog’s one defense. This concept becomes more interesting (and more relevant) than simply predator versus prey when we apply it to forming teams to solve real-world problems.
Berlin’s figurative interpretation divides humans based on how we view the world. Hedgehogs relate everything to a central vision that they understand – a single, universal principle. Foxes, on the other hand, pursue many ideas, often unrelated and even contradictory, unrelated to a central guiding principle.
We can take this dualistic nature of human thought and warp it slightly, applying these two groupings to types of people. Hedgehogs are truly amazing at a single thing – a specialist in one particular domain. Outside of this domain, the specialist might struggle. Foxes are highly adaptable generalists who use a broader base of knowledge and experience to solve problems.
How are these applicable to capture teams?
Philip Tetlock discusses these two groups, saying Foxes have different strategies for different problems. They are comfortable with nuance and can live with contradictions. Hedgehogs, however, focus on the big picture, reducing every problem to one organizing principle. These categories provide two opposite but complementary viewpoints to a problem or, in our case, a capture opportunity.
Hedgehogs, the subject matter experts (SMEs), have in-depth knowledge on all the details of a particular subject – whether it is a U.S. Government customer, a key competitor, or a technical topic. Hedgehogs may be represented by the program manager, technical SME, or account or business development executive. These Hedgehogs know everything there is to know in their domain and they are essential to a successful team.
Foxes, the generalists, provide an understanding of many domains, customers, and competitors. Generalists can provide a more objective view and drive insights through a wider range of experiences. These might be capture managers, solutions architects, or others more focused on broader solutions and strategies. Hedgehogs dig deep and straight down; Foxes are shallower but cover ground more broadly.
Individually, Foxes and Hedgehogs have strengths and weaknesses, but together, they can provide significant value when aligned on a team. We focus our team design effort with this in mind when leading up to a Black Hat review exercise.
Using Hedgehogs and Foxes to form Black Hat teams
In our Black Hat reviews, we form mock capture teams to take on the role of various competitors. We bring together capture managers and other generalists (who tend to be closer to Foxes), SMEs (Hedgehogs), and our own personnel (Foxes) to blend customer-focused solutioning, opportunity-specific detail, and outside analysis and insight on the competitive landscape.
This hybrid Fox / Hedgehog approach typically produces the best Black Hat results – realistic, nuanced solutions that competitors could leverage to pursue an opportunity – and, more importantly, how you can counter your competition and win the day. Why does this blended approach work so well?
- High-performing teams will succeed or fail based on the inclusion the right people and, while this may seem obvious, it is a frequently-overlooked condition.
- The two primary elements to including the right people and building a high-performing team are skills and diversity. A blended Fox / Hedgehog team typically satisfies both of these criteria.
- We invite participants based on what they can contribute to the team and the exercise as a whole. Relevant skills include knowledge of a specific competitor, relationship with the customer, technical expertise, ability to craft a story, and teamwork.
- We try to build a diverse team – including corporate role, level of experience, age, gender, etc. – that provides multiple, varying points of view. Strong teams also include participants from different areas of the business, subcontractors, and teammates.
- Diverse teams develop better ideas and strategies and provide a multitude of perspectives resulting in more creative solutions. This helps to prevent blind spots while also avoiding groupthink and obvious, surface-level answers.
- Leverage these differing viewpoints and problem-solving abilities throughout the Black Hat exercise: understanding the customer, developing solutions, and countering competitors.
Whether you work with FedSavvy Strategies to execute your Black Hat review or give it a try on your own, ensure you heed this advice. Blending your teams with Foxes and Hedgehogs will help you leverage the best of both in order to strengthen your capture effort.
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