The first known recording of this observation was a written fragment from Ancient Greek Poet Archilochus around 680 BC:
The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing.
“The Hedgehog and The Fox” was also the title of an essay by philosopher Isaiah Berlin in the 1950’s.
And Jim Collin’s in his book Good to Great refers to the Hedgehog Concept.
So what is this hedgehog — fox thing all about?
A hedgehog does one thing and does it extremely well. They roll up into a ball exposing their spines when danger strikes. They are an expert at this one thing. They are very focused and see everything through a single vision. They get things done.
As Jim Collins explains
The Hedgehog Concept is developed in the book Good to Great. A simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of three circles: 1) what you are deeply passionate about, 2) what you can be the best in the world at, and 3) what best drives your economic or resource engine.
On the other hand, a fox is known for being cunning, quick, fast, always on the move. They have many different approaches and skills. More of a generalist.
Specialist/Expert vs Generalist
Will you be better off in the future as a specialist or a generalist?
The answer is, BOTH.
You need to have strong enough specialist skills to get you in the door — something that makes you unique and puts you in a place to add value to an employer.
But that is no longer enough.
You also need to be able to use those specialist capabilities in working with teams of people from different disciplines.
You need to be able to organise your work, manage your time, keep to a budget and successfully promote your project.
So the answer is not so much one of either/or, but one of degree. Should you be more of a specialist or more of a generalist?
If you prefer to specialise, conduct a searching self-assessment to make sure you have what it takes to rise to the top of your profession. Take an equally careful look at market conditions to make sure that you are investing your career assets in an in-demand specialty.
Stay on top of the newest trends and information in your profession. And develop you will more than likely have a number of different careers in your lifetime your generalist skills.
In terms of generalist skills, look to improve your communication, influence
Your best approach is to become a ‘T-professional’.
A T-professional describes someone who combines depth of disciplinary knowledge in one or more areas, together with a breadth of knowledge and skills, a range of professional capability (but not necessarily a lot of depth).
The breadth enables you to be an informed client — enough knowledge so that you can ask all the right questions and ensure you are getting the answers you need from other experts.
So you really need to develop your ‘hedgehog’ in specific discipline areas, together with being a ‘fox’ in a number of other areas.