It wasn’t my first time hearing this phrase, but the words, “strong opinions, loosely held,” from a recent episode of The Talk Show With John Gruber stuck with me for some reason this weekend (this weekend was originally back in April … my writing speed is not very fast). If you search for this phrase online, you will find many positive and negative takes on the idea, but for someone working in the oilfield, it resonated for a few reasons.

Strong Opinions, Tightly Held

I run into many people whose approach is closer to, “strong opinions, tightly held.” They decided the right way to do things years ago, or were taught that way by someone who learned it years before that, and nothing you say will loosen their grasp on those opinions. They ignore the fact that technology, products, and the people that make up a particular company you love or loathe all change over time. They don’t allow themselves to explore a different, potentially better way of doing things.

Weak Opinions, Loosely Held

“Weak opinions, loosely held,” is another approach some people take. They are so afraid of making the wrong decision that they try to lean on others to tell them what the “right” call is. This fear may come from a lack of experience, confidence, or good management. Experience can be earned, and confidence can be built over time. Overbearing management that always expects perfection is a lot harder to deal with. There is no single “right” answer for most challenges we deal with. Instead, you make the best decision you can with the information available at the time. And you will be wrong sometimes. I can guarantee it. However, these choices do not have to be a negative experience. We learn from it, apply that knowledge to our decisions going forward, and hopefully, those around us recognize the same.

Strong Opinions, Loosely Held

Finally, we reach the idea of “strong opinions, loosely held.” What this idea says to me is you take in all the available information you can find, use that to inform your opinion on a topic, and put yourself in a position to confidently express that opinion to others. You have a strong opinion, not because you are stubborn or closed-minded, but because you were well-informed when you formed that opinion.

The loosely held piece is where many of us struggle, myself included. You gathered all the information and made an informed choice, so your opinion must be the correct one, right? If only it were that easy. The world is not a static place, with technology moving forward at an increasingly rapid rate. The oil industry can be tumultuous at times, with people moving from one company to another as companies are bought and sold, cultures change, and market share changes. The great service you once received from Abe’s Pump Shop suddenly goes away because the shop foreman and most of his technicians leave to work for Bob’s Pump Shop. The product you hated twenty years ago when it was first introduced continued to iterate and improve over the years and is significantly different from what you are being offered today.

A loosely held opinion is not necessarily a weak one, and the willingness to change one’s mind is not a sign of weakness. Gather as much information as you possibly can to inform your opinions. Be open to new ideas that change how you approached a problem in the past. Be confident in sharing your opinions with others, but be open to their questions and doubts on the topic. With any luck, you will both walk away having learned something from each other.