On "Strong Opinions"

Strong opinions, loosely held.

This is a philosophy I used to be a fan of. It can be paraphrased as “I have very strong opinions on most things, but my mind can be changed easily if given evidence otherwise.” The “strong opinions” part certainly fits in with many online communities; a willingness to change one’s mind is at least an improvement over many of the loudest voices out there.

But as I’ve grown older and more experienced in the industry, I’ve found it doesn’t really resonate with me anymore.

Firstly, I don’t think it’s a great idea to have a strong opinion about everything. If I only have minimal knowledge about a topic, that ought to be reflected in how confidently I project my opinion. (I suspect the “strong opinions” ethos of the tech community is partially responsible for ChatGPT’s irrational confidence. I have no evidence to back up this weak opinion, though.)

Secondly, if I do have enough knowledge about a topic to merit a strong opinion… shouldn’t it require some serious counter-evidence to convince me otherwise? Of course, I shouldn’t be stubborn and unwilling to change my mind, but if my opinions are too easily changed, what’s the point of forming strong opinions in the first place? What, then, is the value of my expertise?

Of course, “strong opinions, loosely held” has a nice ring to it. “Proportionally strong opinions, also held proportionally” might be a better philosophy, but I’ll admit that it isn’t very catchy…