Are You A Fox Or A Hedgehog?

August 31, 2012

Here’s an interesting snippet from a book review by Freeman Dyson:

“Great scientists come in two varieties, which Isaiah Berlin, quoting the seventh-century-BC poet Archilochus, called foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes know many tricks, hedgehogs only one. Foxes are interested in everything, and move easily from one problem to another. Hedgehogs are interested only in a few problems which they consider fundamental, and stick with the same problems for years or decades. Most of the great discoveries are made by hedgehogs, most of the little discoveries by foxes. Science needs both hedgehogs and foxes for its healthy growth, hedgehogs to dig deep into the nature of things, foxes to explore the complicated details of our marvelous universe. Albert Einstein was a hedgehog; Richard Feynman was a fox.”

In a much milder form, maybe the same fox/hedgehog division is true in business? In this context, and whilst it’s not the same, it did make me think of the emerging area of multidisciplinary mindsets which is perhaps the modern version of the ‘generalist’.


Openness Isn’t The End, It’s The Beginning

August 16, 2012

Fascinating and eloquent talk by Margaret Heffernan on the value of openness, constructive disagreement and ‘daring to say what you believe’. Well worth listening to right through!

The opening story on Alice Stewart is quite captivating; from The Guardian

Alice Stewart… achieved worldwide fame, and changed medical practice, through her tenacious investigations and demonstration of the connection between foetal x-rays and child cancers. She went on to attract the enmity of the nuclear and health physics establishments – and the hostility of the British and American governments – by insisting that her studies showed that the adverse effects of exposure to low-level radiation were far more serious than had been officially accepted.

Open information is becoming more and more prevalent but, as she points out, that alone is not sufficient. There also needs to be the skill for encouraging and using conflict in novel and convincing ways, which may be quite foreign to what we’re used to.

I was curious what an alternative view on Alice Stewart’s approach might be: from The Journal of Radiological Protection (my emphasis in bold)

It is profoundly unfortunate that Stewart did not share the trust of more conventional scientists. Those who disagreed with her publicly often evoked a level of animosity that made rational discourse impossible and one suspects that those who were not conspicuously for her were deemed to be against her. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that they were all prejudiced, unimaginative, or guilty of conforming to establishment thinking. Had she been able to discuss her ideas more openly, accepting the criticism that is an inevitable part of the scientific life, she might have changed thinking in key areas – especially the risk of obstetric irradiation and the ante-natal origin of childhood tumours – more effectively and sooner than she did. But by any standards her work on the Oxford Survey was a remarkable achievement by an unconventional and determined woman, without whom the risk of x-raying pregnant women would not be as widely accepted as it now is. That would stand as an adequate memorial for most of us.

So, as always, life is rather grey although the primary point made about not being scared to use open information in challenging and questioning ways still stands of course. In particular, you need the capability for open, imaginative conversations (from all sides) as well as open information!

As I’d previously not heard of Margaret Heffernan, I did a bit of research and was interested to find that

She spent thirteen years working for one large corporation – the British Broadcasting Corporation – where she wrote, directed and produced radio plays and documentaries…

As I liked the above video I looked for others and found this one where she talks about business in a wider context.

Thinking Outside The Box

August 12, 2012

“People ask me if I think outside the box. I haven’t seen the box.” – Dave Stewart (musician).

From a good short interview in The Observer today.

As it happens, he’s co-written an interesting book on creativity and business innovation: The Business Playground

Business Playground is about how us grown-ups can rediscover the magic of creativity that we all lived and breathed every day as children, and apply it to business.

Starting Projects

August 11, 2012

“Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions: Why am I doing it? What will the results be? Will I be successful? Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.” – Chanakya (politician known as the Indian Machiavelli)

If we’re honest, it’s amazing how often this never (really) takes place…

Focus Your Curiosity

August 3, 2012

“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.” – Marie Curie (the first person to win two Nobel Prizes; physics and chemistry)