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Opinions and Beliefs

Mark Mzyk | August 1, 2010

“Have strong opinions, weakly held.”

This is a refrain often heard in programming circles. Out of curiosity, I googled it to see if I could learn where it came from. The first hit leads to a 2006 post on Bob Sutton’s blog, where he lays out the origins of the phrase and the rational behind it.

The rational: holding a strong opinion means that you will put the work into understanding why you hold that opinion, so you can reasonably defend it. It is weakly held, because you want to be able to change it when the evidence proves it wrong.

Bob also has a list of 17 things he believes that runs down the side of his blog. It’s a simple, but profound list, that I couldn’t help but agree with. Unfortunately, Bob doesn’t provide a link to a page with only the 17 beliefs – so I’m rectifying that by posting them here.

1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!

2. Indifference is as important as passion.

3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.

4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.

5. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.

6. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.

7. The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.

8. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.

9. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power,
prestige, or stuff?

10. Anyone can learn to be creative, it just takes a lot of practice and little confidence

11. “Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”

12. If you are an expert, seek-out novices or experts in other fields. If you are a novice,
seek out experts.

13. Sutton’s Law: “If you think that you have a new idea, you are wrong. Someone else
probably already had it. This idea isn’t original either; I stole it from someone else”

14. “Am I a success or a failure?” is not a very useful question

15. The world would be a better place if people slept more and took more naps

16. Strive for simplicity and competence, but embrace the confusion and messiness along the way.

17. Jimmy Maloney is right, work is an overrated activity.

Do you agree with them? Should anything else be on the list?