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180 Degrees

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Make Something Wonderful puts together many of Steve Jobs’s notes and messages in his own words. One thing that stayed with me was an email exchange between him and Andy Grove, in which over the course of a mail thread Steve Jobs ends up completely changing his mind.

Below is the relevant part of the mail thread with most other text redacted. Click through this link and search for 180 degrees in the content to read the relevant thread in whole.

From: Steve Jobs
To: Andy Grove
Subject: Re[2]: Pixar-3D graphics
Date: October 1, 1995, 3:50 p.m.



Therefore, I have changed my position 180 degrees - [redacted].
Thanks for the clearer perspective.


As strong-minded as Steve Jobs, his strength is also demonstrated in the openness and humility to change his mind 180 degrees when faced with a reasoning to do so. Many good leaders exhibit this quality…

A few years ago, in a previous job, I had the good fortune of participating in one of the orientation days Aman Bhutani used to run for the engineering organisation he led. Aman used to have a list of principles he used to talk about. While many of those stayed with me, the one relevant to this post is “Strong opinions, loosely held”. While investing in the team culture, Aman encouraged us to have strong opinions and be vocal about it.

Strong Opinions: Being meek about one’s ideas or opinions means those ideas would be discarded at the earliest challenge, whether it’s from a louder colleague, or a boss, or one with a fancier title. And that’s not a great way to foster the growth of ideas, especially when they are freshly-formed or brittle. To build a culture brimming with more ideas, and an environment where these ideas get strengthened by sharing widely and being challenged openly, it becomes imperative to encourage having these strong opinions.

Loosely Held: As strong as the opinions are, holding onto them dearly (especially based on the ego that it originated from you) invariably ends up creating friction that comes in the way of collaboration and progress. This is where good leaders (“lead” as in “lead the way forward”; nothing to do with job titles) are open to changing their mind 180 degrees. This is because they do not attach the idea to themselves or any person, but they think of it as a hypothesis that is bound to change if evidence suggests otherwise. Being able to change one’s mind (or disagree and commit) helps get onto the same page with one’s collaborators and move ahead with the sort of cohesion that can’t be created otherwise.

Teams/organisations where this principle is not effectively practiced can run into one of two problems:

  • People can’t get along, and any friction stays open coming in the way of collaboration. While this isn’t great for the organisation, the symptoms are at least clear for a leader to recognise this and step in sooner to address the issue.
  • People try to avoid conversations on such hard topics, and try to stay diplomatic. Compromise solutions are found where possible to keep everyone happy (usually not a great idea: the best way to split a five-dollar bill is not by tearing it into two and giving each party one piece). These symptoms don’t show up as early as the previous one, and can lead to late and sudden discovery of problems after a prolonged period of everything appearing hunky dory.

So, practice having strong opinions but hold them loosely. Encourage this in the people around you. Be comfortable changing your views 180 degrees. Try your best to be right. But celebrate being wrong, because it’s a step towards being right. Ultimately, this all boils down to a scientific way of thinking. As Adam Grant says in his book Think Again:

I’ve noticed a great paradox in great scientists and superforecasters: the reason they are so comfortable being wrong is that they’re terrified of being wrong. What sets them apart is the time horizon. They’re determined to reach the correct answer in the long run, and they know that means they have to be open to stumbling, backtracking, and rerouting in the short run. They shun rose-colored glasses in favor of a sturdy mirror.

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