Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

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We just signed up to participate in a forecasting tournament on the topic of global existential risk. Over the next few months, we’ll be making forecasts on the probability of disasters such as nuclear catastrophe, massive droughts and biological weapon attacks. This is the second forecasting tournament we’ve competed in over the last five years. They’re a great motivator for researching the issues that you’re preparing for in emergency management. 

These tournaments are university-sponsored research projects designed to determine – among other things – how well “normal” people can predict future events and how their predictions compare with experts. According to the research, many lay people make predictions that outperform people who have spent years studying a topic.

One key to successful forecasting, according to this research – is whether a person is a “fox” or a “hedgehog.”  The analogy describes a fox as someone who can change their opinions relatively easily based on research and competing points of view. A hedgehog, by contrast, is someone who has a distinct world view and interprets information to fit that world view. They tend to be rigid in their beliefs and unwilling or unable to adapt to new information. 

We think the world has a role for both foxes and hedgehogs. And there are probably times when it’s appropriate to switch from one approach to another. But if your job requires you to estimate the likelihood of disaster situations, predict how people will respond to different situations and determine the best mitigation strategies – or to hire someone with those responsibilities – there’s a lot to recommend being a fox. 

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