What we can learn about opinion forming from Deirdre Enright, the director of investigation at the University of Virginia School of Law’s ‘Innocence Project’, and Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.
I’ve recently been listening to a podcast called Serial. It’s a new podcast from the creators of This American Life following the journalist Sarah Koenig as she digs into a murder case from the late 90s.
In episode 7 Sarah talks to Deirdre Enright, the director of investigation for the University of Virginia School of Law’s ‘Innocence Project’.
Diedre was consistently insightful but a few sentences stood out.
There’s a point where Diedre is describing her state of mind, early in a case where her opinion is in flux. At this point she isn’t sure what information is true, relevant or important. In particular she’s describing her reluctance to settle on one side (prosecution or defence) during this early stage.
Early in a case “you are juggling and everything’s in the air and your frozen. You have to stay their until you’ve eliminated all questions. If you come down or catch one and get attached to it, you’re gonna make the same mistakes that law enforcement do. What happens to me is I reach a tipping point where I have answered questions to my satisfaction. And I have answers for everything. And my answers are better than law enforcement’s answers.”
As a defence lawyer, she’s referring to “law enforcement” as the holders of an opposite opinion.
Her words remind me of some quotes I’ve read from Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s business parter at investment firm Berkshire Hathaway:
“I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.”
Elsewhere, a separate Munger quote reads:
“You’re not entitled to take a view, unless and until you can argue against that view better than the smartest guy who holds that opposite view.”
There’s a common thread in Enright and Munger’s ideas and some interesting take-aways.
Firstly, in my field, it is often expected of you to have a strong opinion from the get go. It is refreshing to read successful people discuss a period of intentionally avoiding opinion forming until the time is right.
Secondly, both talk about the process they go through before they reach an opinion. To reach an informed position you have to have interrogated the subject from every angle. You have to have assumed every frame of reference and every bias. You have to keep interrogating the subject until one position consistently outweighs the other.