Strong Views Weakly Held

As Andy talked about in the podcast I posted yesterday, the style we use to decide what to invest in at USV is extremely conversational. We discuss, debate, discuss, debate, and eventually decide. It is a group thing. We don’t really make individual investment decisions at USV. We make group investment decisions. And so the group dynamic is critical. We have various personality types. And you need that.

My personal style is “strong views weakly held.” I didn’t come up with that term. My friend Jeremy introduced the concept to me. But it describes me accurately. When an investment opportunity is surfaced, I will immediately have an opinion and I will voice it, often strongly. My colleagues understand that is my style and don’t let me bully the conversation. Because they also know I will fold quickly when the facts prove I am wrong. And I don’t require too many facts to prove that to myself.

But it is helpful to have aย number of peopleย in a group who behaves as I do. It gets the discussion going. It fuels the debate. And, because everyone knows I will fold quickly if wrong, they are happy to make the investment in proving me wrong.

Strong views are quite helpful if weakly held. Strong views strongly held are only helpful if they are actually correct and even then they can stifle debate. So while we like everyone at USV to have strong views, we also like them to concede the point when facts suggest they aren’t actually right. And happily our culture encourages and rewards that.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. jason wright

    shouldn’t strong views form as the result of the discovery of the facts?

    1. awaldstein

      What is a fact in a discussion about early or future markets?Everything is an opinion in that world.

      1. jason wright

        in the crypto/ blockchain space +95% of all alt coins are failed as platforms for innovation. only Ethereum, The DAO (maybe), and one or two other candidates have the chance to succeed based on their ICO values. these are facts about these early/ future markets. my strongly held view is that a bunch of other alts have near zero chance to succeed.

        1. awaldstein

          I’m not smart enough to understand anything you just said.

          1. jason wright

            i’ve been kicking around here long enough to have a strong view on that ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. Lawrence Brass

      a view is an interpretation of data or facts, i guess that strong views that prevail are those backed by hard data, excluding politics of course.

    3. Alex Murphy

      Conviction forms from the facts.Strong View = Network effects in a company are a key “go” signalWeak View = Network effects are nice, but there are possibly other potential models of growth we should think about looking at in the future and maybe circle back to this one day if we think at that time it is a good idea

  2. JimHirshfield

    I see politicians with weak views, strongly held.

    1. Alex Murphy

      Too often there are business leaders with weak views strongly held. They are not the ones you read about every day, so they are not as obvious, but they are out there.

      1. LE

        What is a weak view? Something that a) you don’t agree with or b) isn’t in your interest or c) that you think is stupid because of a&b?

        1. Erin

          Something that’s not based in a moral conviction, something that’s too middle ground and not revlutionary enough?

        2. Alex Murphy

          Being wishy washy, sitting on the fence, not making a decision, not defining the objective.And for what its worth, all of these fall into A&B.

    2. Girish Mehta

      “When the Facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir ?”- Attributed to Keynes (although like Churchill and Twain and Yogi Berra, he didn’t always say what he was supposed to have said).

      1. JimHirshfield

        “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, unless you can’t think of anything better.”- Mark Twain

        1. Vasudev Ram

          Need a Yogi Berra-ish quote to add zing to this subthread.

          1. JimHirshfield

            “We made too many wrong mistakes.”- Yogi Berra

          2. Vasudev Ram

            You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six. Yogi BerraRead more at:

          3. Girish Mehta

            Since you asked –

          4. Vasudev Ram

            Another good one. I like that one a lot, particularly the first sentence.

          5. Anne Libby

            “It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”

          6. Vasudev Ram

            Nice one. Reminds me of:”Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded.”

          7. Anne Libby

            My absolute favorite Yogi Berra is “You can observe a lot just by watching.” (Confession, I own a book of Yogi’s quotes…)

          8. Girish Mehta

            Reading that book must seem like Deja Vu all over again.Sorry.

          9. Vasudev Ram

            Cool ๐Ÿ™‚

    3. LE

      Not sure that is correct. (Although it sounds snappy.)

    4. Salt Shaker

      He’s a man with very deep convictions that lacked political correctness. Who am I describing? Could be either Donald Trump or Muhammad Ali, yet you’d never, ever confuse the two.

      1. LE

        For sure Clay was one of the original big mouths, no question about that. I remember when he converted to Islam. What I was told at the time was “they got him”. This could be construed as a sign of weakness and searching for meaning in life that is missing as it happened literally overnight. You take more time to decide what car to buy for god’s sake (at least as I have read maybe it took longer than that..)

