I was catching up on Joel Spolsky’s blog Joel on Software and ran across his discussion of podcasts on his new venture with Jeff Atwood called stackoverflow.com. In the podcast I read (#8) Jeff made reference to his belief in strong opinions, weakly held. It goes something like this (from Bob Sutton):
A couple years ago, I was talking the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They’ve been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Instituite Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”
Jeff adds this:
[W]henever I post in a strong voice, it is also an implied invitation to a discussion, a discussion where I often change my opinion and invariably learn a great deal about the topic at hand.
I feel a kinship with Jeff as I have been known to express strong opinions but have also almost always been willing to change my opinion given new data. Jeff’s statement about the implied invitation is true of me as well; I expect that people who have a don’t agree with what I am saying will stand up for what they believe in or for their position.
However, I worry – as does Jeff – that my practice of expressing strong opinions can get in the way of getting the message across; this is something I continue to work on, not always successfully.