conservatism holds them back, and markets move past them; or because they can’t release their death grip on that singular idea and move on to the next thing.

The Fox has the benefit of broad vision and the ability to perceive the complex interaction of seemingly dissonant ideas, and they succeed because they are able to travel outside of marked pathways with their ideas and make substantial gains. When they fail, it’s because their reach exceeds their grasp, because they are too far ahead of the market, or because they have difficulty maintaining focus to see things through.

The one problem that Mr. Collins cannot cop to is that while Hedgehogs are mass-produceable through training and discipline (this is what MBA factories do), Foxes are not so easy to come by: their behaviour is learned but it is most likely interdisciplinary and tangential. As a modern example, one could strongly argue that Steve Jobs, Reid Hoffman, and many successful tech entrepreneurs are foxes.

On the other hand Bill Gates, who at one time was the richest man in the world: pure hedgehog. Rupert Murdoch? Count the spikes.

There are many successful hedgehogs in the mainstream business world and far fewer Foxes. The structure of businesses, after all, are generally designed around hedgehogs.  In general, larger corporate structures aren’t great at absorbing foxes. It’s why Jobs was fired by Apple, before going back as CEO under a mandate that embraced his wide-ranging aspirations. It’s probably why entrepreneurs such as Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, who blew out of Google as soon as he could after selling to them, generally can’t wait to get out of the mothership after a their lockup periods are done. A friend, who was the CEO of a company acquired by Microsoft, always deliberately referred to Redmond as “they” and never “we” even while he took down an amazing salary serving as a VP for two years post-acquisition.

Innovation is a concept which we modernists tie into every description of a person’s thinking process.  Wikipedia says there are a few different types of innovation: “It may refer to incremental, radical, and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations.”  Perhaps the razor cuts this way:  maybe hedgehogs deliver incremental changes while foxes deliver radical, revolutionary changes.

As a fox, I know that many of my successes have come when paired with hedgehogs. A hedgehog can pluck a singular concept from the maelstrom of energy emanating from the fox and run with it along a narrow path. Steve Jobs had Wozniak on the engineering side, and just as significantly Mike Markkula on the finance and business affairs side. The latter two are quintessential hedgehogs.

While it’s valuable to know whether you’re a fox or whether you’re a hedgehog, it is not particularly constructive to assign a static value judgment to one versus the other.  At varying points in the arc of a business, a prevalence of influence from either a fox or a hedgehog can make or break a company. Witness the foxes that artificially inflated hyper-economies at Enron (Jeff Skilling) and AIG (Joseph Cassano) to great personal benefit but ultimately destroyed hundreds of billions of dollars in wealth. And meet the Hedgehogs, Gil Amelio and John Sculley, who sapped the growth of Apple, diluted its brand value, and very nearly bankrupted the company.

The best-performing teams in the history of business and government alike have supplied the right balance of both Foxes and Hedgehogs.  The key for you as an entrepreneur is to figure out what you’re good at, chase the path that you believe in, and to ensure that your influence is counterweighed by your opposite nearby.  The results may at times be deeply frustrating, but should ultimately lead to incredible dividends.

Read Perfect Pairs: How to Sustain a Productive Business Partnership

Ian Bell is a Vancouver-based entrepreneur with 13 years’ experience in building and helping technology startups in the U.S. and Canada. He most recently founded Tingle and RosterBot. A former Apple Research Fellow, he worked at Cisco Systems and Telus before going rogue. He blogs about the industry at

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