  3. William Mougayar

    What you have described is an iterative model for decision-making. The initial “strong view” seems like a starting point, begging to be debated via additional conversation. Either it gets shattered, or it gets strengthened. You don’t wait for the perfect view to start the debate, but you start with your present conviction.

    1. awaldstein

      I have no idea what perfect or fact means if you are working on actions that lead to proof points 5-10 years out.And honestly no idea how decision making unless in the realm of old school obsessed market genius really works.

      1. William Mougayar

        Well, in this context, these are cases with ambiguous clarity, so you just want to gradually increase your understanding in order to make an investment decision. Any investment can be seen like a bet, so you’re looking to make the strongest bets with the best information you can have. True, the overall return takes 5-7 years to get proven.

        1. awaldstein

          My point William is that with investing everything is a bet and everything is about gut and ambiguous clarity.You describe the process as if there is another one.I agree completely with your description but you state this as if there is any other way. Is there?

          1. William Mougayar

            I didn’t mean it to be “the only way”.

          2. sigmaalgebra

            > My point William is that with investing everything is a bet and everything is about gut and ambiguous clarity.The investment record of James Simons indicates that can be successful with little or no involvement of “gut and ambiguous clarity”.Intel, TSMC, Samsung, maybe a few more, have been investing in technology for line widths at 14nm, 10nm, and 7nm. From past history working down from 1 micron = 1000nm, there stands to be not a lot of doubt about the success or role for “gut and ambiguous clarity”.Ike wanted some pictures. When the Soviets shot down the U-2, for a solution C. Johnson at Lockheed showed up with an armload of engineering drawings for a solution:http://iliketowastemytime.c…It worked great, just as planned. The pictures were terrific. The thing flew at Mach 3+ at 80,000+ feet for 2000+ miles without refueling, for years, and never got shot down. So, the US DoD made the investment without a lot of “gut and ambiguous clarity”.Fourier theory is a pillar of electronic engineering, analysis of various systems, etc. Back in the 1960s, R. Garwin at IBM was spending a lot of computer time in Fourier calculations. Soon, at a US Presidential Science Advisory Committee meeting, Garwin was sitting next to J. Tukey of Princeton and Bell Labs. Tukey was taking meeting notes with one hand and doing Fourier derivations with the other, and Garwin asked Tukey about the Fourier derivations. Yes, Tukey had some ideas, how for positive integer n to convert the work from about n^2 floating point multiplications to (n)(log n) such multiplications. So, the speed up was n / log(n) which for n of a few thousand is a biggie. Back at IBM, Garwin had J. Cooley program what Tukey had derived, and soon there was a paper by Cooley and Tukey. The result was the fast Fourier transform (FFT). Cut to a few years later: The FFT had become a pillar of electronic engineering for problems of wide variety, e.g., analysis of seismic signals in oil prospecting. And much more for US national security. IMHO, as soon as Garwin saw the Cooley and Tukey paper, he knew that in 5-10 years the FFT would be revolutionary. If I am right, then so was Garwin.

