The ancient Greek poet Archilochus said, “A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.”
The original meaning of the quote has been lost to the mists of time, but my guest today argues that it’s a great metaphor for classifying two types of leadership strategies.
His name is John Lewis Gaddis and he’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, an expert on the Cold War, and a professor of military history at Yale University. Today, Professor Gaddis and I talk about his book, On Grand Strategy, in which he distills insights about strategy from political and military history going all the way back to antiquity.
We begin our conversation discussing what strategy is and what it means to have grand strategy. John then shares the analogy of the fox and the hedgehog, and the benefits and downsides to each approach to thinking and acting. We then discuss why the best strategists combine fox-like and hedgehog-like mindsets, examples from history of great leaders who had both, and how he helps his students see the relationship between principle and practice.
- What is strategy? How is it defined?
- What makes a strategy “grand”?
- Differentiating strategy from tactics
- “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
- Examples of foxes and hedgehogs throughout history
- Lincoln’s compass anecdote
- Great strategic writings throughout history
- Carl von Clausewitz’s idea of strategy
- Why theories and strategies sometimes fall short
- Principle vs. practice
- Finding the TTPs in classic texts
- How and why to be both a hedgehog and a fox, and knowing when to be which
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- My interview with Tom Gibbons about the “Stockdale course” at the Naval War College
- The Art of Strategy
- Why You Need to Join the Great Conversation About the Great Books
- The Misunderstood Machiavelli
- The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin
- Herodotus’ Histories
- Lincoln (movie)
- History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
- Sun Tzu’s Art of War
- Carl von Clausewitz’s On War
- My interview with Robert Coram about John Boyd
- The Tao of Boyd: Mastering the OODA Loop
- Phil Tetlock
- Virgil’s Aeneid
- Gaddis’ syllabus on the classics of strategy
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