Stacking the Odds: The Problem with a Second Opinion

“I’m going to get a second opinion.” Typically, we hear this in medical conversations. You have an ailment, so consult with your physician. She prescribes a course of action, but you’re not comfortable with the implications. She recommends surgery, but you want something less invasive. Or she refers a course of medications, but you’re not comfortable with the potential side effects. So, you get a referral to another doc from a friend, just so you can get another opinion. It’s your health and you want to know what your options are.


The second opinion usually goes one of two ways.

 1) The new opinion contradicts the first opinion. Unless the second opinion is cheaper, a guaranteed success and completely risk-free, you can end up feeling more confused than you did in the first place.

2) The second opinion confirms the first opinion and now you must decide if you’re ready to wrestle down your reservations from the first consult and move forward with the plan both experts advise.


A second opinion, if it feels better, can be empowering. However, it it’s equal to or worse than the first opinion, you can be overwhelmed and conflicted. The problem with a second opinion, is that it only offers two data points. And when we’re making big decisions (with our health, our relationships, our career or our spiritual journey), we need more input to plot our next step.


Proverbs 11:14 says, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” Wise leaders, then, get third, fourth and ninth opinions. Conversely, foolish leaders surround themselves with teams who simply mirror their own preferences. They may have assent givers, rubber stampers or group thinkers, but they don’t have advisers. 


Great advisers bring their full expertise, care for the leader and appreciation of the context to every situation. A plurality of leaders doesn’t promise airtight success, but they do offer better odds of safety over the long term. 


Do you have an (informal) team of advisers? When you’re faced with a critical decision, do you have four or five people with more wisdom and life experience than you who can weigh in? If you’re leading your life, your family or your team without the benefit of wise mentors, you will constantly underperform. But when you get more than two opinions from spiritually mature people, you’re going to make better choices.


Craig Custance