      2. sigmaalgebra

        > I have no idea what perfect or fact means if you are working on actions that lead to proof points 5-10 years out.Maybe the biggest example: The Manhattan Project. Worked essentially as initially planned essentially on time, that is, about four years later. On budget? Maybe not so much.What “fact” early on? As of 1938 or so, there was a discovery that if send a neutron into uranium, then the nucleus of one of the uranium atoms can absorb the neutron, go unstable, split, and toss out more than one neutron.But like electrical charged repel each other. Then, when the nucleus split, that was a lot of positively charged protons held very closely together. To squeeze so much positive charge so closely together takes a lot of energy. When the nucleus splits, much of that energy is released. It was released as the two pieces of the nucleus moving away at high speed with a lot of ordinary kinetic energy plus some photons and the two neutrons.Just do the energy arithmetic and see that if have a few pounds of uranium and if in less than a second can get a significant fraction of the atoms to split, then will release enough energy to make a bomb that will level a city. That’s the “fact” that existed as of 1938 or a few years later, at least as understood by L. Szilard, E. Wigner, E. Teller, A. Einstein, E. Fermi, and others.For more, there is the sun. From spectroscopy of light from the sun, a significant fraction of the mass of the sun seems to be from hydrogen. Okay, look at helium and its collection of electrons, protons, and neutrons. See how much a helium atom weighs. Then look at some hydrogen, with enough electrons, protons, and neutrons to make an atom of helium and see how much in total the hydrogen atoms weigh. Then, presto, bingo — the weight of that hydrogen is greater than the weight of the helium. To see this, just look at the masses in that big periodic table of the elements hanging on the wall in most high school chemistry classes.So, if somehow can squeeze together the hydrogen atoms to make a helium atom, then will lose some weight — mass. Amazing. Then what? Well, somehow that missing mass will get converted into energy, no doubt according to energy E = mc^2 where m is the missing mass and c is the speed of light. Well, the speed of light c is a biggie, and c^2 is much bigger. So, mass m gets multiplied by really big c^2. So, if convert a little mass to energy, then get off a lot of energy.Then, likely and apparently that is how the sun and other similar stars get their energy to shine. IIRC that was pretty well understood by J. Wheeler and others about 1939 or so.So, if here on earth could squeeze a few pounds of hydrogen together to form helium, then will get off a lot of energy, enough to make a bomb big enough to level a city. If use a lot more hydrogen, then can get a bomb big enough to level, say, Rhode Island. That was the “fact” clear to E. Teller apparently somewhere in the early 1940s, maybe a little earlier.Well, about 10 years later on November 1, 1952 was the test Ivy Mike of converting hydrogen to helium in less than one second. As at…the energy released was the same as from an explosion of 10.4 million tons of TNT. E. Teller was correct, about 10 years earlier.The facts were solid. Not a lot of doubt.> I have no idea what perfect or fact means if you are working on actions that lead to proof points 5-10 years out.In various parts of mathematics, physical science, medical science, engineering, and technology, we do such stuff right along — look at facts, make plans and a prediction, and 5-10 years later have the plans work and the predictions to come true.

    2. fredwilson

      This also describes the best comment threads here at AVC

      1. JimHirshfield

        I adamently agree; but could be persuaded otherwise.

        1. Vasudev Ram

          I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.

      2. Girish Mehta

        Thesis — AntiThesis —Synthesis (Hegelian Dialectic).

        1. Twain Twain

          I do Hegel Dialect like so:

          1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Can you enter dialectic as a single proponent?My understanding is that the Hegel approach is about establishing Truth rather than displaying rhetoric. It requires a distinct antithesis and leads to rational settlement rather debate.Contrast (My understanding of) Freds approach which is more gut feel (throw a rock in the pond) – and engage to reach synthesis (being “in it” together) rather than seeking accuracy – which for prognostication is a fools errand. Synthesis works only if the quality of the synthesizers is strong. So this may work for USV but fail for others

          2. Twain Twain

            Sanity-checking as a dialetic isn’t a single proponent. It’s an infinite loop of truth-testing.So, for example, there’s an accepted “truth” that probability is the panacea tool for modeling everything.When we sanity-checking that “truth”, we analyse the history of it (why it came to exist), the way it’s used (how it came to be applied), areas in which it is appropriate / inappropriate (where its strengths and limitations are), and so on.From this, we can synthesize a perspective of the validity, or otherwise, of probability.It’s then possible to go further and, perhaps, even construct an alternative tool.

          3. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            Ahhh – You switched from “I” – to “We”As a plurality you certainly can have a personal dialectic discussion(it is defined as discourse between two or more … !)As an individual player – it is simply called learning !So our difference is resolved (by removal of the personal pronoun)

      3. PhilipSugar

        Yes that is exactly right. That is why the political discussions don’t interest me. Some of the best comment threads are those where somebody respectfully challenges a point of view and some real insight is gained.There are three things that you need for this to work: One is the person that has the strong view must hold it loosely.The second which is just as important is that the person challenging the view must be respectful and not just try and “win” at all costs.The third is nobody takes it personally or thinks they are “losing” when they change their mind. I get so angry when I see the press say: “this politician flip flopped” They should say this person is an idiot that has never changed their mind.I know this is going to come off as an attack on lawyers but it’s really an attack on our legal system. In law you are supposed to take your clients view no matter what the truth

        1. LE

          I agree. However in law you know as well as I do that there are plenty of times that a lawyer in private conversation with you doesn’t take your point of view. However an an attorney they are generally bound to defend their client to the best of their ability. If you are talking about criminal matters (or actually even civil matters) it’s not up to the attorney to make a decision on the merits of what you are trying to achieve but just to advise you. That is his job. Also it’s important for attorneys (in criminal cases) to hold the prosecutions feet to the flame with regards to proving their case. Even if a guilty man goes free. This is necessary and benefits all of us.That is why it pisses me off so much when the crowd gets up and revolts against things when they don’t go their way.I get so angry when I see the press sayYou don’t have to get me started there. An example of that was the Stanford Rape case where people decided the judge needed to be recalled because they aren’t happy with the sentence that he handed out and thought it was to lenient. My guess is that the majority of those voices don’t understand the legal process and they certainly didn’t sit through the entire trial and/or consider all of the facts in that case.(Also will mention since you brought up the press the front page NYT article today calling out Trump for being a businessman..)

          1. PhilipSugar

            It is hard to switch modes.The press is just as bad as the lawyers. It seems many journalists now think they are lawyers but they didn’t pass the bar.Not commenting on politicians just the press below:I was at a famous Delaware chain watching sports and a person held up a copy of the USA Today and said “Look how much Donald Trump gets sued!!!! He is a bad man” I said I am surprised you eat here. She said why?? I asked the manager who I know to come over and asked Russ: “How many times do you get sued a month??” Russ: “about five”

          2. LE

            You know in construction how much sucky shitty work goes on. (Actually that happens out of construction as well with the products that we buy and use everyday but that’s an entirely different story.). I had a handyman put a lock on a front door. The screws keep coming loose. Turns out he stripped the threads in the new lock. Shitty work. Like a kid he just did that and figured nobody would notice. Now multiply that by 100,000 fuck ups in a big project. And he is a good handyman (used to work for a home builder who did quality work and came highly recommended).I do believe that Trump is a bigger SOB than typical but also less of a schmuck then some guy who works for a corporation and the money isn’t coming out of his pocket or he just wants to get to the weekend and have a beer and watch the game. My guess is that many of those vendors simply were going for the brass ring but weren’t able to deliver the gold that was required after promising that they could do so. Because the people they were doing work for before didn’t hold their feet to the flames.I did work once for a guy who was building a casino in AC. He gave us the impression that price was no object and to make all sorts of changes and additions to what we were printing. When he got the bill he refused to pay saying it was more than he expected. Actually taught me a valuable lesson that I hold to this day. Was my fault, not his even though he no doubt was playing someone not experienced with how his world operates. [1][1] And who is to say that I didn’t take advantage of some of those corporate guys who just rubber stamped bills in that past life? Boy were they stupid and lazy they should have challenged the bills.

          3. PhilipSugar

            I agree. If you do any amount of construction projects it ends up badly about 10% of the time. I’ve had somebody steal shutters, I’ve had somebody ruin my backyard by going in with a piece of equipment I told them not to when I went on a trip, I’ve had somebody not finish restoring a piano. Everyone did good work on a project before.Nature of the beast.

          4. LE

            These guys are typically analog. If they were precise and structured in their ways they probably wouldn’t end up in construction. Because in theory the would do well academically and not end up in construction. Like you. Gross generalization but I believe it to be true enough to create the end result of what you are talking about. Besides no matter how good a guy who runs the company is himself he is relying on people who work for him.Attached a picture from a painter who did, say, 4 jobs for me and on the 5th job delivered this type of work (paint). Was a guy working for him that I am guessing he didn’t notice when he did inspection.This is new moulding by the way. This was because I wanted the old moulding ripped out and replace so I wouldn’t have defects that were 1/10th of what I ended up with….

          5. PhilipSugar

            Wow I can paint an trim 10 times better. That is sad.

        2. Salt Shaker

          Too often the way lawyers are compensated creates an inherent conflict of interest, particularly in civil cases where there’s a lot of subjectivity and ambiguity. It’s often easy to question whether they truly have your interests at heart vs. the ones that line their pockets. A convoluted and often inefficient vetting/discovery process doesn’t help, either.

          1. PhilipSugar

            This is very true as well. If you and I have a disagreement and we come to a settlement nobody really gets paid very much. Same as criminal to a point. You can never say you are sorry you were wrong.I’ll give a story: I moved into an old house one month later one of my trees fell in a hurricane and crushed my neighbor’s garage and commuter car. It was rotten and should have come down but it was green and therefore it was an act of God his insurance pays.Well that sucks because he lost a garage (can’t rebuild due to historic rules) and a car that was worth a lot more to him that it was in value, and he pays the deductibleThe insurance company said “Don’t say you are sorry!!!”I told him: Harry my insurance company says I can’t say I’m sorry. I did see an envelope on your foyer table and I don’t know where it came from but maybe you should get it before your kids find it.

          2. LE

            Nice. But my question is would you have done that if he wasn’t your neighbor? I can see valid reasons for doing that with a neighbor for sure. Also you are not living paycheck to paycheck and I am sure doing what you did made you feel good (and that was also a motivator as well). [1]I am curious if your neighbor had come out blazing prior to you doing what you did how do you think you would have reacted?[1] Hey yesterday I tipped the valet but didn’t even use the valet! Went to a restaurant and said I wanted to park myself. Then I gave the guys a tip (much less than your envelope). I walked up and said “put this in your tip jar”. They were super surprised and thanked me. Best $2 I ever spent.

          3. PhilipSugar

            I don’t know what I would do if he came out blazing.He is my neighbor, and I did truly feel bad. I knew that tree needed to come down (worked for a tree surgeon as a kid)The best money you can spend is that you don’t have to.I had a huge contingent come into to see our new office: we doubled in size, (Senator Carper and Governor Markell came, no government assistance)They stayed at the best hotel in Newark, DE: the Embassy Suites. We came to pick them up. They had moved tables together for breakfast and had a great time. As we were leaving a woman came running out the front door with a $20 bill saying breakfast is free!!!! They said we know put that in the tip jar for the omelet maker, wait staff etc.She had the biggest smile on her face ever. My estimation of the group increased tremendously.I do this when I go out with my fraternity brothers. We are a large unruly group. I always start by giving the server a $100 bill and say I know we are tough but we will take care of you. We get the best service in the place.

          4. Salt Shaker

            Very generous and neighborly of you. Not sure many or most would have responded that way.

          5. JamesHRH

            Not the case in Canada or Britain, where the awarding of costs means that clients can’t ride unethical trial lawyers and contingency based fees into frivolous lawsuits.

        3. William Mougayar

          Good description! “respectfully challenges..” – that is the essential starting point.

        4. Donna Brewington White

          The scenario you lay out can lead to some great learning opportunities. Some of my best learning has happened through a discussion with someone with whom I disagree. But civility is key — which is what you are describing.I do believe someone can have a strong opinion that s/he holds tightly and still have a productive discussion. It is not so much holding the opinion loosely as holding the “need to be right” loosely. But maybe that’s what you mean.

          1. PhilipSugar

            Civility is a good way to put it as well. There are two types of discussions one with co workers and those with other peopleI love taking to other people from all walks of life and I respect what they do. We doubled our office and I loved and respect the work that the trades doThe one that did all of the sparkling the called patches. He did a great job. I asked him why he had five types of spackle. We had a great discussion on why. He said no “management corner office person” had ever actually talked to him not at him. Sad. I learned a lot from him

        5. JamesHRH

          In the legal arena, that is appropriate. It is adversarial and the ‘any potentially beneficial view, strongly held’ approach is the ticket.The problem with politics is that every view is inviolate these days. No one can convince anyone of anything.Its scary.

      4. LE

        I tried yesterday (with sales) but your reply was:we don’t like to do in your face marketingThere is an obvious homogeneity on your team. I can’t fault you for not wanting to be in your face if it’s your style and you are happy and have enough business. [1] However keep in mind that Andy was talking about ‘the big one that got away’ and how to improve on that.[1] I don’t like Golf for example. However if my goal was to do business and I thought that golf would help me in business I would get over my bias against it.

    3. JamesHRH

      One of my favourite working experiences was an internal startup @ Shaw where the lead operations person brought 4 of us into a board room and said ‘I expect some yelling in this room in the next couple of weeks, but let’s be clear, the best ideas win.’Strong opinions reasonably held is how I would describe it.

  4. LIAD

    Oftentimes fun arguing both sides of the argument or just acting as a provocateur for the sake of it. Get the debate raging, sit back and let things take their course.I do that here quite a lot. (don’t tell anyone)

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Fred used to assign an “instigator” badge to certain regulars. Yep, that would be you. (Your secret is safe with me.)

    2. Chimpwithcans

      No you don’t! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. icopaolo

    As someone who has had the same exact approach to discussions, I have found a fundamental problem with it: there are different group communications styles, and there are people who will shut down and be unable to contribute to the conversation. This is particularly true for women, and the approach you use, while it *may* be good at USV, can be terrible for other organizations, especially ones that want to encourage diversity ad inclusion.I agree that it is good to have people who can be “conversations starters,” but unless these people are also masterful at encouraging other people to speak up, and then know how to shut up to let other people speak (and by that, I don’t mean other “strong view weakly held” types), the results will be: (1) poor diversity of views which leads to a narrow and homogeneous exploration of ideas; (2) active suppression of diversity and especially of women.Look at the gender balance of USV – how many women are partners? And have you ever asked Gotham Gal how she feels when she is in a room full of male partners or executives who all like to discuss the way you just described?

