Are you a Fox or a Hedgehog?
Shifting the Overton window, new math, and knowing things
Kids these days don’t do math like they used to!
I’m forever surprised by the strength of imprints. Despite overwhelming evidence that says otherwise, sugary breakfast cereals never feel unhealthy. This bias makes us hesitant to new ways of learning, doing, and thinking. Consider basic math.
I learned to add 156+249 like this:
“New math” suggests this method:
I struggled with math as a kid, but this “new math” resonates. Although it looks more complicated, the new approach is easier for mental math and ultimately more helpful.
What is tolerable to the public? What will 80% of people tolerate?
The Overton Window defines the answer to these questions as it sets the acceptable range of ideas in culture. Both sides of the political aisle and major media companies—no matter how different they seem—share ideas within a relatively narrow scope. The public (or 80% of a population) opposes ideas outside the Overton Window, viewing them as extreme.
The Overton Window is far from fixed—it’s constantly shifting like dunes in the wind. Political parties, businesses, nonprofits, and activist movements tinker with the window. A common mechanism to make a new idea publicly palatable is to share an extremist view that shifts the window—making things just outside the window move to just inside the window.
The example below depicts (my perception of) how the American public views COVID-19 protocol.
In 2019, the idea of wearing masks was unheard of and repulsive to most Americans. But after two years of a pandemic, mask-wearing and social distancing is palatable to most Americans—a small price for a return to travel and dining.
The Hedgehog & The Fox
The Fox knows many things, and the Hedgehog knows one big thing. Presented in a 1953 book of the same title, The Hedgehog and The Fox defines a survival strategy. The Fox has many tactical skills, is clever at getting unstuck, and can figure out how to make things happen through adaptability. The Hedgehog has a conviction on one uniting idea, which can rally others and provide purpose, clarity, and direction in an ambiguous world.
What’s the point? Successful people, businesses, and movements fall into both categories. Hedgehogs include Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Wendy’s, while Foxes include Shakespeare, Grace Hopper, Benjamin Franklin, and McDonald’s. There’s no correct answer from this evidence (which I suppose is a Fox perspective), but it’s valuable for understanding oneself. Binary classifications are inherently broken, as they offer little room for nuance, but atomic philosophies like this can shape one’s thoughts and actions if one permits. If nothing else, it’s a conversational centerpiece for your next dinner party.
A few interesting things: