A Hedge Fund Manager, a Scientist and a Politician walk into a bar…..Strong opinions, Loosely Held

A Hedge Fund Manager, a Scientist and a Politician walk into a bar. Each of them orders a “strong opinion”, one of the bars most famous drinks. Right before each puts the drink to their lips the bartender whispers to each of them “Mate, I’ve changed the recipe, I put lethal amounts of arsenic in there”……… we will finish this later.

The phrase “strong opinions, loosely held” was first brought to my attention as I was listening to a podcast with Marc Andreessen, Co-founder of Netscape and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He is also a generally well-known figure throughout Silicon Valley and the world. As soon as I heard these simple four words, I immediately felt that these were words to stand by and as someone with quite strong opinions, words to learn from. Now, I’m not just talking about opinions on the worlds current affairs. I’m also talking about the opinion that a product should be a certain thing, a system shouldn’t operate this way, this share price is undervalued, I’m the countries best “fill in the blank”, we should structure our company like this. I’m talking about opinions as defined by a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter. 
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Why is this phrase so important? Why even develop a strong opinion on something in the first place? Why not just fence sit?….It’s true, it would be a significantly safer option. You would not expose yourself to the fear of failure. The chance to be criticized, insulted or laughed at by your peers. You may even tarnish that “oh so precious” reputation you have built. It is the safer option so why not go with that, but then what happens?

My prediction, nothing. Nothing happens. In a world full of weak opinions, there is inaction, there is no “man in the arena” (I’ll expand on this one in the future). Nobody is inspired to develop the best possible arguments for them. No one is willing to put forth the energy and resources to test their opinions and breed the determination and innovation that is often bought about by that very same idea of failure or being wrong. But as always there is some dichotomy at play, some warning labels for that strong opinion, and there enters the “Loosely Held”.

The danger of a strong opinion can be seen in all facets of life. That of course is one of its benefits, it brings about action. There will be, at the very least, a result, either good or bad. The “Strong opinions, Loosely Held” mentality is one set around, what do you do when the world changes, when the new data is presented, when the new technology is invented. It’s the idea of being able to change your mind, change your position and change your opinion. A strong opinion, held for too long can be seen everywhere. It can be seen in the business arena (crippling decline of Kodak). It can be seen in sports, politics, science, the lot. An unwillingness to change our ways in the face of new or previously unknown information, or even acknowledge that information can have severe consequences. Quite often this can be related back to the many cognitive bias’s that could cloud our judgement, be it confirmation, recency, availability etc. Recognizing these is an ability in itself. But it can also be a result of our ego… our pride, our vanity, our self-absorption, our need for a sense of control, all undermining our ability to see or hear the evidence that contradicts our opinions.

Fortunately, in the same arena’s there are great examples of strong opinions being loosely held. In business, every company that has re-invented itself as times change such as IBM and American Express. In technology, an idea that pivots as it heads towards failure and finds its success as seen most recently in Twitter and Android. In sport, every time a coach changes his tactics and is hailed as a hero. In science, part of the beauty of it is it is constantly trying to disprove itself as can be seen in any new theory.

With all this being said, I will leave us as usual with one last thought……
Who do you think walks out of the bar?