    1. fredwilson

      These are valid points. It begs the question about whether a small firm should optimize team and build a culture around that or optimize culture and build a team around that. We started as two investors who never really wanted to build a firm. We just wanted to work with entrepreneurs in sectors that interested us. Now we have a firm and need to accept the reality of what that means

      1. LE

        In business the answer is: “optimize team and build a culture around that”This is actually the opposite of what people should do in dating and marriage.

      2. Kirsten Lambertsen

        I think culture is a process, not a product or feature. You can’t knit a sweater all at once.Now that I’ve had a couple of experiences at organizations with a reputation for great culture, I can report that the company that takes a lighter hand with it gets infinitely better results.There’s a big difference between imposing culture and shaping it. Part of me now feels that culture boils down to 50% “don’t hire or retain assholes.” The other 50% is figuring out how to create a place that empowers everyone to do their best work. It’s the “everyone” part that relates to culture.Looking to hire a more diverse staff isn’t culture. Its results impact the work you do to shape culture. A more diverse staff requires a more thoughtful approach to enabling everyone to contribute 100%. That’s a process.How can you unlock the value in the opinions and ideas of those who don’t share your debate style rather than trying to bring those people to come to use that style? That’s what shaping culture means to me.

        1. Anne Libby

          “You can’t knit a sweater all at once.” Great way of putting it.

      3. icopaolo

        I would suggest that if one’s objective is strictly to grow a company, then building around a culture can be effective. But a greater opportunity may arise by trying to grow the company while being mindful of social context and implications. Could USV have been even more successful, and helped to make more women and minorities more successful, if after the first two partners you had consciously tried to increase diversity? My hunch is “yes,” but it will take a while to prove it.

    2. awaldstein

      We live in different worlds.I”m all about diversity and I live with a women entrepreneur who is a driving force defining the wellness marketplace.This stereotyping that a women’s dna is by definition less strong, less impassioned, less articulate and less able to work as equal contributing partners even when the ration is out of whack, is simply not the norm.Not the norm in any aspect of my world.Do I think it true that someone, anyone might be pushed back arguing with Fred to drive collaborative agreement, certainly.Not the same thing to me.

      1. icopaolo

        First off, I did not say any of the things you claim, and I am hopeful that you simply did not read my comments carefully. There is AMPLE evidence (including women in my own life) that, in general, women are less comfortable with a direct, confrontational style of conversation. AND, there is evidence that the kind of direct conversation style proposed here is actually counterproductive. AND there are men who also prefer a more collaborative style of conversation.Being about diversity and being about equality are not the same thing. And having a knee-jerk reaction to a comment that is supportive of a more women-friendly work environment is counterproductive.

    3. Anne Libby

      I think that anytime there’s a perceived power imbalance (on the part of anyone in the interaction) things can go wrong in a number of ways.Last year, I undertook a good bit of reading about the Stanford Prison Experiment. There was a Sundance award winning film on the experiment, very good. (Tough to watch.)For those who don’t know the story, in the 70s a Stanford research group took a group of healthy young men and put them in a fake jail. They randomly assigned prisoner/guard roles — and the researchers took on the roles of authority figures. Warden, parole board. The point was to understand prison behavior.It all went wrong, quickly. The film/study illustrated that “strong views” people won’t always have someone who will push back; that people will be bystanders, or wait for others to speak up. Even when they’re doing something unethical or immoral.My guess is that Fred’s model works for USV because everyone knows the rules of the interaction, and also their “authority” to push back without reprisal.In cases where there isn’t so much clarity around rules, or authorization to speak up, as you suggest, this model might not work the way you want it to.

      1. Twain Twain

        Thanks for sharing; this is an example of why AVC community is awesome!In organizational behavior, we’ve had the Belbin model but I hadn’t heard of this Stanford model. There have been movies with corrupt prison wardens, eg Shawshank Redemption, and they show fictional examples of people not doing the right thing because of a dominant person in authority.This authoritarianism can also be seen in sectors like banking, eg people did voice concerns about mortgage CDOs and about their questionable ethics but those people were not in positions of authority TO EFFECT POSITIVE CHANGE.Meanwhile, the people who were in authority had inadequate information (and some also turned a blind eye to issues of ethics because it was all too complex).

        1. Anne Libby

          Exactly. Also goes to some of the pre-9/11 concerns that weren’t shared in the intelligence community, to Abu Ghraib, and on and on.There’s a great series via ProPublica on Fed examiner Carmen Segarra’s effort to surface the Fed’s deference to the banks it was charged with regulating. this is all as old as the hills, this isn’t new human behavior! “All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.”)

