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Whether working with a team or leading a team we often have to think critically about others thoughts and ideas. Ask questions. Ensure that the problem space has been thoroughly thought through.

But, what can be most difficult sometimes is thinking critically about our own thoughts and ideas. What do I do when someone asks the hard questions or is seemingly poking holes in my "perfect" plan? Do I "bow up"/balk, pull rank or defend with seniority, robbing myself of an opportunity for growth? Or am I willing to say, "Hey you might be right, lets work through this problem together."

We MUST be passionate about what we do, but do we always have to be right?


To "have the courage to act on your knowledge, but also to have the humility to doubt what we know" might seem like it requires us to be hypocrites. I have felt this a few times before, occasionally concluding that hypocrisy is a necessity, or we at least must permit a certain level of transience and inconsistency in our beliefs in order that we may more effectively deal with a complex and changing world.

This is supported, to an extent, by the failures of the strong AI community to build coherent, atomic and unified databases of propositions that are broadly applicable to the world as a whole, and the relative successes of smaller domain-specific "micro models".

Similarly, the broader applicability of "Agile" (or responsive) software development methods vs strictly-planned/predictive methods speaks a similar message to the ability of static models to deal with a changing, dynamic world.

In any case, this phrase "Strong Opinions, Weakly Held" comes at the issue from a different, and very exciting angle; and is an idea that is well worth talking about.

Interwest Safety

I agree that some people are so bias that they tend to only see and hear what they want to hear. After too long you tune out all of the other noise and can only hear what you desire. It's a social problem that's been around forever...


"the unconscious jerk" - in IT/ geeky fields, this guy is often aspergery. And the problem, for me, is years of teaching, many of them at a university, has given me a comfort with authority. I initially tried to be a democrat in my classroom; but my first year was a disaster because I was too flimsy. I also had one of the known "difficult" students. It took a few months for me to stand up to him, first in private and then publicly. It made me more successful as a leader. It was also successful because it was accurate - I was teaching calculus which has more definitive right/ wrong arcs, and I was better at it than my students. that's one side of trust.

The other side of trust is that students needed to trust me not to ridicule their progress. Some of my more asperger-y moments, I believe, result from this lack.

Strong opinions, diplomatically held?


Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.
- Eric Hoffer

I saw this quotation and though it fit - as absolute faith is an opinion strongly held

thanks for the great blog.

Jason Cohen

My enhancement to this otherwise excellent description of the right attitude is that the "weakly" in "weakly held" should vary based on the amount of effort that went into the opinion.

Here's 500 words describing what I mean as applied to a real-world story:

Olakunle Solomon Fatoye

1. This is a great post about wisdom.
2. However, wisdom being a principal thing to focus on, there are many angles to looking at it.
3. Thanks for the post.
4. Regards, --OSF.


When Stanford asked me, "What matters most to you and why?" my answer centered on strong ideas, weakly held. Coming across an affirmation of those ponderings in your blog is encouraging indeed. Nevertheless, I'll be joining Haas in the fall, lamenting only the missed opportunity to be part of MS&E and the d.School, but this will definitely keep me coming back here for more kernels worth sharing in our kindred community down the street.

Diane Bassett

On the subject of wisdom-- the most moving example of this for me is the little-known heroic story of Chiune Sugihara. His story is one that I want all people, especially young people, to know. It's the story of doing "the right thing" despite paying a desparately high personal price to do so.

This man, and the stoic way he bore the price for his courage, is an amazing example of wisdom.

PBS ran a film about him (here is the trailer: ) and they have additional material at

The Sugihara Project is at

Sugihara has been memorialized as a "Dancing Saint" in the famous iconographic mural in San Francisco and his likeness can be seen at

Take a look at this man's life for an excellent lesson in wisdom.


I seem to run into too many weak opinions strongly held.

DJ McLean

Hi Bob,

Thank you for this article, I love the concept of Strong Opinions, Weakly Held and your thoughts on wise people. I have written a piece to share your thoughts and the questions it raises for me with my audience. You can find my blog post at

Dick Fitz

I wrote a paper on wisdom a decade ago, and came up with a maxim that has served me well to this day-

"The only thing a man should ever be 100% convinced of is his own ignorance."


"There have been studies that confirm that we tend to seek information that buttresses our views and ignore information that doesn't."

Not everyone. Depends if you believe it is more important to seek the truth or seek to be right (in an attempt, I'd guess, to compensate for one's lack of self-confidence).

Alan Brown

To understand how powerful this concept is, think of how debilitating the opposite appraoch is. Opinions, whether strong or weak, become handicaps if they can't evolve with the evidence as it is reveals itself.

Can an opinion be TOO weakly held? Yes, if one is not careful about what constitutes evidence.

This is probably a good concept to try to teach to teenagers, preferably when not debating any particular opinion. Good luck with that :-D.

Sebastian Stockman

Emerson: "A fierce consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

Bill Peschel

This piece of advice should come with a caveat. There have been studies that confirm that we tend to seek information that buttresses our views and ignore information that doesn't.

We need to remember that, while "strong opinions, weakly held" may be wise advice, following it requires us to go against hardwired patterns of thought. It isn't that easy.


My "strong opinion, weakly held" is that self-reflexivity can be a bitch.

An exemplar of its application: "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."

Is the foregoing a "strong opinion, weakly held" by Bob?


I love this advice.

I just wanted to add a historical footnote. I first encountered this idea at the blog Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, where it was attributed to the historian A. J. P. Taylor (1977). Here's the quote from the blog:

A. J. P. Taylor wrote (in the Journal of Modern History in 1977), "Once, when I applied for an appointment at Oxford which I did not get, the president of the College concerned said to me sternly: 'I hear you have strong political views.' I said: 'Oh no, President. Extreme views weakly held.'"



I hope that the president of the US reads the Internets today and happens across this.

p auL

Very true; a prime example of the flipside, (Strong opinions, Strongly held), and the problems that arise from it would be many current politicians. They have their opinion, and refuse to budge on it one way or the other - no matter how logical the arguments against it may be.

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