Be more foxy



The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing

I've just been reading Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise and came across a section that struck a chord. The book is about predictions and at one point he highlights the work of Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology and political science. His book Expert Political Judgement studies 15 years of political predictions and concludes that overall political pundits are no better than chance at getting things right. However there was a group that did better than the others: he titled them the foxes.* Their opposites, the hedgehogs, were notably worse despite them tending to be more popular with the media.

Silver publishes the below table to summarise the differences (and this one I've taken from Forbes India):

Foxes and hedgehogs comparison

Perhaps it's not surprising the media love hedgehogs: they're self-assured, possibly controversial, speak in certainties and make for great soundbites. Not dissimilar to those in the tech world that post 'big claim' blogs claiming you can solve everything if you just do x.

When it comes to being a product manager being more fox will bring you more rewards in the long run. Following the table above, here's how I see a good product manager fitting that framework:

Essentially it boils down to this: good product managers are comfortable with uncertainty. Silver's book is one about predictions and what is the work of evolving products and building new features but making our best prediction as to what we think the user needs? It's rarely straight-forward and laced with uncertainty. Embracing that and accepting that you don't know rather than assuming that you do will lead you to the right answer more often than not.

*In fact the naming was taken from an essay by Isaiah Berlin.

Published on 27 April 2014

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