It’s time to be a Fox

It’s time to be a Fox

Howzit China! will certainly be on our lips after the global markets slumped this week in response to the yuan decline and other economic news. Our real good news is that some experts are questioning our SARB decision to raise interest rates in the face of a deteriorating market for consumers.

So it is time to pick ourselves up, improve our game and focus our efforts. It’s time to be a Fox.

I first heard the concept from Clem Suntner when I read his book Hedgehogs and Foxes. The article below is copied from Business Day and was written by Michel Pireu on 18 August 2015. All credit to him therefor for the first part of this blog.

In 1953 the philosopher Isaiah Berlin divided thinkers into two categories – the hedgehog and the fox – borrowing from Greek philosopher Archilochus who said, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Hedgehogs, argued Berlin, see the world through the prism of a single overriding idea, whereas foxes dart hither and thither, gathering inspiration from the widest variety of experiences and sources.

Recently, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor, Philip Tetlock conducted a multi-year study of the outcomes of expert political forecasts about international affairs. He studied the aggregate accuracy of 284 experts making 28000 forecasts looking for patterns in their success rates. Most findings were negative – conservatives did no better or worse than liberals; optimists no better or worse than pessimists. All were only slightly more accurate than chance, and worse than basic computer algorithms. Only one pattern emerged: how you think matters more than what you think.

“ The most important factor was not how much education or experience the experts had but how they thought, “ says Tetlock. “The better forecasters were like Berlin’s foxes: self-critical, eclectic thinkers who were willing to update their beliefs when faced with contrary evidence, were doubtful of grand schemes, and were rather modest about their predictive ability. The less successful forecasters were like hedgehogs: they tended to have one big, beautiful idea that they loved to stretch, sometimes to breaking point.”

Beginning with the idea that foxes are better at predictions than hedgehogs. Tetlock looked at the underlying differences in cognitive approach and found clear differences. Foxes are cautious about making predictions. Hedgehogs are not, but are more likely to suffer from overconfidence and hindsight bias. Foxes are avid gatherers of ideas from many sources. Hedgehogs specialise and resent ideas that contradict their thinking.

If something isn’t working foxes will look for a new idea or model. Hedgehogs seldom vary their approach and are more likely to use new data to tweak existing theories. Foxes readily accept they’re wrong. Foxes accept complexity. Hedgehogs believe in an underlying simplicity in everything. Foxes are more concerned with the evidence than the theory; hedgehogs see data as “noise” that obscures underlying truth. Consequently, foxes are better equipped to survive in rapidly changing environments in which those who abandon bad ideas quickly hold the advantage. Hedgehogs are better off in static environments that reward persisting with tried formulas.

Little did I realise on the 18th that the global economy would take such a fast turn. In our next blog, we will look at the whether a fox or a hedgehog is needed for the next period of what has been a fairly good run in the property market. Look forward to “meeting you again, at the Junction”, that’s the Homeloan Junction, of course.

Yours in Property.

Jack Trevena
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