The getting of wisdom can be a very slow process. As I have staggered through my brilliant career I often wondered why I find myself as the odd one out at so many meetings and events and why it took me so long to focus on my strengths as opposed to continually trying to make up for my failings?
Thinking about the old Russian proverb made famous by Sir Isaiah Berlin made me realise what part of the problem was. “The fox knows many things whilst the hedgehog knows but one, but what the hedgehog knows it knows in depth”.
I am a fox, this does not make me better than a hedgehog. A world full of foxes would be people in caves having wide ranging conversations about everything under the sun while freezing to death because all that rubbing sticks together to make fire is very … well dull really.
But as a fox I am forever leaping from idea to idea, usually doing little more than skimming the surface but always aware that there is more and more out there to see and feel and do. This makes me very bad in meetings as I lose focus and can be disruptive but very good at creating new things.
My world is divided into three parts – frontline services, corporate services and policy development. Supposedly the first two parts are specialist whilst the last is a generalist area. Which I would see as 2 hedgehogs and 1 fox. But why then is it that when I meet with policy colleagues from around the Whitehall world that they are almost always hedgehogs?
Can you have a generalist hedgehog?