Strong Opinions, Loosely Held - A Problematic Idea

Photo by JJ Ying / Unsplash

The Philosophy

"Strong opinions, loosely held" is a concept attributed to Jeff Bezos of Amazon - even though their principle is "Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit" - and is the idea that you should be able to present things you believe to be right but willing to accept that you might be wrong.

A good example might be "Clojure is the best language to learn because it pays the most". However, Clojure is notoriously complicated compared to languages such as Python. Although I do hold love in my heart for Clojure, I could be convinced that money (even $14,000 more) is not a definition of "best" and there might be good reasons why Clojure pays so much (such as it being a niche language or that most people move to Clojure and therefore has a lot more senior devs).

This concept is mostly used to help get a lot of ideas to the table and discuss them thoroughly but quickly and prevent hurt feelings when an idea isn't the "best"

The Problem

Strong opinions are not necessarily the best decided ones. Often, strong opinions come from those who are loudest or have internal backing or even an outsider, like a vendor, providing talking points. Opinions in technology are often easy to research and provide evidence for compared to things such as rural education or sources of Ainu historical cultural. That being said, I have often sat in a meeting where statements such as "MongoDB isn't a good database" is said with nothing more than that thought hitting the table.

"Just use Kubernetes, it's easy!" is another strongly held opinion that continues to haunt me (and I am a major proponent of Kubernetes).

A loud opinion should not be confused with a strong opinion. An opinion held by senior leadership also shouldn't be confused with a strong opinion. A strong opinion has some evidence, even anecdotal, to back it. It doesn't need to be a whitepaper to be an opinion but a concrete example to discuss a point. With this research you can have a good discussion but also have a reason to let go of points.

A well-researched discussion leads to the final decision having strong backing. A thoroughly backed opinion can stand up to internal corporate mechanisms, such as architecture reviews, external mechanisms, such as conferences and academic papers, and also give your future opinions and statements more value.

Privacy for All

I am a very firm believe in the fact that everyone should practice internet privacy. I, myself, practice it to an extreme. However, I don't have a need to at all - I am very above the board on everything. I paid taxes on my (small) bitcoin gains this year. I sit safely in the middle of the country who has a lot more data on me than I am sometimes comfortable with. I even have a kennitala so Iceland also has a lot of information on me too - the only real secrets I have are passwords and the family taco roll up recipe.

However, I am lucky in this aspect. Around the world there are journalists killed, people being stalked by former connections, and executions for gay people. These people need privacy to keep themselves physically safe. However, if only the people who need the privacy have it, it paints a big target on someone's back. If you use a privacy focused email service, people - and governments - may assume you must hide.

However, if more people focus on using the internet with privacy first, then we generate more noise for those that need privacy. By my using of bitcoin on occasion and PGP-signed emails, I am generating some false positives for those that need privacy. I am helping protect abused spouses and journalists risking their lives to keep the world in check.

I hold this very strong opinion and practice it. I have heard a few opposition - such as privacy affects criminal activity too - that I've considered, but still hold this opinion. I would welcome anyone with an opposing strong opinion to get me to not hold this one.

The Alternative - "Researched Opinions in Thunderdome"

I'd like to propose an alternative - "Researched Opinions in Thunderdome". If you haven't seen Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the Thunderdome is "a gladiatorial arena in Bartertown where conflicts between two parties are resolved through combat." Now, I am not proposing we pull out pugil sticks and solve this American Gladiators style, but we should be willing to discuss and tear into the information of opinions to resolve the discussion of them. If everyone enters with a strong, well-researched opinion, then the "fight" (again, leave the violence and ad hominum elsewhere) should be fair and everyone should get to see both sides. Sincerely, I'd love to bring my Privacy for All to a (verbal) Thunderdome - win or lose, everyone learns.

Plus, now we can say an opinion is "Beyond Thunderdome", which sounds a lot better than "we decided this idea is best".

Marty Henderson

Marty Henderson

Marty is an Independent Consultant and an AWS Community Builder. Outside of work, he fixes the various 3D printers in his house, drinks copious amounts of iced tea, and tries to learn new things.
Madison, WI