On opinions and holding them

Strong Opinions Loosely Held Might be the Worst Idea in Tech.  I think the name of that article pretty much says it all.

This is essentially something I've thought since I heard about he concept of "strong opinions loosely held".  I can see how it could work in certain specific cases, or be mindfully applied as a technique for refining particular ideas.  However, that only works when everyone in the conversation agrees that that's the game they're playing, and that's not usually how I've seen the principle presented anyway.  Rather, it's usually described in terms more like "be confident in your opinions, but change your mind if you're wrong."  And that's fine, as far as it goes.  But it's far from clear that this works out well as a general principle.

To me, "strong opinions loosely held" always seemed kind of like an excuse to be an jerk.  Fight tooth and nail for your way until someone and if someone proves you wrong, oh well, you weren't that attached to the idea anyway.  It seems to fly in the face of the Hume's dictum that "a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence."  Why fight for an idea you don't care that much about?  If you're not sure you're right, why not just weigh the pros and cons of your idea with other options?

I suppose the thing that bothers me the most about it is that "strong opinions loosely held" just glorifies the Toxic Certainty Syndrome, as the article's author calls it, which already permeates the entire tech industry.  Too often, discussions turn into a game of "who's the smartest person in the room?"  Because, naturally, in a discussion between logical, intelligent STEM nerds, the best idea will obviously be the one that comes out on top (or so the self-serving narrative goes).  But in reality, nerds are just like any group, and getting people to do things your way is orthogonal to actually having good ideas.  So these conversations just as often degrade into "who's the biggest loud-mouth jerk i the room?"

I'm not sure how I feel about the article's specific "solution" to preface your assertions with a confidence level, but I do empathize with the idea.  My own approach is usually to just follow the "don't be a jerk" rule.  In other words, don't push hard for something you don't really believe in or aren't sure about, don't act more sure about a position than you are, and be honest about how much evidence or conviction you actually have.  It's like I learned in my Philosophy 101 class in college - to get to the truth, you should practice the principles of honesty and charity in argument.  Our industry already has enough toxic behavior as it is.  Don't make it worse by contributing to Toxic Certainty Syndrome.

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