Not much has been saved from the writings of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, though the above line from the parable of the fox and the hedgehog appears throughout a number of well-known cultural references. In Æsop’s Fables this story is known as The Cat and the Fox, in which the cat (aka hedgehog) escapes danger with his single trick while the fox, with its vast collection of inferior tricks, is doomed from overthinking the problem. In 1592, the English poet Robert Greene similarly dismissed actor-turned-playwright William Shakespeare as a “jack of all trades.” The negatively connotated phrase would later evolve into its complete form: a jack of all trades is a master of none.
While the one-trick hedgehog prevails in this 2650 year old story, today’s dynamic business environment is a bit less clear as to which animal is best suited to tackle the challenges at hand. In present-day terms, we can think of the hedgehog as a singularly focused expert while the fox is a generalist. While experts remain critical for certain roles, such as coders or researchers dealing in technical specifications, companies are leaning more and more towards adaptive generalists. Your sales or procurement team is probably full of the latter.
These foxes are adept at navigating complex organizations, developing relationships, and thinking outside of the limited viewpoint inherent in expertise. They don’t need to know everything in a world where information is just a few clicks away. They need to be learners, who know where to find data, what to do with it, and how to communicate it. The hedgehog may have known one big thing, but the Digital Age is driving the demand for foxes. But while the ancient parable described a fox ill-equipped to handle a singular threat, the real danger is in how much is expected of them.
As a stereotypical fox who worked in a myriad of roles across the industry, I understood that most of us have precious little time and resources to gather and analyze the data we need to do our jobs. I needed access to timely reliable market data, and a way to more efficiently connect with a global network of foxes like me. I may not have been an expert like my colleagues in R&D, but I knew enough to know what I needed. And that’s why this chemist-turned-trader-turned-consultant built Glowlit.
Founder and CEO of Glowlit.com