Opinions encourage and support the sharing of thoughts and ideas. They can evoke discussion, and they can encourage purposeful debate. There are times and situations when freewheeling thought, unfettered imagination, and outside-the-box thinking can and should be the order of the day. Such free and open expression based on unrestrained thinking often sets a grand stage. On that stage the development of carefully refined thought is carried out, well-reasoned theorizing takes place, purposeful experimentation is conducted, and under the right circumstances another act in the sage of human progress is played out.
Invention, discovery, and creativity thrive in an environment where opinions are welcomed and the facts, that which is proven and known, impose no limitations on the inventors, the discoverers, and the creators. In such an environment, data is challenged and facts are often ruffled. And when that happens, leaders and their organizations have the opportunity to establish new facts, refine existing data, gather new data, and thus expand the known.
Facts define reality. They also quantify and illuminate the known. There are times and situations where nothing but the facts will do. With data, that which is known can be shared, it can be studied, it can be universally understood. When leaders and their organizations starve to meet challenges and make the most of opportunities, the need for facts and data that can be trusted is essential. Without them, efficacious decision-making can be left to whim and fancy, capriciousness often reigns, and unpredictability becomes an ever-present danger.
For leaders, knowing the difference between facts and opinions, and knowing when opinions should be welcomed and when only facts will do, is absolutely essential. Astute leaders never confuse facts with opinions, and they do not permit those in the organization to offer opinions as though they are facts. They value both, but not interchangeably. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003), the late Democrat senator from the state of New York (1977-2001), once said, “Everyone is entitled to his[/her] own opinion, but not to his[/her] own facts.”
Knowing and respecting the difference between an opinion and a fact permits effective leaders to make the most of both.