      2. LE

        and also their “authority” to push back without reprisal.I would love to be able to film and study the faces of participants in these meetings. My guess is that they are sending off all sorts of signals of approval or disapproval which could alter the outcome.

      3. Kirsten Lambertsen

        These are such great observations by you and icopaolo.Any time there’s a power structure (and there almost always is), it’s incumbent upon those with power to actively and energetically create an environment where dissent and debate are encouraged. Otherwise, self-preservation fills the gap.These new organizations who are stating their values publicly as a recruiting tool should consider adding “Dissent early and often” to the list. Having all “positive” and feel-good values creates a culture afraid of dissent.

        1. Anne Libby

          I’d even say that there’s always a power structure.

          1. Kirsten Lambertsen


        2. Donna Brewington White

          it’s incumbent upon those with power to actively and energetically create an environment where dissent and debate are encouragedSo true! Startup founders/CEOs (and other CEOs/leaders) have such a wealth of feedback and info available and yet it is often unrealized because people on their teams have not been given permission to be candid — or better yet, *encouraged* to be candid — with assurances that there will be no retribution. So many hiring mistakes could be avoided just by listening to the people on the team about what the environment and the leadership style are REALLY like and what it takes to succeed in that culture.I am on the verge of a series of searches for a company where the CEO has this open approach and am really excited about the results we will accomplish!

  6. John Pepper

    I think it speaks to the unique strength of your team. There aren’t many like it.Too often when one person shares a “strong view” others assume that person is going to “hold” that view, with strength (largely because that’s what they do in their personal lives). We live in a world too often where title and position imply that a strongly held view is exactly what’s going to happen, regardless of debate or discussion. That includes fathers and mothers with their children especially… “do it because I said to do it… no discussion”. While there’s a time for that in dire moments, it needs to be well explained or over time kids learn to just follow what is being said by those with power.A VP of ops once asked me… “John, why do I always have to engage in discussion with people on these things? Can’t I just tell them to do it because I’m their boss?” I told him that he could do that anytime he wanted, as long as it was while working for another company.The big question for me, often, is how do I interview against this… meaning, how do I select people who have a track record of not shutting down and just falling in line when a strong view from a person with perceived “power” shares it.

  7. bsoist

    I approach discussions the same way. I’ve found that it takes some time for others to learn that I fold when proven wrong. Until we get to that point, I suffer with the reputation that I “have an opinion about everything” which is, of course, correct, but I’d prefer everyone understood how easy it might be to get me to fold.Of course, I’m usually right, which does makes it harder. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Anne Libby

      Yes, me too. For me, sometimes that “learning curve” has led to bumps in relationships…

  8. jason wright

    do the USV partners need to find consensus to make the investment?

    1. fredwilson


  9. Tom Labus

    It’s good to alter your position. It took me forever to learn not to fall in love with my stock picks. I road some too many up and all the way back down, OUCH

    1. Girish Mehta

      The Stock does not know that you love it.Many mistakes in investing distill down to this simple truth.

      1. Tom Labus

        Mow ya tell me!!

        1. Girish Mehta

          A bit of scar tissue speaking here.

  10. vijayvenkatesh

    The strong views, weakly held sounds like a great leadership pattern to me as well. Especially in tech leadership per experience, where a lot is helping folks to get to a similar conclusion, or to guide along a decision, but not necessarily enforce it or suggest it. Great post!

  11. Vasudev Ram

    The post title (Strong Views Weakly Held) reminds me of this book by David Weinberger:…who was also co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto: – Original book online hereFrom the Wikipedia article about the Cluetrain book:[ The book quickly became a business bestseller[8] and entered the top ten of Business Week’s “Best-Sellers of 2000” list.[9]The Cluetrain Manifesto has been credited with setting out “the guiding principles of social media years before Facebook and Twitter existed.”[10]]

  12. Pranay Srinivasan

    When you have strong views, they are only weakly held around people you trust and respect. Tough to fold around people you’re less inclined to listen to… Especially when they are first time founders..

  13. Shahan

    This post is gold.

  14. LE

    And, because everyone knows I will fold quickly if wrong, they are happy to make the investment in proving me wrong.The devils advocate. It’s one of those ‘I’m not that smart’ smart games that you play.

  15. pointsnfigures

    Yup. I appreciate well argued contrary opinions.

  16. Salt Shaker

    Former folleagues still chastise me for once uttering these words, “I’m positive, but I could be wrong.” Of course I meant that I had strong convictions but could be convinced otherwise. I’ve always found meetings to be more productive when a POV is immediately put on the table rather than first debating pros/cons ad nausea. IMO this approach leads to less procrastination and sets the foundation for better discussion.

