The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once wrote an essay (based on the thoughts of the poet Archilochus) called “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” The hedgehog, he argued, knows one thing very well, while the fox knows multiple things about many topics. As the healthcare reform bill comes to fruition and the areas of health and wellness are refined and perhaps recreated in many ways, this dichotomy ascends in importance. While it is of course the goal of businesses to coalesce these two traits and thereby do many things very well, the analogy does warrant attention. Healthcare stakeholders will increasingly find themselves juggling multiple facets of health and wellness in an effort to stabilize businesses in a potentially chaotic environment.
Interestingly, a movement is taking place within healthcare that may just provide not only a solution, but also an innovative approach that allows stakeholders to become both a hedgehog and a fox. This movement surrounds personalized medicine. National Institute of Health director Elias Zerhouni, has described personalized medicine as the “4 P's”: predictive, personalized, preventive, and participatory. The very definition itself underscores the inherent connection between understanding one and many things, well, simultaneously. In order for companies to embrace the potential of personalized medicine, it will be imperative to identify each of the four areas as a distinct entity, and yet be nimble enough to link them in a productive manner.
Isaiah Berlin's essay examines great thinkers and writers in history to explain their approach and genius. The hedgehogs tend to view the world through the lens of one idea, while the foxes base their ideology on a multitude of ideas and experiences. As healthcare continues to evolve and personalized medicine begins to take root, this delineation may become increasingly hazy. And for those who are prepared, that might just translate into an incredible opportunity.
Henry Engleka is a principal of Widmeyer Communications and MD of the agency's New York office.