Guest Post: Do you listen to the Fox or the Hedgehog when making decisions?

A psychologist called Philip Tetlock spent almost 20 years assessing the accuracy of long-term ‘expert’ predictions on geopolitical events. The results were disastrous. Collectively, the forecasters studied were as precise as a dart-throwing chimp.

It’s an analogy Tetlock doesn’t like. Because while the average for the whole group wasn’t great, their performance was split. One set of experts were more accurate than average; the other far less. There was something separating the two…

It turns out that the forecasters who doubted themselves and made caveats about their predictions were pretty accurate. Tetlock called them Foxes. While those who held doggedly to a certain view of the world – the Hedgehogs – dragged everyone down.

It wouldn’t be so bad if their spiky views weren’t so compelling. Hedgehogs sound so certain that we believe they’re more capable than the Foxes. We follow them on Twitter and hire them into our leadership positions. We watch them on TV and read their opinions in newspapers.

It doesn’t take a massive leap to see how it seeps into daily life. You know how meetings at work go. A decision needs to be made, and there’s one person who is louder, more assertive and more overtly confident than anyone else. So we think ‘well hey, I wasn’t certain which way to go, but she sure is. I guess we’ll do that’.

These aren’t the people to listen to. So next time I’m making an important decision, I’ll be taking my advice from the Fox.

The Hedgehog has had his turn.

Read more about decision-making, and the shared characteristics of brilliant forecasters in Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner’s ‘Superforecasting; The Art and Science of Prediction’.


This guest post was kindly provided by James Elfer. He is a director at MoreThanNow, a people and change consultancy applying behavioural insights to the world of work. You can follow him on Twitter here.

As with all our guest posts, the views expressed above are those of the guest author and they do not necessarily represent the position of the Rational Think Tank.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay; the post first appeared on Linkedin)