Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

I try to write and accept feedback with an open posture of “strong opinions, weakly held”, advocating for what I believe but ready to change and refine with new information. Letting go of or altering our pet notions is difficult. Confirmation bias is a cozy blanket. Practice at being wrong in public helps develop the necessary critical distance.

There is so much to know and so many perspectives and angles. None of us are experts, not really. We’re all amateurs on learning curves approaching infinity. We can distill in our writing only the merest fraction of what we know, and what we know is the merest fraction of what there is to know. Write strongly while knowing our ignorance and knowing the curve goes on forever.

A couple years ago, I was talking to 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 Institute 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.”

Source: Strong Opinions, Weakly Held – Bob Sutton

Everything in software is so new and so frequently being reinvented that almost nobody really knows what they are doing. It is amateurs who make all the progress.

When it comes to software development, if you profess expertise, if you pitch yourself as an authority, you’re either lying to us, or lying to yourself. In our heart of hearts, we know: the real progress is made by the amateurs. They’re so busy living software they don’t usually have time to pontificate at length about the breadth of their legendary expertise. If I’ve learned anything in my career, it is that approaching software development as an expert, as someone who has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic, is the one surest way to fail.

Experts are, if anything, more suspect than the amateurs, because they’re less honest.

I’ll never be one of the best. But what I lack in talent, I make up in intensity.

To me, writing without a strong voice, writing filled with second guessing and disclaimers, is tedious and difficult to slog through. I go out of my way to write in a strong voice because it’s more effective. But whenever 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 believe in the principle of strong opinions, weakly held.

So when you read one of my posts, please consider it a strong opinion weakly held, a mock fight between fellow amateurs of equal stature, held in an Octagon where everyone retains their sense of humor, has an open mind, and enjoys a spirited debate where we all learn something.

Source: Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

As leaders we should always question new ideas and ensure they’re supported by fact. However, when there is mounting evidence and experience that shows our ideas and beliefs are wrong, we should not resist change. This is why wise leaders keep their strong opinions, weakly held.

When dealing with the complex practices of strategy, leadership and innovation in an uncertain and changing environment wise leaders keep their strong opinions, weakly held.

Strong opinions are not fundamental truths. Rather opinions are a working hypothesis used to guide your thinking, decisions and actions.

Wise leaders emphasise experimentation over theory. They understand that experimentation is a requirement for agility.

The fastest way of moving into the future is through defining and validating a series of hypotheses. Formulate an hypothesis based on the best available information – adopt a strong opinion. Then act, seeking feedback, adjusting as you go – weakly held.

Source: Wise Leaders Keep Strong Opinions, Weakly Held • George Ambler

The point of forecasting is not to attempt illusory certainty, but to identify the full range of possible outcomes. Try as one might, when one looks into the future, there is no such thing as “complete” information, much less a “complete” forecast. As a consequence, I have found that the fastest way to an effective forecast is often through a sequence of lousy forecasts. Instead of withholding judgment until an exhaustive search for data is complete, I will force myself to make a tentative forecast based on the information available, and then systematically tear it apart, using the insights gained to guide my search for further indicators and information. Iterate the process a few times, and it is surprising how quickly one can get to a useful forecast.

Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect – this is the “strong opinion” part. Then -and this is the “weakly held” part- prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that point in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again. You will be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you to a useful result.

Source: Strong Opinions weakly held : Paul Saffo

Historian Timothy Snyder on Oligarchy, Oligarchical Impotence, and Sadopopulism

These are policies that are deliberately designed to administer pain, to add to the total amount of pain in American society.

If you hurt people you create a resource of pain, of anxiety and fear which you then direct against others.

If, in the long run, the way that you govern is by hurting people who don’t mind being hurt because they think other people are hurting worse, what you will tend to do is take the vote away from people who expect more from government, what you will tend to do is try to suppress the vote and keep the vote down to the people who accept that government can do nothing except for administer pain. And then that moves you away slowly from democracy.

Source: Timothy Snyder Speaks, ep. 4: Sadopopulism – YouTube

Rule by the rich few doesn’t answer the question of what comes next.

It’s very hard for oligarchs to make markets because oligarchs can’t really accept the rule of law.

Markets will not work under oligarchy.

It’s very hard for oligarchs to redistribute.

Citizens United, in 2010, ignores exactly what’s happening in Russia.

The United States is tottering between democracy and oligarchy.

We cannot expect policy from a would-be oligarch, from a wannabe oligarch, that will benefit the population as a whole.

In conditions of oligarchical impotence, you shift the task of government from doing anything to affirming identity. Government is no longer about doing, government is about being.

What you end up doing as an oligarch is deliberately hurting your own followers and asking them to applaud you.

Source: Timothy Snyder Speaks, ep. 3: What is Oligarchy? – YouTube

As a Twitter thread:

Letter to My Representatives on AHCA and Medicaid #2

In the neurodiversity and disability communities, we are sharing stories of how the ACA and Medicaid have helped us and saved us. We’re sharing stories of the dark days before the ACA. The AHCA will return us to those dark days. The ACA, though flawed, works. Medicaid works. Lives depend on them. Improve them. Give them more funding.

Note that there are no stories of how the ACA has hurt people. Sure, premiums could be lower and choice could be greater, especially in states that refused the Medicaid expansion. So fix that. Make a good faith effort to improve policy that has helped so many. Listen to the disability communities. They know our healthcare systems better than anyone. We are full time case workers for ourselves and our families. We know these systems.

The AHCA is theft. It is a transfer of wealth from the most vulnerable to the least. It is cronyism and kleptocracy drafted in a secretive manner defiant of all norms. That the GOP is going forth with it despite its massive unpopularity suggests confidence in the voter suppression that has disenfranchised so many.

What is the future for my neurodivergent, disabled kids in a structurally ableist society that has been stripped of resources by kleptocrats and dominionists, by oligarchs, autocrats and wild notions of providentialism? This dread alliance has declared war on public education. It has declared war on healthcare. It has declared war on IDEA and the ADA. It is intent on dismantling education and our safety nets. And then what?

I don’t feel safe in this post-fact country led by crooks and haters who have seized the levers of power through racialized social control and voter suppression. No marginalized person feels safe right now. The GOP has aspirations of one party rule, and that party is actively intolerant of diversity, inclusion, and a secular society that works for the benefit of all.

My family keeps a copy of historian Timothy Snyder’s book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” at hand. These lessons are important civics that we should learn for ourselves and teach our kids. They are necessary literacy all too applicable to these times of cultish compliance and burgeoning autocracy and one party rule. I suggest thumbing through this slim, accessible volume and facing the lessons therein.