  17. Erin

    Haha you will immediately have an opinion and voice it strongly because you’re a leo, aren’t you? Leo’s jump into things feet first and figure out what they’re thinking and doing after. They’re really endearing that way. But good for you for surrounding yourself with people who can say no to you.

    1. Vasudev Ram

      Wow, sun signs. Don’t hear people talking about them much these days. Quite interesting.

      1. Erin

        Well this probably isn’t the most likely forum for astrological discussions, but they happen lots of other places. It is interesting, isn’t it? ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. Vasudev Ram

          Sure ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. fredwilson

      yup. i am a Leo.

  18. Semil Shah

    I agree and try to do this. Some are afraid to, of course, because in our culture it’s fashionable (and effective) to use previous statements as a line of attack even if someone changes their position — eg. flip floppers.

    1. PhilipSugar

      This is one of the few times it is appropriate to do an ad hominem attack. When somebody asks me if I flip flopped or changed my mind I tell them everyday.If you go to bed and say you would have done nothing different you are a me-me.You care about me and me. You have no self awareness. You are a small person.

      1. Vasudev Ram

        Better than changing one’s mind is no-mind, aka responding fluidly to dynamically changing situations, without preconceived notions (aka mind). Easier to say than do, I know.You cannot step in the same river twice. – Heraclitus.Actually you cannot even step in the same river once – because it is changing constantly. By the time you step in it has already changed.

  19. Fred Thiel

    The key to why “Strong views – weakly held” works is because people with this trait are willing to risk saying what they believe and share their opinion, while being open to receiving and integrating feedback. Too many people are simply not willing to voice their opinions because of their fear of the feedback and how this makes them fell about themselves. When that happens, the dominant “opiners” and passionate defenders of their beliefs prevail – this is a key cause of “group think”. In the VC world, too often the entrepreneur with very strongly held beliefs is lauded and held out asa the ideal person to run a startup. I think it is more important that entrepreneurs have “grit” and passion for their ventures, with a strong willingness to see reality for what it is (i.e. examine the facts objectively and reexamine their beliefs if need be) and not allow their own “reality distortion” field to dominate their views.

    1. Vasudev Ram

      >I think it is more important that entrepreneurs have “grit” and passion for their ventures, with a strong willingness to see reality for what it is (i.e. examine the facts objectively and reexamine their beliefs if need be) and not allow their own “reality distortion” field to dominate their views.I agree with you more than you (dis)agree with yourself.(Only partly kidding)

  20. geirge

    Really great approach to decision making; in the end, the best idea or position wins, regardless of source. I think we all sense the cultural shift away from the days of command and control leadership, that’s becoming obsolete, thankfully!Great team culture you’ve all built!

  21. creative group

    Entrepreneur Jeff Chapin founder of a $100 million business shares similar out takes on evaluating busineses and idea as USV but as an Entrepreneur.

  22. Pete Griffiths

    I agree with this approach. I call it the ‘Socratic’ style of decision making.

    1. Vasudev Ram

      Yes.Based on what I’ve read here before (posts and comments), I can envision a scene like Fred in a toga, sitting slightly elevated on a bench, surround by a group of acolytes, making a (potentially controversial) statement and then pronouncing: “Let the arguments begin!” … And … “May the best argument win!”:)

  23. Aashay Mody

    I think it applies far beyond investing and is generally a good concept to live by. Shows that you have an opinion but are humble enough to change it if the facts show otherwise. Also a great quality of the growth mindset.

  24. cavepainting

    This is an awesome post and comment thread.”Strong Views Weakly Held” is such a big deal that I feel this element of a team’s culture has a disproportionate impact on the final outcome of a venture.For two reasons.1) The unvarnished and unbiased pursuit of the truth requires that we are open to possibilities other than what we may be inclined to believe. The future is a constantly morphing distribution of outcomes, each with varying probabilities. The more we see multiple points of view, the better the organization’s ability to estimate these correctly and place the right bets.2) When views are too strongly held, people’s egos come into play. People dig deeper into their stated positions, get defensive and it becomes personal. It invariably drives wrong behavior that optimizes for individual egos, not for projecting the truest image of current reality and future possibilities.

  25. Vasudev Ram

    One Steve Jobs does not a daily fact make.

  26. Vasudev Ram

    Got it. Was a partial assumption on my part, thanks for clearing it up.

  27. Tom Sullivan

    Lori is crushing it.