The yelling and pointing in our current civic environment keeps me going back to futurist Paul Saffo and his mantra: “strong opinions, weakly held.” In his extensive work exploring the present and divining the future, he found this combination to be a productive path toward more robust thinking.
As he described it back in 2008:
Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this is the “strong opinion” part. Then – and this is the “weakly held” part – prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that [point] in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again. You will be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you to a useful result.
The strength of the “strong opinion” is its clarity and boldness, inspiring the best possible arguments to support it and the energy and grit to test its implications. The value of an opinion also being “weakly held” is that you can let it go, or transform it, in the face of disconfirming evidence, to move to the next strong opinion subject to rigorous dispute.
To me, this approach speaks to a core element of aesthetic practice, where an individual or group thrash and hash their vision against the constraints of their medium, or the evolving target of the creative work.
“Strong opinions, weakly held” also serves as counterpart to the ever-narrowing path of dogma or dictum, which are so often built on weak opinions, strongly held — and now widely distributed every second of every day.
It will take an on-going, durable, collective, heavy lift to change the larger discourse. But each of us and all of us can foster it immediately in our teams and organizations, and among the key partners in our work. Take it to your next meeting.