Strong Opinions, Loosely Held

I think it makes sense for my first article to address my philosophy on ‘opinions’, I have many and I am sure you do too, and there is only one thing I know for sure and that is that my opinions are wrong.

I remember being at school and my physics teacher telling us, “everything I teach you this year will be wrong ten years”. This stuck with me for a long time because here was a person considered to be an expert on a subject and he was openly and honestly admitting that what he knew to be “fact” now, would soon be proven wrong.

The beauty of this gesture is that he had at some point converted his solid concepts into fluid concepts with the ability to change, so long as the data supported the new state of a concept.

Now I know everything

If you haven’t already, at some point in your life you will think you know all you will ever need to know. Then you will realise you were wrong, and at a later date you may again think you know everything and again you will be humbled. The process will continue as you get older, hopefully decreasing in frequency.

I have often feared not knowing something, I would get embarrassed if I couldn’t answer a question. This happened in school, and this happened in the workplace. This is sometimes manifested in Imposter Syndrome, the belief that you are faking it and nobody has noticed yet, well I have been an imposter when it comes to every topic I now have some knowledge of.

I know nothing

I don’t know about you but when I was born I knew nothing. I didn’t know how to manage a team, talk to clients, talk at all; I didn’t even know what teams or clients were but I am sure others did. Not knowing these things as a new born isn’t unreasonable because we accept that a new born has not learnt the alphabet, language, numbers, mathematics. At some point we chose to learn these concepts.

Now, when I find out I don’t know something, I think ‘good’, because I know it means I get to learn something – Jocko Willink used to say this to his Navy Seals when on of them came to him with a problem (Extreme Ownership). If someone asks me something and I don’t know the answer, I happily reply with, “I don’t know, but I can find out.”. The difference here is the spoken contract with myself to investigate a concept or topic further so I am in a position to provide better answer next time.

I know some things

Today I have strong opinions based on the information available to me at this time. This means I fully accept that my opinion could/should change based on new incoming information, provided the quality of the information lends towards changing my opinion.

I might be duped into changing my opinion for the worse but I know eventually my opinions will be stronger for it.

“It’s not what you read, it’s how you read”

I believe you should consume information from as many sources as possible, people are very generous with their opinions and you can gain a lot of information. The important thing to remember is that the amount of information a by product of your resulting opinion. You can hear/read the same message many different ways, you could call this an ‘Echo Chamber’. It is only when you look outside that held opinion that you truly begin to reason with and understand a concept so that you can have confidence in your opinions.

I make decisions

Most people would say they are not very good decision makers, and I would say to those people that they are good decision makers who are afraid of being held accountable for a wrong decision. When I make a decision it is based on the information available to me at the time of deciding, I know that a day, week, month from now my decision will not be considered the right decision (unless I am very lucky) in retrospect, but that is the problem with decisions made in retrospect – they are supported by all the new data but will always be too late.

Have you ever played, ‘Would you rather’? The premise of the game is that I present to you 2 equally repulsive experiences, and you choose the least repulsive experience in your opinion. The next stage of the game is that I repeat the proposition but this time I make your previous choice a little worse, and see how that affects your decision this time. If you have played this game you will notice that the person asking the ‘Would you rather’ doesn’t turn around and say, “OMG I can’t believe you option 1 based on information you didn’t have at the time”. So make decisions with confidence.

Be brave

Go ahead and share your opinions, and learn from others opinions, and change your opinions. Listen to smart opinions, and listen to dumb opinions, and from that form your own opinions and repeat the process. Protect your opinions against weak evidence and have the humility to let your opinion crumble, only to be rebuilt stronger.