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Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

12 March, 2017

I’ve been pretty obsessed about the difference between smart people and wise people for years. I tried to write a book called “The Attitude of Wisdom” a couple times. And the virtues of wise people – those who have the courage to act on their knowledge, but the humility to doubt what they know – is one of the main themes in Hard Facts.
Perhaps the best description I’ve ever seen of how wise people act comes from the amazing folks at Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future. 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. Bob Sutton

I discovered the quote “strong opinions, weakly held” recently and have been in love with it ever since. The quote might seem contradictory at first glance, but it actually makes perfect sense.

Strong opinions means that your ideas should be backed by evidence and logic, and should be expressed with strong conviction. Weakly held means that you should be prepared to jump ship if a better idea is presented.

As a designer in a growing industry, this applies to me so much. Look at the article How Much Has The Web Really Changed?. The web is constantly changing, and it will continue to change! It's hard to imagine that just 6 years ago, before Ethan Marcotte published his book on responsive web design, the majority of websites used mobile versions. 6 years from now, who knows, VR browsers could be the standard. Development stacks change all the time too. LAMP stack used to be the dominating force for dynamic web apps, and now they are considered to be inferior to modern stacks.

Have strong opinions, which are weakly held. This is my message to everyone today. Thank you for reading.