These Four Words Will Help You ‘Hold Strong Opinions Weakly’

I first heard the phrase from tech entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

“Strong opinions, weakly held”

I love this concept. (In fact, I almost called my podcast, “Strong Opinions, Weekly Held”).  I had never thought of it in such a succinct way, but this approach has been valuable to me for some time.

The beauty lies in the ability to embrace the power of definiteness and the power of openness at once.  When you act, you can’t be of two minds.  You have to commit and proceed boldly.  But to understand the world you have to constantly learn, adapt, and grow, which implies shifting direction.

Here are the four words I employ to do both:

“As if it’s true”

When I am taken by an idea I act as if it’s true.  The “as if” is important, because it reminds me that I’m acting on the best available knowledge and that I’m fallible.  The “it’s true” is equally important, because unless and until being convinced otherwise I must decisively move forward.

One of the strengths of this approach is the lightened intellectual burden and the enhanced importance of experimentation over theory alone.  If you have to settle on complete truth before translating it to action you’re unlikely to act.  Action is one of the key factors in generating the feedback necessary to know if your ideas are correct.  And on the other side if you only ever act on an idea without reflecting on the feedback you’ll crash and burn if your initial hunch was wrong.

When it comes to something really big like launching a business I think the core idea or purpose of the business – the “why” – must be something unchangeable.  If it turns out the “why” is wrong, better to quit and start an entirely different business than to try to “pivot” to a new purpose.

But the how and what are subject to change.  You don’t plan to change them, or pussyfoot around waiting for a focus group to give them to you.  You arrive at conclusions – opinions – about the world and act decisively, while holding onto them weakly.  You act as if they are true unless and until it’s proven they are not.

New information, new competitors, and new ideas are never a threat but a welcome opportunity.  Any chance to firmly disprove your theory means a chance to improve.  But put the new stuff to the test.  Always operate as if the current theory is true until it is completely clear it’s not.  Don’t just get scared or take someone’s word for it that your approach is obsolete.  Act as if it’s spot on until you know it isn’t.  But always be eagerly looking for evidence that it’s not.

The “eureka moment” is valuable.  Don’t let it get lost in a sea of analysis.  But that doesn’t mean you have to never let it adapt.  Move forward as if your initial insight is true while constantly scouring the globe for reasons it mightn’t be.  Act on your current truths while adding to them.

To hold strong opinions weakly, act as if your current knowledge is true until you know it’s not.