The Hedgehog and the Fox

Yesterday‘s quote, “luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” is of disputed origin. There are several possible attributions, with an interesting one being a line that Seneca the Younger attributes to Demetrius the Cynic:

“The best wrestler is not he who has learned thoroughly all the tricks and twists of the art, which are seldom met with in actual wrestling, but he who has well and carefully trained himself in one or two of them, and watches keenly for an opportunity of practising them.”

I feel like I could mine that quote for hours.

For reference, consider the hedgehog and the fox. The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one important thing. These are different ways of approaching problems and opportunities. Different approaches may work better in different contexts. Successful hedgehogs tend to be very successful, but they may not know what to do if their favored approach does not work. (“When you have a hammer…”) Foxes are more broadly successful but not optimized for anything in particular.

Seneca and Demetrius might suggest being a hedgehog for method and a fox for finding ways to apply it.

I have previously decried one trick ponies, players trying to set up a quick win with a cool trick, losing quickly and trying again if it does not work. This is actually not a horrible strategy in an environment where attempts are not costly and winning benefits more than losing costs. Modern online gaming tends to support this approach, because losing costs nothing but a bit of time, and this approach minimizes time spent. Flip that coin as many times as possible, and you will come out ahead of people who spend much more time setting up careful victories. In real life, there are downsides to going all in on the first hand every time.

But I myself am a bit of a hedgehog. Call it being a low self monitor: where the fox sees what this situation needs it to be, the hedgehog sees how to be itself in this situation. Better, there are many situations around, so the hedgehog can instead look for ones that play to its strengths. Like I said yesterday of Hearthstone, since I have not spent the money to be competitive, I instead look for modes where money matters little if at all.

Adaptability happens at many levels. You can adapt your methods to your situation. You can adapt your situation to your methods. You can plan for opportunities. You can watch for opportunities. You can create opportunities.

: Zubon

One thought on “The Hedgehog and the Fox”

  1. I’ve found that particular quote useful over the years. I’ve been in the right spot at the right time and willing to say yes while others thought it impossible. If you’re prepped enough, nearly anything is possible.

    And I find as you get older, if you keep learning, you figure when it’s time to be a hedgehog and when it’s time to be a fox.

    I’ve posted a bit on game theory and how time spent learning that method has helped me outside gaming. These last 2 of yours do a good job of summing that up cleanly.

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