Learning to think on your feet

Symposium Magazine recently interviewed several students who had taken part in Yale’s Grand Strategy Program, the subject of Fox, Meet Hedgehog by Euny Hong. This week’s blog discusses their experience.

One common thread among the students interviewed was that Grand Strategy is not just a stimulating class, but an experience that changed their way of thinking about global affairs, leadership, and problem-solving.

“Global Strategy belongs to a handful of classes I’ve taken that transformed the way I look at the world,” said Teddy Collins ’13. “It’s like when I took introductory economics and learned about the importance of scarcity. These are lessons you take with you for the rest of your life.”

Under the unusual format of the class, discussions are not organized around a book or article; instead, students are tasked with analyzing one particular historical episode or one figure, and then applying “lessons learned” more broadly.

“Even thought these talks are just about one or two ideas, they all feed into a strategic way of thinking about the world, which is fascinating,” said Collins. “They seem so basic that at first you think they don’t need to be taught. Later on, I realized how this approach led us to a new level of understanding about leadership. For example, how you respond when something doesn’t go to plan.”

“I keep going back to these concepts at my new job,” added Collins, who happens to work for ret. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and a current Grand Strategy Fellow, as he completes a book about his career.

At the end of each class, students are asked whether the leaders discussed in that session were a “fox” or “hedgehog,” a distinction that was the subject of Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay.

“It was a really interesting point of departure,” said Harrison Monsky ‘13. “When Queen Elizabeth faced down King Philip of Spain, she was the wily one who could adapt, and over time she strengthened England’s power, while Philip was overconfident. In that case, the fox won.”

“My takeaway was that in government, sometimes you have to be one, and sometimes the other,” said Meredith Potter ’13, who now works at the State Department. “The course made me conclude that you’re better off if you can switch back and forth between mindsets.”

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